Coles and Woolies are locked in a battle for share of the customers wallets and throats that becomes more complicated every day.

The competitive landscape has changed. The old model of them against each other and independent wholesaler supplied groups, has been spiced up by Aldi, Cosco, and the tide of competitive business models evolving both in store formats such as the convenience small stores around commuter points, farmers markets, and digitally enabled sales.

Those sales I call ‘Beyond Checkout’ cover everything from online ordering with home delivery to the evolution of old fashioned drive thorough pickup.

In my view the battle is a losing one for the gorillas without significant change to their operational culture. Their current business models are based on mass merchandising, not easily made compatible with the personalised service delivery and the  lower volume specialised products now being sought. You need go no further than the disappearance of Thomas Dux for evidence.

Having said that, I see 5 general areas for operational innovation of both the gorillas that would deliver ongoing profits, and sensitise them to the changes happening beyond the walls of their stores.

  1. In store technology deployment.

Deploying some level of the data driven category management control to store level would greatly enhance assortment optimisation, out of stock reduction, and margin maximisation. The assumption of course is that there is staff in the stores with the nous to leverage the information  they are being given.

There is also the juicy thought that stores will be able to connect to consumers in close proximity to stores via their mobile devices geo location capability and make them offers based on their purchase patterns. Then there is the option of instore kiosks harnessing the value of instore video and personalised advertising and promotion, again catalysed by your mobile device.

  1. Leveraging existing asset

Reduction of maintenance and running costs with innovations like rooftop solar power, preventative maintenance programs, improved store security, and stores as the logistic base for home delivery. Home delivery will become more and more important to time constrained consumers, so developing a compelling offer should be high on their agendas. To date the penetration has been poor because the logistics, particularly for fresh and frozen product is really challenging.

  1. Employee productivity improvements.

With better staff training, particularly in produce, customer sensitive opening and closing times, cash register  speeds (the Aldi insistence on prominent bar codes by observation speeds up throughput significantly), much can be achieved. Self-serve checkouts currently rolling out with store renovation programs have clearly been a success with consumers, and offer significant productivity improvements.

  1. Value chain optimisation

The use of collaborative technology  that goes back into supplier production planning and collaborative volume management from the production line to the checkout has been around for years. However, there remains huge opportunities to extract benefits from inventory management for all in the value chain. The barrier is cultural, as the gorillas want all the benefit to come their way, removing the incentive for suppliers to take risks and innovate, except when under the whip.  Collaboration through the value chain can deliver great benefits when done well.

  1. The customer experience,

What is retail about, if not customer experience?

It is here that retailers can differentiate themselves in all sorts of ways.  What they cannot do is demand from head office that customers like them, and prefer their stores over the others. Store choice is a personal thing for consumers, made up of many elements, but creating a store environment where the employees are pleased and proud to be of service is a great start.

Long way to go there.

What the senior management can do is provide the infrastructure that enables that level of personalisation and service to be delivered in stores, and the leadership to create and encourage the customer centric culture that front line employees then deliver.

And a final thought: Is that the light at the end, or a headlight?

E-tailing is a huge threat to the gorillas, and while it involves capital to develop and deploy the technology, it is essentially an individual engagement and transaction. Online gets all the publicity, but still only accounts for around 6% (depending on whose numbers, and which categories you look at) of sales. The gorillas should see E-tailing as their next opportunity area, to be embraced rather than feared.

Remember what happened to the Blockbuster video business? They had the game by the throat, Netflix was just an irritation in the corner, so they ignored them.

Bamm! Blockbuster is gone.

While it is still pretty hard to stream a family roast dinner, the lesson of Blockbuster should not go unheeded by Coles and Woolies.