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The top seven ‘hidden retailer insights’

BY Dan Mack

During last December’s Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit, our panel of retail executives discussed how to optimize consumer white spaces, creating new trips and value. If you were not there, you missed some great discussions by many of the top thinkers in our industry.

I believe everyone attending gained valuable feedback on how to uncover and fill currently unmet consumer white spaces. Two key themes were discussed:

First theme:  We all must continually engage in rapid learning and discussion with our retail partners, suppliers and competitors to evaluate assumptions, business models and emerging marketplace shifts if we all want to achieve success. Great innovations are birthed at the intersection of the consumer, the retailer and manufacturer. That is the magic of co-creation.

Second theme:  Oftentimes the criticism of the industry is that the innovation process seems like a “perpetual game of tag.”  Once a company innovates, everyone else attempts to copy the idea, creating  a sea of sameness, and the consumer is left confused. The real goal should be to go in another direction and invent something that is truly different.  “But as we all know, that is easier said than done.”

As I walked away from moderating this industry event, it hit me that there were a number of subtle “hidden insights” shared that may have slipped through the cracks.  Here are the hidden gems:

  1. Category role:  Each retailer emphasized, “Help me understand how my consumer defines the category within my store and what they expect of me?”  Vendors must help the retailer define the role of the category considering the changing mind-set of their consumer. Insight:  National consumer trends are not enough. The retailer wants to better understand how their consumer sees the category, and what their consumer wants from the category in their store. The consumers’ category expectation is different depending on the retailer.
  2. Localized assortment:  The trend toward localized assortments helps optimize regional or cultural needs. Retailers are looking for assortment insights that address community, neighborhood and household needs to create the optimal assortment by store. Insight: Who within your operation is thinking about this insight, and how do you bring new knowledge to your top retailers relative to deeper consumer, regional or market segmentation?  The goal is to optimize your revenue by optimizing the stores that better align with your product offering. In the new economy, it is about value creation on a store-level basis.
  3. Emerging insights:  Many of the retailers shared that they want their partners to provide emerging and international insights that help them understand “what’s next?”  This includes harnessing or uncovering new insight that assists them in creating solutions that address future demands coming around the corner.  They also are looking for in-store ideas that create a stronger experience for their consumers, helping them brand the store. Insight:  Provide them with something they do not know, helping them understand “what’s next” and how to create attachment with their most valuable core consumer.
  4. One voice:  Often time’s manufacturers think about the retailers business as two separate enterprises: brick-and-mortar and the .com digital business.  The panel made it very clear that you must think about this as an integrated blended business. If you are not, you are not in alignment.  Insight: Both arms of the business should not be thought of as a separate business — but one integrated voice. (Programs, imagery, positioning and solutions must align, and manufacturing teams should think of this one comprehensive business.)
  5. Self-treatment solutions: Since 38% of consumers self-treat at home, there are always opportunities to create products and services for this core consumer group.  Retailers are looking for companies that create brands that address unmet needs or offer health-and-wellness products currently only available through medical professionals.  Insight: Develop and facilitate co-creation meetings exploring products that address self-treatment items within the category or adjacencies.  This is a ripe opportunity.
  6. Critical thinking:  The new skills expected of tomorrow’s manufacturers are “critical thinking” and the ability to “synthesize” information and get down to the best actionable insights that truly matter to the consumer.  Insight:  the more your sales and marketing organizations share global insights, think critically about the retailers business, partner with the right alliances, co-create and invent in-store experiences  — the stronger your odds of success.  The top retailers are looking for sales and marketing executives who think like general managers.
  7. Ethnographic insights:  Our panel wants their partners to gather ethnographic insights with their core consumer. Ethnographic insights are gathered by researchers who study the habits and lifestyles of consumer within their home.  The research is deeper and more objective than focus groups, because it is reality based. Insight:  “Go deeper with your knowledge and bring hidden insights that transform your product development, based on how the consumer lives. The behavior of a dollar or mass channel customer is very different than the behavior of a high-end food retailer.  Retailers are looking for insights based on the behavior — and hidden needs — of their own customers. Go the extra mile, understand the retailer’s core consumer.

Thanks once again to our panel of leaders.  We all received an education on how to create more value in our business engagements. 


Dan Mack is founder of Mack Elevation Forum and a partner in The Swanson Group. To learn more go to www.mackelevationforum.com.

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Sears Holdings narrows losses in Q4, FY2012

BY Alaric DeArment

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Kmart’s comps declined 3.7% for the fourth quarter and fiscal year 2012, while parent company Sears Holdings’ integrated online business grew by 25% for the quarter and 17% for the year, Sears Holdings said Thursday.

Sears’ U.S. stores, on the other hand, posted a 0.8% increase in comps for the fourth quarter and a 1.4% decrease for the year, while the company’s Canadian stores saw comps decline by 3.8% for the quarter and 5.6% for the year.

Members of the Shop Your Way loyalty program drive more than 50% of sales at Sears’ U.S. stores and at Kmart for the quarter and year as the company posted a $489 million loss for the quarter and $930 million for the year, compared with respective losses of $2.4 billion and $3.1 billion last year.

In a letter to shareholders Thursday, chairman and CEO Edward Lampert touted the Shop Your Way program as "more than just a typical loyalty program" and highlighted its role in transitioning Sears to a membership-based company. "It is a comprehensive platform that transforms customer transactions into relationships and allows us to know our Members better and to serve them better as well," Lampert wrote. "It includes the rewards program, our shopyourway.com social shopping platform, our SHOP YOUR WAY Max free shipping platform and a variety of other applications and components. Collectively, these elements change the way we do business both inside and outside the company."

Sears Holdings’ sales for the quarter were $12.3 billion, compared with $12.5 billion in fourth-quarter 2011, while sales were $39.9 billion for the fiscal year, compared with $41.6 billion in fiscal year 2011.

"Sears Holdings made progress in 2012 improving the profitability of our business, but we know there’s more work to be done in 2013," Lampert said; former CEO Lou D’Ambrosio stepped down as CEO in January due to family health matters. "Our focus continues to be on our core customers, our members and finding ways to provide them value and convenience through integrated retail and our Shop Your Way membership platform. We have invested significantly in our online e-commerce platforms, our membership rewards program and the technology needed to support these initiatives." 

The company attributed the decrease in Kmart’s comps to a "significant" decrease in the consumer electronics category, as well as declines in the grocery, household and pharmacy categories, with the pharmacy decline reflecting the generic drug wave.

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NCPA provides insight on addressing waste, fraud and abuse in health care to House subcommittee

BY Michael Johnsen

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The National Community Pharmacists Association on Wednesday submitted a statement for the record to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee for its hearing on “Fostering Innovation to Fight Waste, Fraud and Abuse in Health Care.” NCPA’s statement called for pharmacy audits to focus on true waste, fraud and abuse as opposed to clerical errors, and for policymakers to examine mail-order waste in federal health programs. 

“The fiscal integrity of government programs requires finding effective and efficient ways of rooting out fraud, waste and abuse,” stated NCPA CEO Douglas Hoey. “When the right patient receives the right medication as prescribed, at the right time and for the correct price, that shouldn’t be a punishable offense. Pharmacy audits should focus on finding real malfeasance. Instead, clerical errors are being utilized to pad the middleman’s profits on the backs of healthcare providers," he said. "In addition, policymakers must achieve greater oversight of waste generated by mail-order autoshipping as well as transparency to better manage and evaluate contracts with pharmacy benefit managers.”

NCPA’s statement noted that nearly half (43.6%) of claims deemed to be overpayments were reversed in favor of providers upon appeal.

And Medicare acknowledges egregious pharmacy auditing, noting in the 2014 draft Call Letter that, “[t]he increasing incidence of these adjustments for ‘routine clerical errors’ rather than incorrect payment amounts (financial errors) may be related to the incentives in contingency reimbursement arrangements with claim audit vendors.” They added, “[w]e are concerned that the growing practice of post-audit total claim recoupments from pharmacies is distorting Part D payment, as well as compromising Part D data integrity and impairing our ability to oversee the program.”

NCPA added that waste through mail order auto-shipping is rampant. Medicare has received complaints from beneficiaries about auto-shipping of excessive or unneeded medical products and has documented such incidences. Recently, in front of the House Small Business Committee, a Medicare official testified that from a selected group of beneficiaries that ceased ordering DTS in 2011, 60% of these beneficiaries had more than 10 months’ worth of diabetes testing supplies on hand, likely as a result of mail-order autoshipping. In addition, NCPA strongly encourages an audit of the TRICARE mail-order program, given the many examples of mail-order waste observed by NCPA members.

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