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: 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.
  • Posted on: 03/15/2019

    Will 5G bring the tech benefits that consumers and marketers expect?

    My guess is that the enhanced speed will translate into more streaming services and more content being directed towards mobile devices and a corresponding shift away from advertising on more expensive, less targeted venues like cable TV. None of this will happen overnight, but those technologists that I have talked to about 5G believe the changes it will bring to both business and personal communications will be dramatic.
  • Posted on: 03/11/2019

    Will Costco’s new $15 minimum wage hurt or benefit the chain?

    Costco, unlike Whole Foods, who felt the need to slash shifts after giving their associates a $15 minimum wage, stands a much better chance of allowing their associates to keep their hours, given their business model. Given their limited number of SKUs and their high average transaction sizes, Costco is clearly banking on keeping the best available associates on board, while continuing to hone in on additional efficiencies to keep SG&A expenses from skyrocketing. With retailers, whose labor productivity is not nearly as high as Costco, (Whole Foods, et al) raising wages too dramatically, too quickly will almost assuredly lead to layoffs, hour cuts, and even higher prices to offset the expense.
  • Posted on: 03/08/2019

    Will new Scan & Go tech turbocharge Sam’s checkouts?

    Sam's and Walmart are both actively reducing the number of cashiers on duty, thus creating an environment for automated Scan & Go or self-checkout to be a welcomed alternative to standing in a lengthy line. Subtle manipulation aside, I agree with the other panelist who believe this is an inevitable step in the right direction, if the technology proves to be accurate and shopper-centric. It should also serve as a harbinger for further change as given the negative impact in the short term on cashiers, who will be well served to expanded their skill sets beyond checking out shoppers.
  • Posted on: 03/07/2019

    Where are grocers failing on in-store experience?

    At the risk of being a bit of a contrarian among the comments of my colleagues, I don't see the contemporary shopper seeking "experiences" from their local supermarket as much as they are seeking efficiency. After spending much of my 30 years in the supermarket channel devising ways to engage, woo and entice shoppers, I eventually learned that most supermarket transactions are small basket mission trips, with the primary goal of the shopper being to get in and get out as quickly as possible. If this were not the case, BOPIS and home delivery would not be gaining ground as viable options. If this were not the case, smaller more efficient formats like Aldi and Lidl would not be gaining market share. While it is an admirable goal to be innovative and engaging, supermarket merchants need to give up on the idea that shoppers have a burning desire to spend more time with them. Merchandise the best selling items to where shoppers can get them quickly. Design stores so that they are more intuitive and shopper ergonomic. Use technology that helps the shopper hasten their trip, as opposed to assigning another task to them while they are on their mission. My experience, bolstered by overwhelming data tells me it's time to change our mindsets as retailers. We should first strive to accommodate shoppers before we give them more reasons to go elsewhere.

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