Mark Heckman

Principal, Mark Heckman Consulting
Mark is a supermarket industry veteran with broad experience based in a mix of retail marketing, brand partnerships, category management practices and consumer research. Over his career, Mark has worked with noted organizations in the supermarket industry to include positions of Director of Marketing Research at Marsh Supermarkets, VP of Marketing for Randalls Foods, MARC Advertising, and Valassis Relationship Marketing Systems. In 1993, Mark led the analysis team at Marsh that composed and presented the Marsh Super Study, which was published by Progressive Grocer Magazine and later became a case study at the Harvard School of Business. In 2006 to 2011, Mark returned to Marsh Supermarkets to lead the marketing efforts at the Midwestern chain as Vice President of Marketing, following Sun Capital's purchase of the company. Upon completion of his duties at Marsh, Mark returned to his consulting practice where he currently works with retailers, marketing services and technology companies to develop sucessful programs and partnerships. Mark is a past member and chairman of the Food Marketing Institute's Consumer Research Committee as well participating in the recent Retail Shopper Marketing Commission founded by Coca Cola and the In-store Marketing Institute.  Mark is a graduate of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business with a BS in Marketing and was honor graduate of the Defense Language Institute, at the Presidio of Monterey, CA. Mark currently resides in Bradenton, FL with his wife Karyn. Visit the Mark Heckman Consulting website and blog...
  • Posted on: 01/16/2020

    Did Trump’s phase one deal with China deliver the goods for retailers?

    First, let's dispell the notion that the so-called "trade war" will ever be over between the U.S. and China. China has been in a trade war with the U.S for many years exemplified by significant tariffs and restrictions imposed by the Chinese on a number of critical U.S. export commodities prior to the recent retaliations by the U.S. The differences in our cultures and world views will very likely perpetuate some level of tension between our two countries for many years to come. With that said, the current phase one agreement, which isn't even being discussed publicly in China, is bound to be an improvement for American farmers, retailers and tech companies given this deal reduces the uncertainty of continued investment in China. The deal contains an array of safeguards protecting patents, trade secrets and pirated goods being injected into the pipeline. This deal, coupled with the recent bipartisan passing of the new USMCA trade deal significantly reduces barriers for the U.S to better compete for business with our three most important trading partners. Compliance is the real issue to be concerned about. Even with existing tariffs remaining in place as a lever to induce compliance, if China does not execute the agreement in good faith, the next round of punitive measures could be very nasty and the effects on doing business in China or securing product from China could prove to be prohibitively expensive. Let's hope for rational, mutually-beneficial behavior from both sides going forward.
  • Posted on: 01/15/2020

    NRF puts on another ‘big show’ for a hopeful industry

    While many of us in the retail industry are seemingly preoccupied with global and domestic politics, the American consumer is not. Now that middle class wages are finally growing at a significant pace, unemployment levels are steady around 3.5 percent and taxes remain at the same or even lower levels for both retailers and their shoppers, the environment is right for retailers to smartly invest in both technology and their associates. More than the economy, the more vexing challenge for retailers centers on the "paradox of choice" they encounter at shows like NRF with so many dynamic technologies. Picking the right, sustainable solution, one which is designed to both better serve their shoppers and be accompanied by cogent business models, is a daunting task. Many retailers I talk to are simply hesitant to commit to a specific solution or direction, believing it could be antiquated in just a few years with something faster, cheaper and more comprehensive. What is clear is that these difficult decisions must be made if the retailer hopes to stay in the chase for a reasonable share of their customer's business...given that shoppers are quickly adapting to the new, more convenient engagements presented by those retailers who have made the right investments, both technological and strategic -- at least for the near term.
  • Posted on: 01/08/2020

    Pier 1 to close up to 450 stores as it faces uncertain future

    Closing stores can be a solid long term strategy, if there is a strong core group of stores that can carry the sales and profit load and provide a base from which to re-build. However, there appears to be a inherent problem with the business model, the product mix and even perhaps the inability of Pier 1 to compete in an omnichannel environment. CEO, Bob Riesbeck knows from his experience at Marsh Supermarkets and more recently at HH Gregg that cost reduction measures in and of themselves will likely not suffice. Unless there are plans to make consumer-driven changes effecting the way in which Pier 1 does business, there could be more bad news to come.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2019

    Did Aviation Gin just make lemonade from Peloton’s lemons?

    If I were a shareholder of Peleton stock I would be seriously considering selling, not because of the so-called socially controversial TV commercial, but rather because of the apparent illogical and unstable nature of Peleton's shareholder base, given their recent mass exodus over something totally unrelated to business performance. On the other hand, it might be a great buying opportunity, now that the stock is down and the emotion-drive shareholders have defected. With that said, Ryan Reynolds and team were absolutely brilliant in leveraging the controversy and further appealing to the "woke" crowd with their Aviation Gin spot. The fact this is a RetailWire topic is proof positive that their timely parody was spot on. The irony is that after losing $1.6 billion of market value, the leadership at Peleton could probably use a couple shots of gin.
  • Posted on: 11/12/2019

    Amazon confirms it will open a grocery store not named Whole Foods

    In my view, the brick-and-mortar version of Amazon should contain the same essential elements of the Amazon online presence. This includes shopper-centric features such as convenience, easy access to frequently purchased items and an overall store design with shopper efficiency in mind. The store should refrain from having a selling area larger than 35,000 square feet. In terms of selection, it should offer a very thoughtful inclusion of categories and items that are aimed at creating sufficient variety that attracts the shopper who wants some additional options beyond their shopping list, but does not want to engage in an arduous, time intensive "treasure hunt" in order to find fulfill their mission. Extended variety should be readily accessible via kiosk where items not stocked on the shelves can be ordered for same-day delivery or in some cases brought to the front of the store from an attached or nearby warehouse at a prescribed time for shopper pick up. Unlike Whole Foods, the in-store variety and pricing should be more amenable to a mainstream, middle income shopper. Finally, this store should offer an array of payment options, including a regular checkout line staffed with humans, self-checkout, and scan and pay as you go. Overtime, these options can be adjusted commensurate with shopper adaptation.
  • Posted on: 09/25/2019

    Retailers must turn stores into ‘anything engines’

    I have been an advocate of transitioning from same-store sales metrics to more consumer focused metrics, but without much success. I do understand that retailers who operate in stores must still retain some level of performance at the store level, so they can evaluate individual stores' performances vis-a-vis other stores or the chain as a whole. However, I totally agree that these stores must migrate from one-dimensional transactions in favor of offering a multitude of in-store options including in-store pickup, delivery, immediate consumption (ready-made meals), customized shopping experiences, concierge services -- to name a few.
  • Posted on: 09/12/2019

    In power move, Walmart expands Delivery Unlimited

    I concur with the other panelist who applaud this move. While Walmart has been very aggressive with its BOPIS operations, they have been lagging behind in home delivery. This news changes that and is a significant step forward, as it also provides an additional advantage to Walmart over Amazon in the grocery delivery business given that Walmart is much more mainstream with its grocery offerings and pricing than the combination of Amazon and Whole Foods. I remain convinced, however, that Amazon will continue to dominate Walmart in most other online categories beyond grocery. Perhaps this dichotomy of each having a dominant niche will be the basis for a strong retailing duopoly for years to come.
  • Posted on: 07/11/2019

    What’s the story behind Macy’s partnership with Dick’s Sporting Goods?

    The strategy of cross pollination with non-competing retailers has yielded both very successful collaborations, such as Starbucks and grocery retailers, and some mixed results, (Lands' End and Sears comes to mind). In every case however, the key to the longevity and viability of these partnerships is how they are structured. If the involved retailers agree up front on the definition of success, are able to freely share data, engage the sales associates with incentives and provide them product knowledge of the other retailer's product line, etc., then the likelihood for shoppers to recognize the synergy and value of the partnering retailers being connected is greatly increased. Outdoor STORY and perhaps other ensuing themes are a great way to communicate the value the partnership to the shopper and if the infrastructure of the relationship is done correctly, these three brands have a really good chance to grow each of their businesses in the process.
  • Posted on: 07/09/2019

    Location-based marketing is spreading beyond smartphones

    As the article expresses, mobile and digital out-of-home are the most prevalent venues for location-based communications and are the essence of connecting to the shopper at the appropriate time to increase the chance of closing the sale. For example, if the retailer knows that a high percentage of its shoppers make the decision to buy on their way from work, mobile messaging, timed correctly and delivered to the customer in transit makes sense for both buyer and seller. If the retailer communicates information that is relevant to the buyer, there is value. In terms of privacy, many who sign up for shopping apps, have the implicit expectation that they will receive targeted messaging via mobile or out of home technology that will add value and/or hasten the purchase process. The key has always been to be totally transparent about the intention to track the shopper, providing the benefits of that tracking, and offer an easy opt-out.
  • Posted on: 07/08/2019

    Is Walmart at an online crossroads?

    I experienced the "joy" of losing money (and sometimes my mind) launching a grocery home delivery service 25 years ago and the business dynamics since have not changed that much. Retailers who have built their economic model on the premise that the shopper will do most of the heavy lifting, that is driving to the store, traipsing through multiple aisles filling their baskets and then checking themselves out using a very user-unfriendly self-checkout, will find that the road to profitable e-commerce, whether it be BOPIS or delivery, very painful. Key to eventually finding an "happy place" with e-commerce will be the retailer's ability to view the customer holistically and understand the importance of that service as it pertains to keeping a healthy "share of customer." Obviously Walmart cannot (and will not) continue to lose the kinds of dollars it currently is losing. However it is often necessary to offer services that individually contribute negatively to the profits but are important to retain loyal shoppers who drive profitability when visiting the store and doing all the work.
  • Posted on: 04/29/2019

    Why can’t Amazon convert Prime shoppers into Whole Foods shoppers?

    I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves by wondering if Whole Foods (WF) and Amazon are misaligned entities. I think it more appropriate to first ponder what constitutes the IDEAL bricks and mortar partner for Amazon and then grade WF as to whether they fit that bill. To be fair to WF, my sense is that the Amazon Go stores are not the ultimate answer either. In my view, a hybrid of "traditional" supermarket is a likely candidate for the ideal, compatible physical outlet for Amazon. Unlike WF, I see this store being no larger than 20,000 square feet to accommodate shopper convenience and containing more traditional supermarket compatible items and prices. This store would smartly limit its assortment and SKU count and offer one that focuses on top selling categories that do not lend themselves to be delivered to the home on a predetermined schedule. The cashier-less checkout would remain a key optional feature. This store would also be equipped with pervasive interactive technology to provide Prime shoppers opportunities to order items for pickup and delivery beyond those found on the shelves. Perishable departments would be of high quality, competitively priced with traditional supermarkets, but occupying much less attention and share of the floor space that a WF stores allocates to them. The perishable offering would be complimented with moderately priced meal solutions. As I and other panelists have maintained in previous RT discussions, WF is really not a "mainstream" supermarket and therefore creating compatibility with Amazon, which is becoming more "mainstream" everyday, will continue to be a frustrating and even painful process. Maybe it's time to stop trying to put a square peg in a round "Whole."
  • Posted on: 04/11/2019

    What does it take to produce promos that pop?

    Certainly when a store is littered with sale tags on hundreds of items every week the impact of each of these deals is diminished over time. Those chains that practice hi-lo promotion and pricing are more likely to see improved lift from their efforts if they have fewer, but deeper discounts and as Jim Hertel suggests, couple those promotions with more targeted, digital overlays. Coming from the supermarket channel, my experience is that there are actually very few, highly repeated items that comprise the list of "key features" or front page items. The other discounted items are pass-throughs from manufacturers who are looking for more volume. Simply reprising these promotions year after year will undoubtedly produce diminished impact given that most competitors are pushing the same items. I call this promotion inertia. As long as everyday pricing is competitive, reducing the amount of deal tags your store personnel must change each week in favor of fewer, but better deals along with more targeted digital discounts is at least one strategy to lower store labor costs and shake up the stagnation that is grocery promotion.
  • Posted on: 04/08/2019

    Should uniform pricing be the norm for large chains?

    Most savvy retailers have aggressively deployed multiple "price zones" even within the confines of the smallest of geographic areas in order to "optimize" margin. In other words, be cheap only where you must and take margin wherever else you can as long as you are not impairing sales. In fact, the essence of major investments that retailers have made in price optimization tools is to do just that. Enter the world of online pricing, where every customer can compare every price, not only among competing retailers, but also within the retailer itself. Nothing will alienate a shopper more quickly than paying more for something at one store and then finding out that another store, even within the same retail chain is offering it at a lower price than you paid. Further, in an omni-channel environment, pricing is more transparent and accordingly so are a retailer's pricing inconsistencies. While it may still be possible to differentiate pricing between online and bricks and between brick's pricing zones, retailers now must exercise extreme caution when doing so. It only takes one shopper experience where prices appear to be manipulated for the sake of margin that will result in not only in a lost sale, but a lost shopper.
  • Posted on: 04/02/2019

    Again, Amazon attempts to shed Whole Foods’ high price image

    As President Ronald Reagan once famously said, "well, there you go again." It appears that Amazon is going to take another crack at a remedy for stagnant sales at Whole Foods. Certainly the higher prices found at Whole Foods are a problem with the rank and file grocer shopper. However lowering prices does not change the fact the Whole Foods is not really a grocery store. It is a specialty food store and the differences between the two are significant in that mainstream grocery shoppers will never see Whole Foods as a viable place to go and buy center store groceries, even with lower prices. This matters because Amazon is a mainstream brand and if there is to ever be clear synergy between Amazon users and its grocery brick-and-mortar outlet, their physical grocery stores must be branded and priced as mainstream and their offerings must be aligned with Kroger, Albertsons, Publix, etc., not Sprouts, Fresh Thyme, and Fresh Market.
  • Posted on: 04/01/2019

    Are third parties the biggest reason delivery costs keep going up?

    I launched a grocery delivery program for a supermarket retailer back in the mid-'90s and the same problem of high delivery costs plagued us then as it appears to be doing now. Whether you use a third party or source internally, the key to bringing incremental costs down is volume. Everything becomes more efficient when you are doing it repeatedly and in large quantities. Vans carrying multiple orders will always be more efficient than the back seat of a car with a single order. While there are logistical elements with delivery that can be tweaked, critical to getting (at least) to a break-even point with delivery is doing more of it.

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