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E-commerce in Brazil – Marred By Political and Social Influences

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The opportunities for e-commerce offered by several emerging countries, such as the BRIC, has been analyzed at length, and quite rightfully so, given their expanding economies, growing middle class, soaring disposable incomes, paired with higher internet and mobile penetration. While the opportunities coming from these transformations are plentiful, e-commerce markets in the BRIC countries also face serious challenges to their development, some of them common across all four countries, some unique to single markets.

We explore these challenges in a four-part series to understand the major roadblocks influencing growth of the e-commerce industries across Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Brazilian consumers are still relatively new to e-commerce, with current propensity to shop online often compared with the penetration rate witnessed in the US market in 2000-2001. This might seem like a small market, however, the e-commerce growth in Brazil is strong, estimated at 21% during the first half of 2012. According to AT Kearney, Brazil’s 80 million Internet users spend about US$10.6 billion online annually, the largest online spending across Latin American markets. Brazilians are expected to spend US$18.7 billion per year by 2017. These might be modest estimates, considering that eMarketer, a digital marketing portal, already forecasts that retail e-commerce sales in Brazil will grow by 14.8% in 2013, to reach US$13.26 billion. While the market appears to be poised for a very promising growth period, several challenges will continue to put a break on sudden growth.

Brazil e-commerce

The Challenges

  • Troublesome and bureaucratic procedures to set up and run e-commerce business – these structural problems make it difficult for local and foreign players to enter the e-commerce market (or set up a business entity in Brazil in general). Burdensome regulations and procedures mean that it might take even 6 months to establish an e-commerce entity. Further, while operating, the entities are often challenged by frequent litigations and lawsuits over variety of issues (e.g. the domain used). Even with no litigations, Brazil has a generally paperwork-heavy business environment, and this is particularly challenging in a relatively new industry such as e-commerce. All these difficulties have led to Brazil being placed at 130 (out of 150) rank in World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business in 2013 (behind countries such as Ethiopia, Yemen, Uganda, or Pakistan).

  • Inadequate e-commerce regulations – while setting up a business appears overly bureaucratic and regulated, several aspects of e-commerce operations are under-regulated, affecting clarity and smoothness of operation as well as consumer trust. Legislation is slowly, yet gradually being introduced, e.g. only in mid-2013, a seemingly basic and obvious requirement was introduced for e-commerce entities to clearly and visibly display their registration numbers, contact details, purchase terms and conditions, and customer’s rights. While this step is likely to help build customer trust, it covers just a tip of regulations necessary in the market.

  • Inadequate infrastructure affecting order delivery – the country’s weak and immature infrastructure has a negative impact on orders shipping. Brazil is a country with vast territory, and majority of transportation is done by road. The country’s road infrastructure (both city streets and highways) are in poor condition, many of them unpaved, affecting safety, delivery time as well as damaging the cargo and trucks. Overall, receiving a delivery package by a customer located outside of major Brazilian cities stretches to a week at a minimum, with frequent cases of customer complaints about packages not arriving within two weeks or more.

  • Underdeveloped shipping and delivery services – while delivery services are available, many of them are provided by small, often family owned companies, that have limited coverage area and lack parcel tracking systems, thus there is generally inadequate availability of reliable courier services. The government-owned national post, (Empresa Brasileira de Correios e Telegrafosand), does not commonly offer parcel tracking options, inviting fraud, and is considered unreliable and slow.

  • High taxes and complicated tax structure – issues with taxes are often placed amongst top challenges of e-commerce in Brazil. Taxes are high and numerous, which significantly increases overall costs – duties, taxes and fees can double the original price of a product, and can vary considerably depending on product category. Payroll taxes in business innovation sectors reach even 80%. It is estimated that on average, business owners and executives spend 30% of money and 50% of time on dealing with tax-related issues. Further, complex tax structure drives added costs for lawyers and accountants compensation in order to navigate through various issues with the tax regulators and facilitating tax differences between Brazilian states (as there is no uniform tax across the country).

  • Insufficient talent availability – Brazil’s expanding e-commerce market creates jobs that are difficult to fill, given the shortage of qualified workers, people with e-commerce experience or at least an understanding what a particular e-commerce job entails, e.g. e-commerce web designers, experienced IT and business process professionals or high-quality, competent customer service specialists. The lack of good customer service acts as a deterrent to customer base growth, as according to McKinsey’s Consumer and Shopper Insights from July 2012, Brazilian shoppers who no longer shopped online listed previous bad experience with customer service amongst key reasons for turning away from online purchases.

  • Online payment security concerns – the lack of trust amongst Brazilian consumers towards safety of online purchases and transactions, deters many of them from buying online and using internet banking in general. Therefore, the predominant payment option that is currently used and preferred by customers is the ‘boleto bancario’, a code receipt that is generated on the website during the purchase, printed by the online shopper and later taken physically to a bank or a post office where the payment for the purchase is made. On the one hand it allows to satisfy consumers concerns about payment safety and to tackle the issue of many users not having credit cards or internet-purchases enabled debit cards. On the other hand, however, it is contrary to the very concept of shopping online (i.e. without the need to physically go to the shop), and extends the entire process of completing the purchase. Further, in order for e-commerce entity to offer ‘boleto bancario’, it should be led by a Brazilian citizen or at least in partnership with a Brazilian citizen. While foreigners can fulfil prerequisites of offering ‘boleto bancario’, the process of filling those requirements is lengthy and difficult, especially when compared with PayPal functioning in several other markets.

  • Installments shopping culture – Brazilian customers are used to, and hence expect payment options that allow for multiple and no-interest instalments or delayed payment options, resulting in e-commerce entities requiring higher working capital to finance purchases while the customers’ payments for current purchases are received after several weeks. Further, bank involvement to handle the instalments increases costs for online retailers, since bank receives a commission (which is not paid by customers as their instalments are zero-interest).

  • Language barrier – while this challenge might not be of particular relevance to domestic start-ups, international online retailers find it demanding that the entire e-commerce experience must be provided in Portuguese, and that having previous experience in Spanish-speaking market does not automatically make it easy in Portuguese, as these are two different languages (though western parts of the country have considerable base of Spanish-speaking consumers). This pertains to everything from language used on the online store interface, entire customer service, as well as the fact that many local IT and programming specialist speak only Portuguese (with extremely limited English), making it difficult for foreign start-ups to simply copy their experience and solutions to the Brazilian market.

While there are several challenges that currently undermine the growth potential of e-commerce in Brazil, the gradual changes in regulatory environment, customer service and improvement in infrastructure should positively influence the demand for e-commerce services in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Yet Another Word on Showrooming. Should Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Start Packing Their Bags?

We all seem to have heard the intriguing word of ‘showrooming’ some time recently, term that stands for consumers going to a physical store to see, touch, and test a product before buying it somewhere else, in most likelihood from an online store of a competitor retailer. Showrooming has been a buzzword for some time now and it is making some retailers very nervous. News article titles, ‘The Next Victims of Showrooming’ or ‘Retailers Stand to Suffer from ‘Showrooming,’ paint a rather grim picture for retailers. Is it really the case?

According to the 2013 TNS Mobile Life Study, some 30% of shoppers globally admit to showrooming, with an estimated 20% of them using mobile phones while doing it, in search of price comparisons, product specifications, consumer reviews, expert opinions, checking product availability in different stores, etc. Although showrooming is increasingly a worry for retailers, they might take relief from the fact that, at least for now, consumers still prefer to get product details from a store assistant, than to look up the information online. European consumers are particularly attached to shop assistants – over 50% of consumers prefer interacting with store staff over getting the information on their phone, with the ratio being as high as over 65% in some European countries, e.g. Poland. What retailers are unhappy to hear, is that this ratio is expected to continue to decline, as the penetration of smartphones increases, shopping and comparison applications proliferate, and consumers get familiar and comfortable with using them on a daily basis.

Online stores don’t mind at all

Obviously, online retailers are very eager to take advantage of this new trend, and encourage consumers to use their sites to compare prices and make final purchases. Some online stores, e.g. Amazon, offer free apps to check prices in their store and offer special discounts if the user purchases from them after using their price-check application.

Some online retailers go even beyond that. Bonobos, men clothing online retailer, made the headlines recently by opening “stores that don’t sell anything”, as quoted by USA Today. These ‘Guideshops’, which are regular brick-and-mortar locations, are used just to showcase the online offer, allow customers to feel the fabric, check the sizes, and try on the clothes, before purchasing them online. It seems silly and contradictive to the essence of online shopping, but Bonobos appears to have gotten on the path to strategically benefit from the showrooming trend.

Traditional retailers still slow to react

There is no way the showrooming (and e-tailing) will come to a halt and magically disappear to the satisfaction of traditional retailers. Thus, it is clear the retailers cannot just sit and wait for the trouble clouds to go away, as they risk becoming a showroom with high foot traffic with no sales to justify their operations. Physical, traditional retailing will inevitably decline to some extent, so the retailers must devise strategies to tackle the issue head on – fight it or embrace it.

We have already seen retailers’ attempts to counteract the showrooming. Some of them started charging an entry fee – for just looking through the products in the shop, a fee later deducted from the final bill if any purchase is made.

Overall, it’s neither good nor bad, depending on whether you view it as the death of physical retail or a kick to traditional retailers to innovate their cross-channel experience. Those who are tackling it head-on may actually consider showrooming the future of retail.” – Brian Gillespie, Continuum, Global Innovation and Design Consultancy, for Mashable.com, May 2013

Needless to say, such approach is likely to be very successful in limiting showrooming – and probably overall sales as well. There will be a group of consumers, who will never come in the shop that carries notification of entry fee on its door. People who will enter, but won’t find anything worth buying, will be left unsatisfied with spending money on… nothing in return. It can be fairly assumed that this group of consumers will not be converted into customers later on.

Customer experience is the key

The smarter option (though not necessarily an easier or cheaper one) is to deal with reality by embracing the new trend. With good strategic thinking, investment and willingness to change the way customer is handled day-to-day, showrooming can probably be flipped to an advantage, or at least considerably neutralized. Let’s look at some ideas of what retailers can and should do in this uneven battle with showrooming.

The key weapon, currently underutilized by many retailers, which should be improved and used against showrooming, is customer experience. Some industry experts say that it is not the price, but the lack of great experience in physical shops that is the key driver pushing consumers to buy online.

E-commerce is not the reason people don’t shop in the store. Customers come to a retail environment for the recognition.” – Jean-Pierre Lacroix, president of Shikatani Lacroix Design, for Stores Magazine, March 2013

If they lack the right experience, they focus on other criteria for store choice, such as price or convenience, which allow online stores to win growing share of consumers’ wallets. Industry experts indicate that excellent in-store experience can become the key weapon in retailers’ hands:

  • Engage with ‘showroomers’, as since they are showrooming and browsing, it means they have been hooked to the idea of purchase and are actively considering buying a given product. More importantly, they are already in your shop. Look for ways to engage with the ‘showroomers’, and you might be able to convert them into your customer. Reward them for already being at your store – offer better discounts, deals on immediate purchases, etc. available to those who are already in.

  • Online-enable the store. Encouraging online presence in your store might sound crazy. However, your store might be a physical location, but it does not mean it is cut off from the outer world. Don’t expect the customers to go off-line when they are in your brick-and-mortar shop – they probably stay online all the time. Entwine online experience with your in-store experience. Introduce store mode of your website, ability to connect via WIFI when on the premises, reward with deals accessible via this mode for purchases from the physical shop

  • Make it speak. Instead of placing product info in print on the shelf, allow customers to browse product information via their smartphone (or self-operated information kiosks on the store floor), searching via QR and barcodes, linking to interactive content available on the in-store mode website, including product specifications, reviews, additional content, e.g. virtual fitting rooms for clothes or visualization for furniture purchases, interactive maps guiding the customer through the store to specific products

  • Revamp the role of your floor staff. They are not there just to show the customer down the aisle, answer basic questions about the product, and ring the register bell. The staff is the element that can really make the difference, engage and capture the customer. The key here is to wow the customer with helpful and knowledgeable assistants, who offer depth of information that goes beyond what a typical consumer can anyway find online. Invest in turning your assistants into ‘mobile points of service’, that is create tablets and smartphones-equipped staff with access to CRM and product data, and provide them with certain level of autonomy to offer special discounts and other deals right on the spot when interacting with individual customer

  • In large stores, where self-service naturally dominates (e.g. groceries), invest in precision retailing. Your customers are probably enjoying the level of personalization when shopping on Amazon and the likes, so it is time to start using your big data effectively. Some developers already offer cloud-based enterprise solutions allowing for one-to-one, real-time retailing personalization, which includes personalized content allowing for virtual shopping lists, special offers presented at the point of decision in the shop, deals tailored depending on the past purchase history, shopping frequency, etc.

Retailers can also opt for other weapons, not necessarily linked directly to the customer in-store experience, but rather ways to attract them to come through the door:

  • Use technology to draw customers – adopt geo-location solutions and use GPS or NFC technologies to make yourself visible to the consumers remaining near your store

  • If you can afford it – try price matching. While customer experience might be the selling point of physical experience, a lot of customers are price-oriented after all. This might be dangerous to the margins, so not all retailers are able to afford this strategy

  • Emphasize the advantage of immediacy in two meanings. First, immediacy of information across all senses: the customer gets the information about the product (especially if in-store information incorporates elements of digital media and is as diverse and exhaustive as online) and can feel and try the product at the same time, something that online shopping will never be able to offer. Second, once the purchase decision is made, customers in general would prefer to get the product right away. This is a huge advantage for physical shops, where no shopping time has to be added (as still rather few online stores are able to execute ‘same-day-delivery’ on most of their products)

  • Make it exclusive by carrying unique products, limited editions, products with customized content, which will make it impossible to compare prices with other retailers and will attract the traffic towards your door. Unique products alone will not support all your sales, but will drive some level of unplanned purchases that are made ‘by-the-way’

There is no way to say which physical retailers will be able to withstand the pressures of the showrooming trend, and what mix of tactics will turn most successful. Showrooming potential to negatively impact retail industry indicates that it should be treated seriously, and dealt with by strategic solutions rather than immediate measures. The development of comprehensive solutions should therefore be a task for retailers’ strategy top executives, and must go far beyond attacking consumers for their willingness to participate in this trend.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Can ‘Made In China’ Become a Desirable Label in the Luxury World?

If you type ‘Chinese luxury’ in your search engine, you are very likely to get a plethora of information on China being a hot spot for Western-produced luxury goods, as the demand for luxury is strong and continues to grow. What you are unlikely to find amongst your top searches, is information about recognized and valued China-originated luxury brands. Is this likely to change any time soon?

Over the next 5-7 years, China is expected to move up to become the second largest luxury market in the world, after Japan. Luxury market growth in China is forecast at a healthy 10-15% during 2013, driven by aspirational consumers whose financial position is rapidly improving and who originate from a cultural background where image, social stand, and respect from others are important values. The concept of luxury falls well within Asian cultural context, as luxury goods are a great tool to wordlessly manifest one’s high stand in the society.

Budding Chinese Brands

For several years now, China has been an attractive market for European luxury products, but it is yet to build its own set of valued, recognized luxury brands that can figure alongside the likes of Hermes or Louis Vuitton. While there seems to be some activity on this front, with some truly Chinese brands struggling to up their game and attempting to compete in the luxury market, the question is whether they are capable of succeeding.Top Luxury Brands in China

Undoubtedly, there are some established high-end labels that have originated from Hong Kong and China, including Shanghai Tang, Ne-Tiger, Longio, Ascot Chang, Qeelin, Shang Xia, or Mary Ching. But for now they are known and appreciated mostly locally, and even in their domestic market, they lag behind the Western luxury brands. Chinese consumers are instinctively patriotic, so those Chinese luxury brands that are able to build associations with status statement are likely to win domestic consumers over period of time. But will these brands become as relevant and influential internationally as the brands in the LVMH portfolio?

Two Great Challenges

The first challenge for aspiring Chinese luxury houses is to develop great quality brands that will represent superior materials, flawless craftsmanship, unique and relevant designs, consistent quality management, and luxury-level service. This might be relatively easy to do, with proliferation of young creative Asian designers, who often gain their experience abroad. With several high-end and luxury European brands having some parts of production located in China, the know-how and skill set is already being transferred. In some regions, e.g. Southern China, manufacturing is shedding its image of low-cost, mass-produced, low-quality manufacturing center.

The second challenge is to change consumer attitudes, both domestically as well as internationally. Fighting the ‘made in China’ image requires revamping consumer perceptions, which oftentimes, once built, are very difficult to alter. For years, China has been associated almost exclusively as the source of cheap, substandard, unoriginal, and mass products. Even in China itself, while the attitudes towards Chinese-made apparel in mid range segment have improved, domestic high-end brands have not gained good recognition and acceptance, and many domestic luxury customers still prefer well known European brands. Local brands simply cannot provide the status that Chinese luxury shoppers look for. At least not yet.

The negative connotations are particularly strong in Western markets, where it will take a very long time before consumers are ready to accept a ‘made in China’ luxury brand. A European aficionado of luxury couture brands such as Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Chanel, or Prada is unlikely to be open to trying luxury products originating from China, a land known for counterfeit goods, bad quality and cheap equivalents available for the masses.

Regardless of the geography, majority of purchases of luxury brands are driven by the desire to conspicuously communicate the belonging to the high, rich, and exclusive sphere in the society, and LV or Hermes logo communicates it in a matter of seconds. Purchasing a piece with a logo that is not instantly recognized by others appears pointless and contrary to the very essence of luxury logo display. This is also true (though to somewhat lower extent) for far more sophisticated, mature, and less conspicuous consumption-oriented European luxury consumer, who also value great quality in luxury products (and Chinese-made products are known for lack of it).

Fighting the Stigma

There are some industry voices cheerfully claiming that today ‘made in China’ is perceived differently than 10 years ago, but it appears more of a wishful thinking. As of now, many Chinese brands still need to exhibit some European connection to get through to the luxury customer both in domestic and foreign markets. This might be a finishing touch added to the product in Europe or internationally-recognized celebrity endorsement (e.g. Angelina Jolie ‘being a fan’ of Shanghai Tang luxury brand). But this is far too little to break the stigma of the Chinese label.

Interestingly, some brands opted for a different approach to nurturing their brand culture. Instead of piggybacking the European luxury heritage, they are trying to highlight Chinese roots, rich tradition of great quality going way back to pre ‘made in China’ era as we know it. This might be a good way for brands to start building on, and execute very careful moves when creating brand based on the Chinese ancient heritage when expanding in foreign markets.

It still remains a long term perspective to see Chinese luxury brands becoming as influential as Prada, Gucci, LV, and other big names in the luxury arena. For the time being, most brands are likely to opt for associating their products with European luxury as a less risky way to win customer base. Only a handful of visionary Chinese brands will be able to put long term brand building ahead of short term gains.

It is worth keeping an eye on Chinese luxury brands, striving hard to win market presence internationally, but their path to success will be long and rocky.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Horse Meat Scandal That Has Nothing To Do With Horse Meat. Have We Been Fooled On Our Own Request?

In early 2013, an uninvited equine guest was found on several European beef-only plates, giving way to a series of accusations, finger-pointing and investigations. Meat adulteration scandal has now spread to allegedly involve slaughter houses, suppliers and meat-based food producers from across Europe, with names of France, Ireland, Romania, Poland, Germany and the UK popping up on the news. Regardless of the authorities’ investigation outcome, one thing stays for sure – the consumers’ trust in the meat processing industry, already not very strong, has been further shaken.

While DNA tests confirmed horse meat presence in several beef products (in some cases even 100% horse meat in supposedly 100% beef dishes), there is no certainty yet on how horse meat entered the food chain. And the problem is not just with horse meat, as pork was also found in beef-only products, with further investigation for donkey meat as well. Horse meat, as well as pork and donkey, are edible, and does not cause harm to humans per se, but the problem is big – it is consumer misinformation as well as the fact that since horse meat should not be found in beef products at all, we don’t know whether it met any safety standards. The scale and spread of the scandal may suggest that it was not a one-off case of a dishonest supplier, but rather a silent, probably not infrequent industry practice of deliberate product mislabeling.

Consumers are outraged at the ‘evil meat producers’ responsible for the malpractice. They announce their shaken trust in meat processing industry (and food industry in general). But this smells of hypocrisy on the consumer’s side as well. Majority of consumers across most markets (apart from a small health-conscious group) have long taught food producers one fundamental truth – price is the most important factor in their purchasing decisions, driving producers to take shortcuts wherever possible. While there is no justification for the malpractice and deliberate fraud, food producers and suppliers are oriented at cutting costs to deliver products at the demanded price yet still maintain margins. Same is true across other industries – we openly condemn child and underpaid labor in several Asian manufacturing centers, yet continue to demand extremely low prices on electronics, apparel, etc., knowing where and how it’s been produced (or conveniently forgetting about it at the time of purchase).

The consequences of the scandal around meat products are likely to go beyond a temporary dip in processed beef products sales. Early surveys in some of the European countries, such as UK, indicated that close to 1/3 adult consumers said they want to buy less processed meat (not only beef), indicating potentially harder times for producers across meat segments. This is likely to spike consumer interest in fish and seafood products. However, the changed meat demand dynamics might not necessarily lead to the lowering of meat prices, as more stringent safety and control procedures might allow prices to remain stable. The rapid, and in some cases unfair, finger-pointing towards suppliers from Central and Eastern Europe will continue to damage meat exports of these countries, unjustly affecting farmers and suppliers. Consequences will also include added effort by supermarket chains to rebuild the shaken trust in meat products, i.e. Tesco, Morrisons and Asda, for instance, will re-test meat products to ensure compliance and launching widespread reassurance campaigns; these will add to cost burden to the chains – costs that are eventually going to be passed onto the consumers.

It will be a difficult time for producers and suppliers found guilty of introducing horse meat to the human food chain, as under the pressure of public opinion, authorities aren’t likely to be easy on them. But meat producers who are able to be transparent and honest about their procurement and processing procedures, can actually benefit from the scandal, as more and more consumers will look beyond price and start to value quality (at least temporarily till the memory of the scandal is fresh).

So as the scandal unfolds, there are a few important questions here: Will it improve transparency of the supply chains in meat processing industry? Will it improve the quality of meat products we purchase and feed our families with? Will it force the authorities across Europe to improve control measures? Will it enforce correct labeling of products? And finally, will it make us, consumers, permanently shift our focus from price only to quality-oriented purchases? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, perhaps there is a silver lining to this scandal after all.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Ultimate Convenience Indian Style – Why Do Ready-to-eat Meal Producers Have a Difficult Job in India?

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After a long day at work, a tasty meal is every hard working man and woman’s dream. But, cooking such a meal late in the evening – more of a nightmare. Enter ready-to-eat meals. Throw a packet in the microwave and your main meal of the day is steaming hot in under five minutes. What could be faster, tastier, more convenient and cheaper than that? Many options, Indians respond.

The healthy growth of ready-to-eat (RTE) consumer meals (i.e. microwavable pouches containing ready dishes) has become a success story across many countries, where lifestyles are getting busier, disposable incomes are increasing and women are becoming an integral part of the workforce. The RTE industry is taking several emerging economies in Asia by storm, as dynamic demographic and economic transformations occurring in many of these economies drive increased interest in convenience sought in matters of food by the region’s inhabitants. The trend, though, is of uneven magnitude, with rural communities largely remaining deeply traditional about home-cooked food, besides having very limited financial capacity to afford RTE products or a microwave oven. However, the growing preference for such meals is so strong amongst middle class groups, that, overall, the RTE segment across Asian markets has become an attractive area of opportunity for food companies.

Ready To EatRTE foods sector is one of the most dynamic growth sectors in the packaged foods markets across Asia, and on a global scale, Asian consumers exhibit the highest interest in RTE meals. A 2007 AC Nielsen study revealed that seven out of top ten markets with the highest propensity to purchase RTE meals are Asian countries, with Thai consumers emerging as the world’s biggest fans of RTE products.

Surprisingly though, India does not feature in the list of top 10 RTE markets. Unquestionably, the country does enjoy most of the RTE foods market growth prerequisites – fast developing economy, expanding modern retail channels, dynamically growing middle and upper class, rising nuclear family format, soaring participation of women in workforce, rapidly rising incomes and the growing reality of hectic lifestyles driving the demand for convenience.

So where is India in this picture? Why does its name not appear in the list of attractive RTE meals markets? Why do India-made RTE food products have a bigger market internationally than domestically? What are the challenges that RTE producers such MTR Foods, ITC Foods, Heinz India or Haldiram’s face in their home territory?

The fact is that although there is a market for RTE products in India, its size is modest and its growth is slowing down. AC Nielsen estimates the Indian RTE market growth slowed from 44.9% in 2010 to 28.1% in 2011 (reaching INR 506 crore, or about USD 110 million). In comparison, the Thai RTE market grew by 105% during 2005-2010, with a strong, upwards trend that is set to persist.

The reasons for such differing dynamics are many, largely due to cultural background and the Indian consumer’s mindset. Here are six key reasons why RTE foods producers have a difficult job in the Indian market, reasons, that might make them reconsider RTE expansion plans:

  • Traditionally, Indians are accustomed to hot fresh food served straight from sizzling pots, mainly because of easy and cheap access to domestic help and primary cooking ingredients easily available for purchase. RTE meals, despite their convenience, have a hard job competing with home cooked food.

  • Busy Indian consumers look for speed and convenience, and there’s plenty of options in the food services sector – countless cheap order-in and take-out options, that also offer great advantages over RTE meals, especially as these are freshly cooked, a factor of great importance to Indian consumers.

  • Unlike in many other countries, RTE foods in India are more expensive than most order-in and take-out options. This, paired with the preference for freshness, tends to put RTE products at a disadvantageous position.

  • Despite growth in modern retail format, majority of Indians still do their food shopping in traditional stores, which have limited space and interest in carrying novelties such as RTE foods (organised food retail is estimated to still account for only about 3-5% of the total retail market).

  • Considering the hot climate, Indian consumers tend to be reluctant to trust the safety of a ready meal that has been stored and transported out of temperature-controlled supply chain, especially given the largely inefficient supply chain management.

  • Some RTE meals, which do require cold storage, also fall prey to inefficient supply chain management and frequent power cuts, which lead to rise in production costs, in turn translating into higher RTE product prices resulting in lower demand for such products.

In spite of the many challenges, the Indian RTE market is growing, though at much slower rate than once anticipated. Indian attitude towards meal from a pouch is changing, with growing social acceptability to consume such foods and to prepare meals in the microwave.

Producers are optimistic, as the mere size of the potential customer base offer vast opportunities, even with slower y-o-y growth. But they also remain cautious, citing improvements in supply chain and distribution management, growth in modern retail format, continuous growth in consumers’ disposable incomes as the main changes needed to occur for the Indian RTE market to actually take off. However, given that many of these transformations have been occurring over the past years, perhaps these form just a secondary problem. Perhaps the key prerequisite for RTE market growth is the change in the Indian consumer’s mindset – change that is the slowest to occur and hardest to influence by producers.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

It’s Good the Crisis Happened – How Private Labels Benefit from Global Economic Turmoil

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Stagnating or declining consumption, falling sales, lower financial stability – the economic crisis is in full swing in many geographies. But it is not a bad thing for everyone. Across markets, private labels have witnessed strong growth over the past five years, the upward trend coinciding with the onset of the economic turmoil in 2008. Cash-strapped consumers, worried about their financial security, turn to cheaper options during their everyday shopping, providing the retailers’ own labels with unprecedented opportunity to win consumers’ hearts.

Since the very beginning of the private labels story, retailer-owned products have been typically associated with low quality (to some extent quite rightly as the first private label products were clearly inferior). These concerns over quality made it difficult for the private label market to take off, making it cater predominantly to the least demanding or poor group of consumers. Several retailers started to realize that while many consumers are indeed price-driven, what most of them actually look for is value for money – so value matters to most of them. While changing the private-labelled product quality was relatively easy to do, changing the consumer bias and conviction of these products’ low quality was a more difficult task.

Quality improved, but it was the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 that made many consumers develop a ‘crisis mindset’ that led them to actually try out private labels for the first time. It appears that the crisis gave private labels a unique chance to enter homes of a group of consumers who were very unlikely to try them out before, mainly due to the consumers’ loyalty to branded products, strong unverified perception of poor quality of private labels and lack of financial pressure to even consider cheaper options. With search for cost savings and brand loyalty in decline, many consumers have found private label products quality to be on a par with market leading brands across segments, but at considerably lower price (even up to 40% cheaper than branded equivalents, depending on product category).

Private Label Market Share in Europe - 2012Private labels market has been growing across several countries (most of Asia still has a relatively low penetration of modern retail formats thus presence of own labels is largely limited there), but the increased acceptance of private labels is particularly visible in Europe. According to a AC Nielsen report “The Power of Private Label in Europe”, already in 2010, a considerable group of consumers associated private labels with good value – between 82% and 87% of consumers across Spain, France, Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, UK and Germany believed that supermarket own brands offer extremely good value for money. This is a significant change of mindset, considering the long period of inferior quality associations. Such opinions have played an integral role in boosting the growth of the European private label segment, and in 2012, the average value share of private label across European markets was estimated at 30%.

Clearly, private labels will continue to benefit from the overall deterioration of the economic climate, not only now (even though private labels are gaining higher share of retailer sales, the overall consumption expenditures are all in all lower), but also after the crisis, when consumption will start to grow again. This will be possible provided that retailers use the current situation to build some sort of loyalty amongst customers. This is the time for retailers to prove to their customers that private label products are not half as bad as generally regarded, and to convince the consumers to stick to private label products even after the crisis.
It is not all nice and easy for private labels yet, as they are faced with a range of challenges, which might question their ability to win customers’ loyalty that would last even in the post-crisis era. Obviously, producers of branded products have also reacted to the deteriorated financial capabilities of their customers, and introduced a range of offers or launched product lines in cheaper segments.

Additionally, we have already seen an increase in private-labelled product prices, resulting in lower cost benefit over reduced-price branded products. Growth in the private label segment is linked to improved product quality and the retailers’ attempts to offset the decline in overall sales as consumption stagnates. This increase might eventually lead the consumers to realizing that they can get an old, beloved brand, that reminds them of pre-crisis security, at just marginally higher cost, especially with branded products now available at discounted rates and in promotional offers.

So, the question really is, whether the private label growth story is just a temporary affair, and most consumers will hop back to the branded cart the minute crisis is over?

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

So What’s the Deal with Groupon? 8 Things for Groupon to Work On in Order to Survive

Over the past few years, Groupon has managed to build a recognizable brand, and currently claims to have attracted 250,000 merchants and over 200 million subscribers globally, with some 40 million active customers (as of November 2012). Undoubtedly, these are valuable assets and such considerable customer and merchant base offers great potential, yet the company’s market cap fell by about 80% since its IPO, from US$16.7 billion in November 2011 down to US$2.8 billion in December 2012. Is Groupon’s heyday over for good?

Recently, there has been discussion around Groupon’s future, triggered by the rather consistent decline in the company’s shares price (from around US$26 on Groupon’s IPO down to US$4.5 in December 2012), increased discontentment on the customer side, and disappointment on the merchant side. Given its declining market cap linked to slowdown in revenue growth, fall in sales volume to existing customers and shrinking sales force, clearly, Groupon is currently not the best target for potential takeovers.

Groupon’s service novelty status that drove the company’s success in the first place, seems to be wearing off for its customers, especially as competition is intensifying, with similar daily-deal websites proliferating thanks to low entry barriers. Nevertheless, Groupon seems to be keeping its head high, trying to introduce more or less successful measures to drive customer interest and retain merchants (e.g. the moderately successful Groupon NOW drive offering nearby deals on demand for use on the same day).

While some of the initiatives might allow Groupon to marginally rebound, it does not seem they will bring the company back to its glory days. Groupon’s executives should revamp several aspects of their business (perhaps previously missed or underestimated) – aspects that currently appear critical for Groupon to survive:

  1. Revisit Groupon’s model key selling points – perhaps Groupon got it a bit wrong in the beginning and conveyed it incorrectly to merchants, luring them with the idea of super-cheap offers turning masses of first-time-consumers into masses of regulars. Some customers will establish long lasting relationship with certain merchants, but such conversions proved to hold only a small share in overall purchases. Therefore, this should not be the main selling proposition to merchants, as this leads to disappointment and merchant expectations are not met.

  2. Understand your customers – consumers are always looking for discounts, but many purchases via Groupon come from customer willingness to try something new once – something that they would typically not be able to afford at full price. For such customers, the assumption of them turning into regular customers after trying a product is flawed, as they are unlikely to continue purchasing at full price. The only conversion rate that might occur here, is the conversion from trying-how-Groupon-works-for-me customer into Groupon-regular customer, which does not bring any benefit to merchants, thus fails to justify merchant’s relationship with Groupon.

  3. Re-orient merchants’ approach and re-shape their expectations – offering mass deals at very slim or zero margin is not going to work for merchants at all, given that only small fraction of customers MIGHT turn into regular customers. Groupon must make sure that merchants see real value in the relationship with Groupon, not just a vague promise of potentially (read: maybe, maybe not) expanding customers base as a way to organically grow merchant’s business.

  4. Indicate the real value proposition to merchants – merchants should be clear about the tangible benefits of working with Groupon:

    • For product merchants, Groupon can be a great tool for selling excess or old capacity e.g. during low demand season (discounted winter sports equipment in summer, unsold end-of-line products) or getting rid of old stock before restocking for anticipated rush periods with products that could be sold off-Groupon-route at higher margin. Whatever the reason, merchants must ensure the products offered are original product quality and without defects.

    • For service merchants, Groupon can be ideal for filling in off-peak times through discounted restaurant vouchers for weekdays or morning spa sessions. Customers are likely to understand the link between discount and non-peak time, provided that the service level is consistently high with the service they would receive during peak time. This can allow to maintain continuity of orders and utilize the merchant’s resources in times when they are largely idle and generate nothing but costs.

    • Regardless of merchant’s business orientation, Groupon can be positioned as a tool for getting quick cash by merchant at times when improving cash liquidity takes priority over generating profits due to temporary operational circumstances.

    • Groupon can be used to fuel new product trial for newly launched or novelty products and services, especially expensive ones, where the high full price and unfamiliarity with the offering would normally deter customers from trying the product or service.

  5. Control the number of groupons released on a single product or service at once – with large numbers of vouchers released, the merchant is flooded with more orders than that can be processed without delay or with dozens of consumers wanting to use the service over short span of time right after groupons’ release. Experience shows that this often leads to delays in delivery, giving the first-time-customer wrong impression of the overall level of service, causing disappointment, and reducing the likelihood of first-time-customers converting into regular customers even further.

  6. Ensure that Groupon customers are treated as normal customers by merchants – treating the customer with groupons in their hand as a worse sort of customer is a common sin of merchants (service merchants in particular). They tend to forget that serving such customers is their only chance to showcase the excellence of service and customer care, and create memorably great experience. Instead, customers are reminded that they are getting less as they paid less, which lowers the chance of customers returning to purchase the service at a full price.

  7. Ensure that Groupon deals are real deals – consumers are smart and given the easy access to online tools allowing for price comparison, they are likely to wise up to the so-called original price being inflated, and the discounted price being the actual price. Such discovery by the consumer leads them to feeling tricked, and they lose trust and interest, probably for good.

  8. Keep it clear and play fair – do not discourage consumers with unclear, confusing or hidden statements on limitations in using the groupons. Including such conditions in small grey print at the bottom of the page is not enough. Customers often discover these limitations only after purchasing the groupon, finding themselves feeling disappointed and deceived. The conversion rate for such customers is obviously close to none, with some of them also creating negative word of mouth for such a merchant.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Will Retailers’ Cash Registers Ring This Holiday Season?

It’s a big moment for retailers as we enter the holiday season, which traditionally has been known to generate sales higher than in any other quarter during the year. But this year again, retailers cannot afford to sit back to enjoy the sweet sound of their cash registers ring. Despite the rebounding US economy and some European economies showing first signs of recovery, the ‘economic crisis’ phrase is still being heard in dozens of languages.

At the outset, the US retail holiday season outlook seems relatively optimistic, with National Retail Federation’s projections indicating a 4.1% increase in 2012 holiday retail sales over the 2011 season, to reach a healthy $586 billion this year. Though moderate, there is a visible increase in optimism compared with 2011, resulting in higher consumer confidence in economic recovery, employment stability, as well as individual and household finances, all of which should bring American retailers a sense of relief and may result in a brighter fiscal year-end.

Online shopping and mobile apps are expected to play an important role during this season in the American market. This, paradoxically, might mean a mixed bag of good and bad news for retailers. Well-informed consumers, empowered by easy access to online tools allowing for quick, on-the-spot price and offer comparisons, are bound to make retailers’ and marketers’ job harder. But, by now, any sane retailer should have realized the world of opportunities lying here, and only these retailers will be able to bite a bigger share of consumer’s holiday budget. Increased penetration of smartphones, in tandem with mobile apps, online shopping and social media, have opened several platforms for retailers to interact with consumers, leading to an increase in conversion rate of consumers from ‘online researchers’ to ‘actual buyers’. According to Deloitte’s research, shoppers using mobile apps are expected to spend 72% more than non-users this year, with the conversion rate for shoppers using dedicated mobile applications being 21% higher than shoppers not using such tools.

Although this data pertains to the American market, it offers a good learning for European retailers too, as for them, the 2012 holiday season outlook appears gloomier than for their American counterparts. They seem to be very much aware of what is at stake, especially remembering 2011, which was hoped to be the turning year for the European economy, but actually witnessed worsening of the retail sector across several European countries. Poor consumer confidence was reinforced with recurring news: “Italy Xmas sales seen down”, “Greece sales plunge”, “Retailers slash prices to clear stocks, hurting margins”. There were some instances of retail sales growth, mainly in Russia, Poland, Romania, and to some extent in the UK, which witnessed faster clearance of holiday stock, but, apart from Russia and Poland, it was far from the good old days of record sales.

Christmas shoppers brought little relief to Europe’s retailers last year, with online sales increasingly cannibalizing in-store purchases. Till date, 2012 has not been much better than 2011 in terms of hinting at better consumer confidence, with most Europeans constrained by lower disposable incomes, higher-than-average inflation, wage cuts, high unemployment and dwindling social benefits, all of which do not promise a very fruitful 2012 holiday season for retailers across Europe. Several European retailers, just like their American fellows, are also turning their eyes to online and mobile-app shopping, especially as 2012 has shown that online retail and mail order are relatively immune to economic volatility and falling consumer confidence (though online sales penetration varies considerably across EU states).

So can European retailers do anything or should they simply wait and watch the holiday season fare badly? While there are no magical solutions, some obvious aspects might help improve retail sales numbers a bit this year:

  • Christmas is the best time to play on emotions, but this alone will not charm consumers into opening their wallets during these difficult times. Retailers must offer great sale prices and monetary incentives to buy. As the gloomy outlook prolongs, consumers tend to be more perceptive to price cuts than Santa’s friendly image.

  • Price cuts, discounts and special holidays offers are a decent but rather ancient invention. Any retailer thinking of this being the sole instrument of gaining consumers will have to compete with the sea of price cuts available everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency and exclusivity allows one to stand out and force consumers to decide quickly, such as by offering sharp discounts but for a very short period.

  • It has never been more important for retailers to stay on their ones toes with excellent customer service. With a battle for consumer’s every euro and dollar, retailers just cannot afford unhappy customers, who are very likely to spread the news about their bad experience.

  • Offering a delayed payment option might not make the retailer excited, but it might be the best option to secure sales from those consumers who are worried about their liquidity and spending too much now. There might be a willingness to buy gifts, so a delayed payment option might help consumers make some purchase rather than nothing at all.

  • Retailers, even those who do not offer online shopping options, must make themselves visible online – this is not the right time to neglect social media (but is it ever?).

While the economic situation is slowly improving, consumers will undoubtedly remain cautious, and the 2012 holiday season is unlikely to break any sales record. With this rather mixed outlook, the good old basket of retailer tricks including Christmas special offers, jolly atmosphere and in-store decorations will turn out to be too weak to counterbalance the pressure on the consumer’s wallet and weak confidence. But perhaps the only thing that the European retailers CAN do is to pick from the old tricks basket as smartly as they can, wait out the worst times and just hope for the best.

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