PROFILE

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...
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  • Posted on: 06/02/2022

    Are consumers stumped by percent-off promos?

    Not addressed in the article was the prospect of shoppers being sent the "wrong" signals when percentage discounts get too lofty. When a retailer takes 60 percent - 70 percent off an item, past research (I have read or experienced first hand) tells us that shoppers often question the validity or the value of the base price (pre-discount) and/or wonder if the product is substandard or even defective. BOGOs appear to work well if applied to the right products (those that are consumed in quantities in a reasonable amount of time), but retailers and brands that require the shopper to buy more than two items in any group of items in order to get the discount are running the risk of asking the shopper to do too much work or math. Simple and consistent are the operable words when it comes to promotions.
  • Posted on: 04/07/2022

    Solid jobs numbers mean grocers must concentrate on their workforce even more

    As important as the “workforce” is to the future of retailing and especially brick-and-mortar retailing, it is only a piece of the puzzle. The retail workforce, for as long as I can recall, was a repository for part-time and first time workers. In most cases, retail workers required no appreciable skill sets as long as they were trainable. While many of us made a nice living as full-time retail associates, We knew full well the life blood of our profitability was keeping labor costs under control. We also knew the fastest way to do that was to keep your workforce predominantly part-time and with few if any benefits. Now, given a variety of external marketplace pressures upon the labor market, finding this “labor cost nirvana” has become a veritable nightmare. Doing all the right things to hire and retain good people are certainly more imperative than ever, but the resulting higher wages and better benefits also hastens the need to hike prices to maintain margins and finding new ways to automate and make more efficient the retail experience. Ironically, this normally translates into fewer employees in the store, which manifests as more self-service and more burden on the shopper during their visit to the store. Over time this situation will find a place of equilibrium but, for the short run, the necessary investments that retailers need to make will inherently not be shopper-centric. In fact, they will likely further drive prices up and reduce the number of in-store employees to offer their assistance.
  • Posted on: 03/21/2022

    Will smaller, more localized stores work for Kohl’s?

    As online sales increase, many retailers are experiencing diminished financial returns in their physical stores. Along those lines, having smaller formats in the mix of stores is likely a smart move as long as the assortment in those smaller footprints provides a sufficient array of categories and variety to attract shoppers. Despite all efforts to tailor the products to the community and demographics, if shoppers feel they are being too limited in their options in the smaller stores -- vis-a-vis the larger Kohl's stores -- some may not find the smaller stores sufficient for their needs.
  • Posted on: 02/14/2022

    Will retailers find it harder to pass along price increases in the months ahead?

    Passing on price increases will be challenging particularly in food, drug and mass and among those outlets that position themselves as a value option. For other channels, whose offerings are less of a necessity and more discretionary, I believe they will be able to find ways to create value while maintaining margins. Across all retail channels, most would love to invest some of their profits by hiring much needed staff up and down the supply chain. If production and availability of product and services increase as we emerge from Omicron, perhaps the need for price increases will diminish by the third quarter.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth

    As many as already asserted, as far as the customer is concerned, there should be just one relationship with the retailer irrespective of shopping online or in-store. Accordingly, services and products available should be as close to identical as physically possible to provide the shopper with consistent experience. Where separation may makes some sense is on the fulfillment side of the business, where orders are picked from a warehouse and not a specific store.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2022

    Has BOPIS lost its pandemic boost?

    I do not believe BOPIS as it is currently is offered is a sustainable long-term proposition for either the consumer or the retailer. Despite many retailers eliminating cashiers in favor of self-checkout, retailers and their fragile P&Ls cannot be thrilled with paying people to clog the aisles of their traditional brick-and-mortar stores with long, bulky carts as they pick their BOPIS orders. For the shopper, the survey cited captures several areas where there is a disconnect for them. Anecdotally, my only two personal experiences with this process contained multiple stockouts and mis-picks. As we emerge (someday) from the pandemic, if BOPIS is to remain a viable option -- it will need to be re-thought both logistically and technologically.
  • Posted on: 10/15/2021

    Are brands about to take over the produce department?

    While I understand the "margin compression" issue, there are some distinct positives in migrating to branded, prepackaged produce. These branded products are inherently much easier and more time-efficient to stock and recondition compared to loose, fresh product. The allure of a reliable brand should also be a plus. Further and more to the ergonomic side of things, with retailers forcing more shoppers to shelf-checkout, scanning packaged product instead of dealing with weight and PLUs during that process is a time saver for shoppers. Overall, I see it as a positive.
  • Posted on: 10/11/2021

    How should retailers communicate supply chain snafus?

    For those larger retailers such as Walmart and Home Depot, they have a slightly different story to tell their shoppers. They in fact are proactively chartering ships to circumvent the current clogged system that is often mired in governmental policies, labor shortages, and inefficiencies. Communicating this proactive approach would very likely be an appreciated message to frustrated shoppers. Furthermore, if indeed they are successful in staying in-stock on commonly affected categories when their competitors cannot, they will reap not only incremental sales but likely shopper respect and loyalty going forward.
  • Posted on: 08/25/2021

    Do new Shipt and Walmart programs signal big changes to come in the retail delivery market?

    As physical retailers continue to invest to become more like Amazon, Amazon is investing in brick-and-mortar stores to become more like them. In the end, a few big retailers will drive the majority of the last mile business, as they will be the only ones who have the scale to do so profitably.
  • Posted on: 06/18/2021

    Retailers must centralize their data to thrive

    Certainly, having one version of the shopper across all shopping channels is the gold standard and the necessary goal for cogent analysis, decision making and shopper communications. One of several reasons why this condition does not exist, as intuitive as it may be, is retailers often have external partners and these partners manage a slice of their shopper data, not all. So data and reporting comes from disparate sources. Another scenario is one in which stores or regions manage their own shopper data and marketing and merchandising decisions and they have never been made centrally, but rather locally, so there has been no urgency for centralization. Consolidating the data is easy enough from a process standpoint, but connecting and updating multiple sources of shopper data can get gnarly and expensive if done ad hoc. The solution lies in a commitment from the retailer leadership to have a plan to create a real-time updating process that collects and organizes the data centrally. As others have posited, in the omnichannel world we live in, not having a full view of the shopper across both in-store and online touchpoints is a giant swing and a miss.
  • Posted on: 06/14/2021

    UPS entry could even the same-day delivery playing field

    The more delvery service providers in the game, the better the chance for a profitable business model to emerge. For example: as physical grocery stores evolve, having the ability for a shopper to buy perishables and impulse items in person, but yet give the shopper the affordable, time-saving option by ordering in-store and receiving the bulky and "repeated use items" later that day would be a plus. As UPS ups their game and becomes a player in this space, I could see significant partnerships with retailers forming, IF innovation and technology allows them to offer the service at a reasonable price.
  • Posted on: 06/10/2021

    Will grocery basket sizes be cut down to their former size?

    Depending upon how shopper-efficient and adaptive the physical store has become, basket size item count will continue to rise in the efficient stores, but likely decline in stores that expect the shopper to revert back to their pre-pandemic expectations. If food inflation continues at current pace, it will be difficult for any food retailer worth their weight not to experience increased dollar rings and positive year over year dollar comps.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2021

    Do Kroger’s chains have more to gain or lose from closing stores over ‘hero’ pay increases?

    I think this strategy is much more about the broader notion that local municipalities can dictate your labor costs and therefore your ability to operate. I also believe that it is not a coincidence that this is happening in California where the governor is being recalled, ostensibly because of onerous and in the opinion of many of his constituents, nonsensical diktats. Point being, that in California, Kroger and other retailers have good reason to believe these new rules and regulations may not be as temporary as being postured. Time will tell if Kroger is the hero or the goat with this decision but, given the current mindset in California, it is just as likely the shoppers will blame the rule makers as they do Kroger for this decision.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2021

    Keep on growing is Target’s mantra as chain announces leadership moves

    In my opinion, of the many things that Target does very well, food and beverage is not among them. I believe that moving Rick Gomez, an accomplished leader with CPG experience, to run that portion of Target's business is both telling and smart. I have high regard for Brian Cornell and his ability to place the right folks in the right seats.
  • Posted on: 12/10/2020

    What will it take to get shoppers back into stores in 2021?

    Beyond vaccines and lower case counts, stores should be proactive in the way they merchandise and lay out their stores. First, they need to better understand why shoppers prefer to shop in-store. Chief among those reasons are sensory and experiential elements, which you cannot replicate online. In-store theater is going to become more important than ever along with clear messaging that helps the shopper make quicker purchase decisions. Secondly, shoppers will need space to navigate. Packing too much inventory and displays in stores that restrict the shopper's ability to keep their distance will serve as yet another reason to stay away. Lastly, retailers should work to connect the in-store experience to the online experience, by extending access to additional inventories not carried in-store through placement of ordering kiosks and other technologies. Shoppers are not going to stop buying online and if they view the retailer as a true omnichannel resource, that retailer will have a better chance to gain their loyalty.

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