Posts Tagged ‘bargaining power’

Does everyone hate Woollies?

May 16, 2012

I had a brief email exchange with a journalism student last week, and I thought I would share my views with you (my verrrrry patient readers).

The background is that market research had been recently released indicating 72% of Australians don’t trust Coles or Woolworths and these levels of distrust have gone up since last year.

Q. How do you think Woolworths are faring in the Retail sector/Stock market?

Me:  Woolworths had been a darling of the stockmarket until quite recently.  Their main rival, Coles Myer performed poorly for many years, and Woolworths was much quicker in adopting and adapting ‘best practice’ from offshore (most notably through a close alliance with Wal-Mart).  Much of these practices are on the warehousing/stock management side of things.  Woolworths grew faster than Coles Myer and had better margins.  It made some strong moves in the non-supermarket space – with alcohol sales being particularly strong.

The split up of Coles Myer and the acquisition of the non-Department business by Wesfarmers has negatively affected Woolworths. The revamp of both the Coles supermarket business and K-Mart variety stores have put pressure on Woolworths’ (and Big W’s) margins and curbed their growth.  At the same time, Woolworths has been burnt by the poor performance of the Dick Smith business, and the large investments in a rival to Wesfarmers’ Bunnings are a long way from paying off.

Q. What implications might these figures of the survey have for the company and it’s competitors?

Me: As for the distrust aspect, this is far from surprising.  The supermarket sector in Australia is one of the most concentrated in the world.  The attempts by both Coles and Woolworths to further squeeze suppliers (as part of the drive to improve margins) have coincided with a period of perceived price inflation (although I’m not convinced the latter is actually occurring).

Consumers have apparently resigned themselves to the idea that these two duopolists are not really competing too hard. Stories of struggling suppliers seem to have fuelled this animosity.

But like the big banks, I’m not sure customer dissatisfaction will genuinely translate into consumer action.  There is a strong tendency to ‘stick around’ while grumbling.  Any incursion by Aldi (or to a much lesser extent Costco) is unlikely to have a big impact given the sheer weight of numbers (in terms of stores and ease of accessibility).

What do you lot think?

A little yuletide conversation

December 23, 2011

I’ve broken my blogging silence by voicing my opinion on the woes of Xmas retail over at the fancy Conversation website.

It kicks off like this:

The lead up to Christmas inevitably draws our attention to the actions and performance of retailers. This December there have been very few tales of cheer.

It gets better! Read on here.

Dueling Duopolists, or, who should we cheer for when bullies battle?

March 24, 2011

The Aussie news headlines have been buzzing in recent days with the competing cries of our embattled brewers and the ‘on the side of the consumer’ supermarket giants, over an alleged effort by the latter to sell the majors’ beers as ‘loss leaders’.  See here and here for a reasonable summary.

This is the latest staple product to get this sort of a run (after milk and petrol) as Woolworths and the revitalised Coles (as part of Wesfarmers) engage in some much-missed competition.  Of course, it isn’t competition via ‘across the board’ price cuts, but, rather, through trying to switch buying preferences from one chain to the other (utilising the grocer’s associated liquor chains).

And poor old Foster’s (and presumably the much quieter Lion Nathan) are worried that this (alleged) predatory pricing will hurt their margins, and those of independent liquor retailers.

The reality of all this is that we’re talking about two pairs of behemoths locking horns, and competition here is a very different beast to that envisaged in perfect markets.  Look at the numbers:

– Foster’s (48% market share) and Lion Nathan (44%) amount to 92 percent of the Aussie beer market

– Woolworths and Coles/Wesfarmers amount to roughly 50% of the Aussie liquor retailing market (with most other sales through small, independent retailers)

– Woolworths (around 40%) and Coles/Wesfarmers  (around 35%) amount to roughly 75% of the Aussie grocery market

Those are the sort of market shares we called oligopolistic, or indeed duopolistic, with competition often reaching a calm equilibrium through effective price signalling and/or maintenance of market share.

Foster’s are kicking and screaming, however, due to concerns about the buying power of the two retail giants. Now, if Foster’s had a significant retail arm it might be able to curb such a threat (and earn more of those nice rents from the duopoly power).

But back in 2003 the brewer sold off Australian Liquor and Hospitality Group (ALH), which operated 131 hotels and 109 bottle shops. ALH now runs 285 licensed venues and over 450 retail liquor outlets.  And guess who now owns 75% ALH… Woolworths.  It seems Foster’s handed Woolworths the stick it is now being beaten with.

There’s talk that this behaviour will all come under the scrutiny of some eagle-eyed politicians in Canberra in the coming weeks.  Now, we’d hope they know a lot about duopolies (i.e. systems with two powerful parties)…

Wal-Mart with a Target on its back

October 29, 2010

Regular readers may remember a guest-post back in July about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Tom argued that BP might well be copping a disproportionate amount of blame for the disaster, while lesser partners were getting off lately.  We described this as an instance of diseconomies of scale.

Wal-Mart Target logoThe Wall-Street Journal raised a further example last week (click through from this link for the full version of the article).

The article argues (and some trade union officials admit) that the world’s largest retailer Wal-Mart receives excessive scrutiny for its labour practices (i.e. it’s non-union status, low pays, miserly health benefits etc), while counterpart Target (the US firm, not the Aussie one) get off very lightly, despite having very similar employment conditions.

This manifests as a genuine disadvantage for Wal-Mart as public campaigns against new stores (especially in large cities) restrict expansion.

Meanwhile, Target appears to be deliberately, well, targetting the same neighbourhoods conscious of the lack of scrutiny, the perception of being the ‘lesser of two evils’, and the limited resources of campaigners.

Building such disadvantages into our understanding of competitive advantage, firm growth, and bargaining power seems increasingly important.

I’m clicking to Westfield

June 17, 2010

Aussie shopping centre powerhouse Westfield (the world’s biggest shopping centre operator) announced a curious brand extension last week. The firm is reportedly planning to use its website as a virtual shopping mall, hosting e-commerce interfaces for a variety of retailers (with fashion being the rumoured kick-off).

So, is this a good move for Westfield?

As I’ve argued elsewhere, Westfield has five particularly powerful competencies: (i) property selection; (ii) redevelopment; (iii) financing; (iv) retailer relations; and (v) branding and marketing . The first three have no relevance to this venture, so the firm is only left with retailer relations and branding/marketing.

Source: Daniel Austin (d)Not

The retailer relations is partially about Westfield’s capacity to offer a more extensive suite of locations relative to rivals and the resultant bargaining power they wield as a landlord. It is also about Westfield’s extensive monitoring of tenant sales and sophisticated contracting processes.

Westfield already carries some information about tenants on their website, and because of their prominent landlord status can certainly attract the attention of these firms. I would be stunned if any of the retailers would grant Westfield exclusive rights to host/direct traffic to their e-commerce portal. Indeed, e-commerce is a substitute to the physical interface, and a mechanism these retailers can use to more effectively negotiate with Westfield as a landlord. Westfield will need to tread much more carefully in these e-relationships.

The counterbalancing angle may spring from the final competency – branding/marketing. Westfield was a global pioneer of using a common brand for their malls (indeed, my post title reflects the reported source of this brainwave – a founder heard a shopper saying they were “heading to Westfields”, and saw the scope for differentiation).

It may well be the case that online shoppers welcome the ‘browsing’ capacity of a virtual Westfield mall. New/small retailers with limited capital to expand their bricks and mortar footprint across Westfield’s 119 malls, may relish being next door to Zara, The Gap and Gucci on the Westfield website. It may also be a mechanism for virtual internationalisation. This could be a chance for Aussie retailers to test the waters in the US, UK and NZ without crossing an ocean. Presumably solely e-commerce retailers could also tap into this spillover effect. Getting this right could also extend consumer awareness of Westfield beyond their current whitebread Anglo markets.

The big challenge is making the site sticky enough. Westfield will need to fill the competency gap in build a user interface that is engaging, exciting and innovative. If they don’t get it right quickly someone could easily build a rival (Google perhaps?).

The uspide for Westfield is that there isn’t much downside here. I wouldn’t think there is an enormous investment required here. It is just a mechanism to augment an already profitable business (and perhaps distract some investors from the firm’s exposure to property price and finance risk).

Verdict? Interesting experiment that could conceivably secure some first mover/network effect advantage.