Walmart to use Uber so you live better

Leave it to Walmart to be on the forefront of retail technology. While the retail giant hasn’t always been on top of things (VUDU came along years after Netflix owned the streaming video market), it remains the one other retailers follow.

I’ve mentioned many times before that the problem with Walmart’s competition is that the Targets and Kmarts of the world simply copy what Walmart is doing and hope it will help sales. However, that just makes things equal. And, with all things being equal, the market leader wins.

Walmart will offer more than just curbside service. It will bring your groceries to your door.

Now comes word that Walmart is experimenting with an online shopping service that brings your goods right to your door. Here’s how it works: You order your goods (including groceries) online. An associate gathers up your order then calls Uber or Lyft to deliver it to your door.

Obviously, there’s a fee involved, but it should be enormously easy for the shopper. Walmart pays the driver and you just pay the total (plus fee) online. What could be simpler than that?

The idea of online shopping at grocery stores is not necessarily new. Target has been experimenting with what it calls Curbside and Kroger is working on a ClickList service. The problem with those programs is that customers pick their goods up at the store. They are not delivered.

Even my local Harris Teeter does that.

Why Walmart will make this a success.

Experts in retail have been predicting that online shopping for grocery stores is going to happen regardless, but note that chains have had a hard time making any money from it. Especially when their main brand promise is price. (That is, they must be careful that the service is not too expensive.) In addition, big box stores like Target feed off the browsing component to their sales because the stores themselves are so large. Online shopping, by definition, doesn’t offer that kind of distraction as well.

Walmart, however, will make this a success because it has a delivery component (therefore, challenging Amazon, even if just a little bit) and its brand says: Save money. Live better.

It’s the second line – Live better – that’s the key to giving it permission to use Uber and Lyft drivers. If all the competition can offer is a curbside service and a brand promise that only copies the market leader, then Walmart will continue to win.

Food Lion had it, then lost it

There’s no further proof that Walmart has spooked the supermarket category with its own grocery than the increased advertising presence of Food Lion.

In many areas of the country, including my own here in North Carolina, Food Lion was the low-cost provider among supermarkets. It was low down, even a little bit country. It was the place you shopped for cheap prices.

Then Walmart moved in. Along the busiest street near me, Walmart established its grocery store just a few blocks down from a once-thriving Food Lion. In nothing time flat, that store closed.

A few years ago, the grocery chain shot back with a campaign built around a brand equity marker, the Lion. At first, it was a talking lion that told shoppers that buying at Food Lion was just good sense.

It didn’t really work because it was just telling potential customers to shop for price, a battle Walmart is sure to win.

The topsy-turvy advertising of Food Lion.

But a few months ago, Food Lion went the emotional route. It kept the lion but imbued it with a sense of protection, being a guardian angel of sorts for a child. It was emotional and I thought the grocer had hit a nice, sweet spot.

Food Lion, however, was impatient. Just a few weeks later, it was back to promoting price. In its new spot, the grocer announced that it will always have fresh produce, which is a table stake. You must have fresh produce to even be considered in the first place.

Then, the ad explains that the produce is “100% fresh, or double your money back.”

I understand the instinct here. Food Lion is attempting to overcome its old reputation from a few years ago where some of its produce was not fresh. And it’s fine that it has the guarantee.

But those are not reasons to choose. As I’ve said many times before, preference is based on emotion, not product benefits. That’s the reason why we buy so many things, only to rationalize the emotional reason to choose with rational ones.

Food Lion had done something few supermarkets have attempted in the past when it went the emotional route. Now, going back to product benefits means Walmart and others will be back to closing its competitor’s stores.

Bluelight Specials are back

In an effort to drum up sales, Kmart has brought back its iconic Bluelight Specials. Kmart, whose sales have steadily fallen as shoppers shop at alternatives, hopes to attract customers back into its stores searching for the elusive deal.

It will fail. Again.

Bluelight Specials
Is bringing the Bluelight Specials back a desperate move?

Bluelight Specials began in 1965 but were stopped in 1991,  years after becoming a retail icon. In 2001, Kmart brought the Bluelight Specials back, less than a year after Kmart filed for bankruptcy, which at the time was the biggest retail bankruptcy filing ever. The Bluelight Specials have been used sporadically in limited areas with a bit of a push last holiday season. Kmart President Alasdair James promises this time will be different because it will be part of sustained campaign.

I actually have no issue with Bluelight Specials themselves. In fact, they were part of what made Kmart successful in the 1980s. What I do take issue with is Kmart’s management thinking the specials are some kind of magic bullet to suddenly get shoppers back in its stores in hopes of finding the nostalgic blue light flashing. The reality is that the hope of finding Bluelight Specials is not going to be enough to get new consumers into the store.

Why Bluelight Specials won’t create preference for Kmart.

Nostalgia is great and Bluelight Specials were once a good idea, but consumers have changed, their expectations have changed and the way they conduct their business has changed. Since at least the beginning of this century, Kmart has consistently failed to both recognize and respond to the changing marketplace. It is not the low-price leader (Walmart is) and never staked out any meaningful position in the minds of consumers. For all but the most loyal Kmart shopper, Kmart is forgotten. Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and others out maneuvered and out positioned the once great discount retailer.

Kmart’s problem is not a tactics problem. It’s a brand problem. While consumers  have fond memories of Bluelight Specials, they do not give consumers a reason to go to the stores. The hope of finding a Bluelight Special is not persuasive enough to get consumers to change their behavior. Kmart’s brand is not persuasive and, unfortunately, no number of Bluelight Specials will fix that.