Posts Tagged ‘Costco’

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?

So where the bloody hell are the global retailers?

January 28, 2009

In 2006, Australia ran an ill-fated tourism campaign with the tag line “So where the bloody hell are you?”

The latest list of the 250 largest retailers in the world has just come out from Deloitte, and we could be asking the same question of international retailers with respect to the Australian market.

Back in a 2007 chapter (for a book called The Internationalisation Strategies of Small-Country Firms: The Australian Experience of Globalisation), I highlighted the limited presence of retail’s big international players in the Aussie market. The list back then was 13 foreign-owned firms from the Deloitte’s 2006 Top 250, plus 3 Australian firms who were big enough to make the list.

shop pleaseLooking at the 2009 list, there has been a slight decline in this international presence in the intervening three years. There are now only 14 firms from the list operating bricks and mortar stores in Australia. They are (with global ranking, and new arrivals in green):

10. German discount supermarket giant Aldi who operate in 15 countries
22. Aussie behemoth Woolworths (3 countries)
29. Wesfarmers, owner of the Coles, Target, K-Mart and Bunnings brands in Australia (2 countries)
32. Swedish furniture kings Ikea (36 countries)
42. French conglomerate PPR (Gucci, Puma etc) who have a very minor retail presence down under (48 countries)
59. Toys “R” Us from US (36 countries)
68. French luxury goods firm LVMH (15 countries)
113. Gamestop from US, who poerate as EB Games in Australia (16 countries)
129. South African supermarket chain, Pick’n’Pay, who own Franklins (6 countries)
146. Blockbuster video stores from US (22 countries)
150. Sports chain Footlocker from US (20 countries)
174. Italian spectacles seller Luxottica (OPSM, Sunglass Hut) (20 countries)
214. French firm Lagardére (formerly Hachette) who operate Newslink, Relay, Bijioux Terner and various other shops in airports and train stations (30 countries)

eb games storeThe 2009 list also included book retailer Borders who have recently exited Australia. Also gone since 2006 are Gus/Burberry (UK) due to a de-merger and Metcash (South Africa) via an Australian management buyout. (I, like Deloitte, also had erroneously included 7-Eleven which it turns out is run by a licensee in Australia). The Wesfarmers acquisition of Coles shrunk the Aussie-owned presence (as Bunnings will thus leave the list now). The most substantial new kid on the block is EB Games with almost 200 stores in Australia.

So, why the reluctance to head down under? I have argued this about the impact of Australia’s history and location:

As the nation was geographically distant and disconnected, and local suppliers were protected by high tariff walls, domestic retailers quickly built considerable location-bound advantages over any potential inward FDI. Entrepreneurial locals and later powerful incumbents were able to ‘cherry pick’ concepts from overseas and introduce them to Australian consumers confident of their likely success.

Most of the international firms who have broken through have typically had very strong firm-specific advantages (usually in specialist retail formats), and have been pretty aggressive in their internationalisation. It is worth noting that the average firm in the Top 250 operates in 6.8 countries. All but one of the international players in Australia exceeds that average substantially (while the Aussie pair are underperformers).

Is it the case that only experienced internationalisers can make the leap to Australia? Or do they only bother once they’ve exhausted more rewarding locales?

One of the big boys is heading our way – #9 Costco is building in Melbourne right now. Can we really expect too many more from the list on Australian shores in the near future?

Maybe the downturn isn’t a slow down

January 6, 2009

Getting back to work and catching up on emails, I was struck by the ongoing pace of internationalisation in the retail sector, despite the much-discussed global economic downturn. Many of the big players have been busy expanding their empires (while a few others have been struggling).

I am on the mailing list of a mob called Planet Retail, and they send out a daily newsfeed. Over the past month alone, here are the various international expansion moves they have mentioned (both new FDI and also significant within-host country investments):

  • Office Depot (US) and partner Gigante (Mexico) into Colombia
  • Wal-Mart (US) building stronger ties to Russia with an eye to open stores some time
  • Wal-Mart (US) definitely into Chile
  • Quiznos (US) into Venezuela
  • RadioShack (US) buying out Mexican partner
  • KFC and Pizza Hut (US) into Moldova
  • Costco (US) contemplating France, Spain and India
  • Costco (US) definitely into Australia

  • Hamleys (UK) into Russia
  • Alliance Boots (UK) expanding operations in Norway
  • Aldi (German) into New York City
  • Auchan (France) expanding operations in Romania
  • Metro Cash and Carry (Germany) expanding Indian operations into Punjab
  • Schwarz Lidl (Germany) into Bulgaria
  • Tesco (UK) expanding Chinese operations into Shandong
  • Rewe (Germany) expanding Russian operations
  • Woolworths (Australia) potentially into India
  • Lotte (Korea) into Vietnam
  • Best Denki (Japan) into Kuwait
  • Yamada Denki (Japan) into China
  • Quanjude (China) into Taiwan

I have listed them by the home continents of the expanding firms. As you can see there is a pretty even mix of countries in terms of home and host here. Most interestingly from the perspective of a researcher who looks at the geographic reach of multinationals, a good proportion of these moves have been outside of these firms’ home regions (as typically defined). I have highlighted these moves in green. Given retailing is one of the less-internationalised sectors in the global economy, it is fascinating that such expansion continues to occur.