New Amazon threat to Coles and Woolworths

New Amazon threat to Coles and Woolworths
New Amazon threat to Coles and Woolworths


The loss of the high-value young grocery shopper is the biggest risk facing Coles and Woolworths when Amazon disrupts the Australian grocery market.

According to a major new survey of 20,000 Australians conducted by the Roy Morgan Research Institute, while younger Australians like Millennials represent future value for supermarket giants, they also represent the consumers most at risk from the Amazon juggernaut expected to sweep Australian shores in coming months.

An advance briefing by Roy Morgan on their Supermarket Survival Survey revealed that 73 per cent of the highest value younger consumers known as NEO-Millennials already shop online. And they are 85 per cent more likely than the average Australian to shop online. They and their equivalents in Gen X are the fertile feeding ground for Amazon in Australia.

Despite this major shift in the future of shopping behaviour, the survey reveals that supermarket chains have been focusing on what is known as ‘owned media’ – media channels they own and run very well. The best examples of supermarket owned media are their magazines and catalogues.

Their magazine titles, for example, dominate the entire magazine market. The Coles Magazine is Australia’s most read title with 3.2 million readers of an average issue, ahead of Woolworth’s Fresh on 2.7 million readers – both well ahead of Better Homes and Gardens (1.81m), Women’s Weekly (1.76m) and Woman’s Day (1.56m).

However, the research reveals that incumbent supermarket brands may need a new approach to their magazines and catalogues – particularly with the spectre of Amazon looming on the horizon.

The survey reveals that only 2.2 per cent of Australians find magazines useful when purchasing groceries, compared to 49 per cent who find catalogues a useful tool. The Internet (20 per cent), newspapers (6 per cent) and television (5 per cent) are all ahead of magazines as grocery influencers.

In the supermarket category, catalogues rule. In an average 4 weeks 7,179,000 Australians read a Woolworths catalogue, and 7,115,000 read a Coles catalogue. This balance in favour of Woolworths is borne out in the shopping behaviour of Australians with 4.5 million mainly shopping at Woolworths compared to 4.3 million at Coles.

However, future shareholder value and profitable growth of Australia’s supermarket brands lie in the hands of the younger generations like Millennials – particularly the highest value NEO-Millennials. Australia’s 1.5 million NEO-Millennials are even less influenced by magazines with only 1.7 per cent finding them useful when shopping for groceries – in stark contrast to the power of the Internet with 39 per cent using it to inform their grocery spending. Ninety-one per cent of NEO-Millennials are in the top third of discretionary spenders in the economy – and supermarkets are chock-full of discretionary products.

Alarmingly, this high-value supermarket shopper is 157 per cent more likely than the average Australian to buy groceries online. Why is this alarming? While it’s true that a quarter (25.4 per cent) of all Australians say they’d like to buy their groceries online, only 3.7 per cent actually do, seemingly quarantining the big supermarket brands from the Amazon threat.

Elsewhere in the world, the average online grocery behaviour of Amazon-targeted countries is reportedly between 25 and 30 per cent, enabling Amazon to simply transfer online shoppers from existing brands to their Amazon Fresh or Amazon Prime offerings.

In Australia, however, with less than 4 per cent shopping for groceries online, Amazon has to grow the pie before it can take its slice. So, NEO-Millennials are a juicy target for Amazon. They spend their lives online and their online grocery shopping is already approaching 10 per cent. Add to that the fact that sixteen per cent of NEO-Millennials already are Amazon shoppers – 82 per cent more than the average Australian – they have to be considered easy pickings for Amazon.

And because they are younger, they represent lifetime value to the big supermarket chains.

So, how can Australia’s supermarket brands best prepare themselves for the Amazon assault? Certainly not on price or delivery. On all available data, Coles and Woolworths simply cannot win a price war with Amazon. And, despite Coles’ current fulfilment trial using UberRUSH to deliver groceries in Melbourne, the incumbents can’t win on delivery either.

An incumbent supermarket brand may have great supply chain, discounts, sale events, efficient & inexpensive fulfilment, but it had better not have the second-best discounts & fulfilment. When Amazon hits town, every retail brand in its merchandise category line-of-fire will be second best.

The American price / delivery battlefield provides stark evidence. Just look at Walmart, legendary in the US for the cheapest prices across its myriad grocery and general merchandise categories. A US study by Business Insider found that over a diverse basket of 25 grocery & electronics products, Amazon was $US161.05 cheaper than Walmart. And Amazon keeps gazumping it on delivery cost and speed. Unimaginable just a few years ago.

So, what then of the incumbents’ catalogues and magazines? Are they part of the solution?

According to the Supermarket Survival Survey, magazines have a future role to play if the big incumbents adopt the new mantra of ‘think small’. The Supermarket Survival Survey reveals that the biggest threat to the supermarket categories is losing the high-value cohorts across younger generations, those shoppers most likely to already shop online and already consider a familiar Amazon more frictionless, relevant and trustworthy than their brands. These are the consumers motivated by the personal, the local, the handmade and who are moving towards zero friction and the ‘right to forget money’. They are ripe for disruption.

To retain them, Coles or Woolworths might, for example, position Amazon as the global giant, and then make their digital catalogue and magazine content relevant to different (small) communities – geographic communities, NEO-Millennials and communities of interest. Such a strategy would serve to replace the rapidly disappearing local media, highlighting not only the incumbents’ ubiquity but also their local proximity and relevance. Amazon will win on price and delivery but can never win on local authenticity.

So, the catalogues and magazines published by the supermarket incumbents have an opportunity to become their most potent weapons in the looming grocery war, but only with granular sociographic mapping of consumer types, like NEO-Millennials – way beyond geo-demographics and into the realms of local relevance and authenticity.

Dr Ross Honeywill is a social scientist and internationally published author. Executive Director of the Centre for Social Economics, he advises national and global clients on the peak-value consumer ecosystem and can be contacted here.

Amazon Retail Disruption


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