Amazon, Whole Foods and the future of supermarkets in Australia

Amazon, Whole Foods and the future of supermarkets in Australia

Amazon would not have paid $13.8 Billion for Whole foods without a plan. The purchase came as a surprise to most, but it should not have, they have been evolving into bricks and mortar for some time, with books, Amazon Go, The Washington Post,  and a few other dabbles.

Most commentators look at Amazon as a digital retailer, but when you think about it, they are not: they are a Platform that manages supply chains. Those supply chains just happen to end with consumers, rather than a B2B transaction.

Looking at the purchase of Whole Foods through the lens of a supermarket retailer will lead you to wrong conclusions, as you will be looking for the efficiencies that can be squeezed out of the existing model, with a few wrinkles added in.

Wrong lens, wrong model.

Amazon will reinvent the Whole Foods supply chains, and extend them straight to consumers, probably using Blockchain technology. Wal-mart is experimenting with Blockchain in their Pork and Mango supply chains, and I would be astonished if the work Amazon has been doing developing Blockchain technology in finance markets leveraging Amazon web services in collaboration with IBM was not applied very quickly to Whole Foods.

Amazons success (I predict) with Whole Foods  will be enabled by their efficient systems, great technology, engaged workforce and all the other stuff parroted around, but the real reason is far more strategic.

In the ‘old world,’  whether it referred to supermarkets, newspapers, personal transport, or accommodation, success came with the control of supply, which required capital to be in the game. In the digital world, success comes from the control of demand.

Amazon has demonstrated its mastery of demand management, and has demonstrated that this mastery can be leveraged backwards into the physical world, as they deliver a huge range of goods from their warehouses.

The mission statement on Amazons site states:  “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”  No mention I can see of digital, or technology, just customers!

By any measure, Bricks and mortar is on the slide, but on-line sales still amounts to a small proportion of retail. Just what the percentage is depends on whose numbers, and what they classify as retail, but it is less than 10%, 8.3% according to this study but will be more based on the huge number of filings for bankruptcy current in the US. According to this 2017 Nielsen study, online sales of FMCG accounts for 8% of dollars.



The split sales between on line and in store is very wide across different categories, but the growth of 80% in digital while off a modest base, is a statistic that should scare the pants off Coles, Woolworths, and other ‘traditional supermarkets around the world. Sainsburys in the UK has suffered in the share price stakes as their profitability has slipped, while they seem to have done a pretty good job with home delivery, and digital generally. Amazon could buy them from cash flow. Just a thought!


What will the digital/bricks & mortar split be in 20 years?

Will the current 90/10 reverse itself?

Perhaps not, but 50/50 would not seem to be outrageous when you think of the developments in Virtual reality emerging, where you will be able to visit your supermarket from the convenience of your couch at home.

The future is in personalisation, we all seem to accept that. However, the existing supermarket business model is intent on homogenising the experience in the pursuit of low costs.

Do you see a paradox emerging in this? Retailers are doing exactly what consumers do not want, at least outside commodity categories, as is evident in the foregoing graph.

I think  the era of big box retail is coming to an end, and in its place will be experiential retail. Alibaba, the Chinese version of the combination of Amazon and Ebay has stayed away from owning anything beyond the platform that enables connection and sales, but that is also changing. There are now 13 Hema supermarkets around Shanghai, delivering a step towards experiential retail, and using technology to drive then enable the transactions.

If I was running Coles, I would be experimenting with ‘MasterChef’  sections in some stores. Have a chef, cooking the fresh produce in  the stores, simple recipes that shoppers can see in use, and certainly purchase pre packed bundles that have all  the ingredients along with prep notes. Similarly in the Coles owned Bunnings I would have workshops teaching ‘do it yourselfers’ how to use the tools and materials, running classes that use them to make something. Customers  can then buy the tools, blueprints and product packs to make a work bench, toys for the kids, or whatever they wish. In Bunnings currently, if you want to be stocked, you need to have merchandisers that fill the shelves. The next logical stage is to have branded sub stores, where there is only branded product on sale, and with an ‘advisor’ paid by the supplier, on hand.

A shop within a shop if you like, which is not a new idea, department stores have had fashion brands running sections in their stores for years. Experiential retail.

The supermarkets are going in the opposite direction, commoditising everything in the name of efficiency.

The industry has consolidated and consolidated, fewer brands, retail options, and producers. Perhaps there is a tipping point, and we are just passing it.

The consumer is increasingly looking for natural, local, assured provenance, and  environmentally sustainable product, all mixed in with a new shape of ‘value’ less dominated by price than has been in the past. Communicating and delivering these attributes are the foundations of branding, and the delivery of ‘value’ to a purchaser.

Woolworths will live to regret the closure of Thomas Dux. It started so well. Their in store  ‘Foodies’ were a hit in the stores I visited, but the weight of the Woolworths machine drowned them. Bring it back I say, it may be your saviour, or try and buy Harris Farm again before Amazon come in and offer the Harris family enough to retire in gilded luxury to Monaco.

I like Ray Kurzweil’s observation that ‘The future comes very slowly, then all at once’.

This is classically the emergence of AI and combined with the Gartner Hype cycle makes a compelling case. Gartner’s 2016 Hype cycle has several technologies that relate to and are integral to the development of all the AI and VR stuff being hyped. Amazon has the grunt to bring all this to the table and disrupt the comfortable supermarket duopoly that exists in Australasia.

If nothing else, it will be fascinating to watch


Header photo credit: Eli Christman via Flikr.

The simple 4 letter word that underpins every improvement initiative.

The simple 4 letter word that underpins every improvement initiative.

Improving the performance of businesses is often like being set loose in a commercial kitchen without a recipe. Random ingredients, absence of some staples, disaffected staff, erratic processes, and severe cost pressures, but still being expected to produce an experience people are prepared to pay for.

Not easy

However, every time I look back on a project, the common factor that has made the most difference is not what you would expect.

It is not the financials, or the marketing plan, or how well the sales force performed, it is more basic than all that, and enables all those things:


Simple word, and an idea at the core of all performance improvement.

The concept of flow emerged from the work done to improve manufacturing processes by W. Edwards Deeming, Joseph Juran, and others, and was first widely implemented and documented by Toyota, then spread around the world as ‘Lean thinking’ and the ‘Toyota Production System’.

At the core of Lean is Flow, and at the core of any improvement in any process, physical or otherwise,  in any context, is flow.

The basic confusion is between being busy, and being productive. Jumping up and down in one spot may be  busy, but it is hardly productive unless you are killing ants.

Optimising flow in manufacturing operations requires the configuration of all the lines such that work passes unobstructed from job centre to job centre through to completion. The faster and more uninterrupted the flow, the higher the output.

Flow optimisation always requires the counter intuitive decision to leave unused capacity at points in the process, to avoid building Work in progress inventory, which act as ‘rapids’ in the flow metaphor. It usually feels wrong to leave available capacity unused, but the slowest work centre will be the limiting factor for  the whole process, and to keep the flow steady, the flow rate is limited by that slowest point. In addition, shit always happens, something breaks, an item spec ‘wanders, ingredient fails to come in as required, so there is always downtime of some sort. This means that  some spare capacity in the system is a requirement for  the flow to be matched to demand, or ‘Pull’ in Lean parlance.

A key component of flow is the orderly release of work into the process. A schedule is written based on priority and optimal flow, and is then executed without change. Queue jumping, to meet unscheduled customer expectations, is a common distraction from the plan that multiplies, disrupts everything, and often results in total turmoil in the flow. It is deadly to process optimisation.

These days, not as much manufacturing is done, after all many of us are told we are now knowledge workers.

Exactly the same principals apply. While it may be harder to see because there is no physical product moving down a production line, the thought process is identical.

The trouble with these non physical tasks, is that they come at us from every direction, often with little warning and lead time, and with ambiguous importance and priority. Unscheduled demands on our time.

How do you sort through the mess to optimise your productivity?

A now standard method is the scaling of Importance and urgency into quadrants. When analysing how our time is spent, most of us find that too much is spent in the not important/urgent quadrant, when we should be focusing on the important items, urgent or otherwise. It is almost always the important/not urgent tasks that get shuffled aside, and it is these items that have the greatest long term impact on the performance of an enterprise.

An alternative means to allocate time is on an ‘Impact/Effort’ continuum. Tasks that are high impact, low effort are the quick wins so beloved of consultants, by contrast, high effort, low impact tasks are just thankless tasks, and not worth doing.

Everyone is in charge of managing their time to some extent, the further away you are from a time driven physical process, the greater the amount if discretion you will have. It behoves you to work the tasks in front of you in order of priority. Responding to that email may seem important, after all it has come in, the ‘new email bleep’ (Pavlov would love this one were he still alive) has sounded, there is a sense of urgency generated, but in 99% of cases, what does it really matter of the email goes unopened.

In everything you do, consider the impact and benefits of optimising Flow.

Photo credit  Dirk Veltkamp: Thredbo river.


How to ensure your copy does not get read.

How to ensure your copy does not get read.

Copywriting is easy.

That is what you tell yourself, after all, you can write, you are a professional, very used to communicating, and doing it successfully.

My sister is a writer, and every now and again she grabs one of my posts over which I have slaved (yes, it is OK to have family subscribed) and goes into what I call her ‘Teacher mode’

Out comes the red pen and professional editor and she rewrites my posts.

They are subtly altered, so the intent of the post is clearer, makes a greater impact on the reader, and ends up being way, way better.

It galls me a bit that it is a skill beyond mine,  but on the other hand, she makes me feel better by telling me she could never dream up the topics and angles that I do, all she does is polish it a bit.

We are inundated with copy, it comes at us at all times, through all our devices,  and now is increasingly visual  as a means to fight the war for your attention. However, like most things the volume going up does not have any real impact on the quality, if anything the average has dropped as we become ‘do-it-yourselfers’ in order to keep the volume up.

The headline is the most important element of copy in any piece. If you fail to cut through, catch attention, and create an urge to read on, it does not matter how good the rest is, it will not be seen.

There is piles of advice around on how to write a great headline, most of it pretty good, but also so much that we tend to get tunnel vision, and forget most of it, so following are 4 basic things I see continuously that ensures I do not open a piece.

Talking about yourself.

Nobody cares about you, except perhaps your mother, or in my case, my sister. They care about themselves, their lives, and their problems. A good headline reflects those needs, pain points, and offers help to a specific group that you wish to communicate with, and at  the very least, creates interest.

If you are a dentist, do not talk about how modern your equipment is, or how many degrees you may have, address the reason someone  may be looking for a dentist. They have broken a tooth, their child has a crooked bite, or they have a toothache that needs attention.

Using jargon.

Every industry has jargon, it acts as shorthand for insiders, so if you want to grab the attention of your competitors, use the jargon they understand, but if you would rather catch the attention of those who might want to act on what you say, avoid it like the plague.

Last week I saw a headline that promised: ‘to deliver a sophisticated customer centric e-commerce solution to SME’s’ . How much better would it have been if the headline simply promised to make it easy from small businesses to get paid.

Showing how clever you are.

For your potential customer, clear beats clever every single time. It may not get a chuckle from your mates in the pub after work, but so what, they are already your mates, and not required to pay your bills. The most common offender is the use of a pun, never as funny in a headline as in the pub, followed closely by the use of ‘digital shorthand’ such as ‘gr8’.

Allowing grammatical and spelling errors.

Perhaps it is just my age, but a spelling or grammatical error in a headline or sub head ensures I do not open it. Not only does it offend my sense of what is right, it demonstrates that the writer is either too stupid to understand the basic rules of written communication, or that they have so little concern for my time that they did not make the effort to get it right. Why would I read it in either case?

The difference between ordinary copy, and great copy is a big bagful of money, and a lot of effort, experience and specialist skill.


3 foundations for B2B revenue generation.

3 foundations for B2B revenue generation.

Creating a process that delivers consistent and profitable revenue involves a whole range of functional collaboration from the agreement of the strategic objectives to the relationship building that occurs after the early honeymoon of the first sales.

It takes time, effort and commitment from a lot of people, and importantly a process that is sustainable.

The usual metaphor of a ‘Sales Funnel’ is well understood, but flawed in many respects, principally because the behaviour of existing and potential customers is rarely as predictable and linear as a funnel assumes.

However, the sales process can be broken into a series of steps that reasonably represents the sort of activities required to assemble leads and develop them into long term customers.


To my mind, prospecting has three elements.

  • Building a wider network of relationships within existing customers, focussed on the servicing of existing business, with the objective of increasing the share of wallet
  • Identifying and making contact with those to whom the value proposition has the potential to resonate in the existing market segments
  • Go exploring, seeing where the capabilities you have may be applicable in ways that are not as obvious. I find the 70/25/5 rule applies as much to sales prospecting as it does to the more complicated and holistic challenges of a business turnaround. 70% of a sales prospecting time should be spent finding ways to increase the share of wallet of existing customers, and perhaps chasing those generated who have lapsed, 25% devoted to identifying and engaging with new customers who fit the usual profile of a prospect, and 5% being ‘out there’ exploring.

All three elements recognise the role played by the tools of digital marketing. People are expensive, so it is managements  task to leverage the cost to the maximum extent. Much of the role of the traditional sales rep has been overtaken by digital tools, but it still takes a person to ‘close’ and build a relationship. Such people are not order takers, they are amongst the most important people in your business.

Metrics present challenges, the adage that what you measure gets done is largely true. Therefore prospecting needs to be tasked and measured in meaningful ways that direct the effort made in alignment with the strategy. There is a whole list of elements that are present in a prospecting toolkit, such as: time bound revenue objectives and qualified sales opportunities, conversion rates of leads generated, outbound calls and contacts, Identification and relationship building with new contacts in existing customers, same for prospective customers, understanding  and profiling of a prospects business,



Long term revenue generation  requires a mix of repeat business, new business from existing customers, and business from new customers. The mix will be different in each case, and some level of management of these needs to be reflected in the way the metrics are set up. For example, a start-up leveraging new technology will have targets very different from an existing business that operates in a mature industry. Nevertheless, the process of conversion needs to be managed so that there is a steady and predictable as far as possible flow of business. Predictability of  the business coming in is a key to managing a business with as little ‘internal friction’ as possible. When there is predictability, most of the revenue is generated in a semi-automatic way, but when there is little  predictability, everything is a crisis, and crises consume inordinate amounts of management time and attention, leaving the important but not urgent stuff undone.

The sorts off metrics used can be broken into a number of classes:

  • Revenue generated
  • Leads generated and conversion rates necessary to generate the revenue
  • Data base management. This applies to the data on the markets in which you operate, the number and type of prospects in a market, as well as the more common CRM type data that accumulates detail on calls, responses, status of enquiries and what next type information.
  • Quantification of the funnel, how many leads are just ideas, to the hot prospect stage. As noted earlier, customers rarely behave in a linear fashion, but the metaphor often helps to ensure that the right resources are allocated at the right times.



Measuring the state of a relationship is never easy, the measures are usually subjective, and only truly evident over time. Like good parenting, we all know it benefits the kids, but the outcomes are really only evident over time.

  • Share of wallet my  personal favorite B2B ,measure  the most useful and often overlooked measure of the effectiveness of a relationship and of the sales personnel involved. How much of the spending of a customer that you could supply, do you actually supply? How much of their available ‘wallet’ comes to you? You can delude yourself in the manner in which you define the wallet, but defining the wallet in accordance to the things you can reasonably supply Vs would  like to supply, is sensible, and leads to the building of capabilities that will get you into other areas of a customers wallet.

How they see you. Are you the supplier of a commodity product, one that relies on price to make the sale, or at the other end of the scale, are you a trusted partner who collaborates for mutual success, and the sales you make are simply an outcomes of receiving an order from a purchasing system. For 30 years, I have used a sliding scale between these two points to measure the state of relationships. You easily create such a scale for yourself, but it does require some objectivity, just asking your sales reps for their assessment on a once off basis usually delivers nonsense.


4 essential questions for the new leader to ask

4 essential questions for the new leader to ask

Taking the top job in a new organisation is a stressful experience. No amount of planning and research can properly inform you of the cultural  DNA of the organisation you will be taking over. That knowledge will only come over time, and only if you go actively looking for it.

In many cases, new leaders do  not go looking, and as a result usually do not know what it is they are changing by their presence, and often do not care, to their cost.

Nothing is as resilient as a culture that perceives itself to be under threat from a new leader who ignores it.

In the course of coaching leaders, I encourage them to be absolutely transparent, to never shy away from those often difficult but clarifying conversations that are the daily menu of leadership. For the new leader taking a role in a new organisation, I encourage them to act like a sponge in the first few weeks, and understand the nuances of what they are really getting into.

Four simple questions can be very useful, and I encourage you to ask them of every senior employee you can in that very first familiarisation encounter, and if possible to communicate the questions beforehand, to allow them to think about the answers.

  • What three things do you think we should change.
  • What three things should we leave absolutely alone
  • What three things do you most want me to do
  • What three things would you encourage me not to do.

After you have asked as many of the existing employees as practical the same four questions, you will have a pretty good picture of the way things are around the place, and what the pressing issues are.

It is a bit like learning to swim.

You cannot do it from a book, you have to get into the water to experience it for yourself, and in this case the four questions are similar to learning to dog paddle, and to stick your face under water for the first time.

Cartoon credit: Hugh McLeod @ Gaping Void.