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Walmart likes Facebook — and vice versa

BY Staff Writer

New York — Some Facebook investors may be feeling a bit disgruntled, but Walmart couldn’t be happier with its experience with the social network.

Walmart executives have had nothing but positive things to say about how they are leveraging the platform to engage with shoppers and drive business results. That was the case this week at the Emerging Trends in Retail Conference, organized by The Center for Retailing Excellence at the University of Arkansas. Facebook’s Mike Fox, director of global vertical marketing, and Wanda Young, Walmart’s director of social media strategy, delivered a joint presentation at the conference.

Currently, Walmart has 23 million Facebook fans, which Fox called an "amazing asset," because it is the largest and highest quality Facebook fan base in the United States.

"They have seen significant lift in individual items when they put them through the system they have built," Fox said.

Getting all those fans doesn’t happen by accident. It requires the company to engage with shoppers by providing content, which Fox described as an important foundational step to getting it right on Facebook.

"Connecting to the customer is way more important than simply having a high fan count," Fox said.

He recommended that content be engaging, useful and frequent for maximum effect.

"Walmart is one of the best posters we have on Facebook today,” the Facebook director said. “There are a whole range of things they do that are best in class.”

Walmart detailed some of its Facebook initaitives at its recently-held annual investor conference. The company, which has individual Facebook pages for each of its stores, is now looking to leverage the platform, as well as other social media, to drive sales this holiday season.

"We’re going provide value to our Facebook members with more than two billion impressions during the season," Walmart chief merchandising and marketing officer Duncan Mac Naughton said at the meeting. "That’s three times greater than last year. We’re going to align all of our social media against our marketing platforms so we have a consistent message no matter where you are, whether you’re on your digital phone, whether you’re in the store, or your home computer."

One example Mac Naughton shared is a program called Toy Land Tuesday that features roll back prices based on Facebook fan votes. On Saturday and Sunday, Facebook fans vote what toys they want a rollback on and then new prices are implemented on Tuesday.

A program called Get Connected involves specific deals served up to Facebook fans. And at the end of October, a program called Walmart Gifts is set to launch that looks at top trending toys and offers gift suggestions based on Facebook friends’ wish lists.

Walmart must be doing something right on Facebook. Just a few months ago, when promotional materials were put together for the Emerging Trends conference, Walmart was said to have 17 million fans. At the investor conference, the number cited was 22 million. This week the figure had grown to 23 million and is surely headed higher as holiday activity intensifies.

“There isn’t a single person in the U.S. who doesn’t have at least one friend who is connected to Walmart,” said Facebook’s Fox.

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OPERATIONS

Survey: Dollar stores put increased competition on supermarkets

BY Gail Hoffer

Fort Lee, N.J. — Supermarkets are facing increased competition from dollar stores, according to a new survey from Perception Research Services International.

Supermarkets continue to be the primary channel where consumers purchase groceries but are continuing to face challenges from other retail formats. PRS’ survey results indicate that supermarkets are still where most shoppers (91%) have purchased groceries in the past three months (in line with last year’s 92%), and mass merchandisers are still their largest competitive threat (73% purchase groceries there – down from 76% in 2011).

But this year’s data shows that dollar stores are gaining momentum as the percentage of shoppers who purchase groceries at dollar stores has increased, from 32% in 2011 to 35% in 2012. Alternatively, levels at drug and convenience are holding steady relative to last year (46%/47% and 23%/24% respectively).

While consumers purchase beverages and food generally at the same rate across mass merchandisers and dollar stores, cleaning supplies and personal care items are purchased more often at dollar stores. In addition to these items, shelf stable products at dollar stores are most competitive with mass merchandisers.

This survey also revealed that shoppers prefer supermarkets for selection, mass merchandisers and dollar stores for price and drug and convenience stores for price.

During 2012, more shoppers utilized sales/coupons (83%) and quantity/size control (70%) to save money than in 2011, the survey found. Most importantly, this year significantly more shoppers claimed to have switched brands to curb costs (61% versus 49%).

“Our latest findings on grocery shopping indicate how very discerning today’s shoppers are – about their venue preferences as well as brand choices,” said Jonathan Asher, EVP at PRS. “Retailers must understand their competitive strengths and capitalize on them, while also making the necessary adjustments to their offerings to seize opportunities for a larger slice of the pie as shoppers are more open to new shopping possibilities than they have been since the 1950’s with the advent of large, supermarket chains.”

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STORE SPACES

Regency Centers expands energy-saving initiatives with networked lighting controls

BY Staff Writer

Jacksonville, Fla. — Regency Centers has reduced its energy consumption since 2010 by 3.4 million kilowatt-hours. The installation of networked lighting controls at 48 shopping centers, combined with the use of LED lighting and more efficient HID lamps, accounts for the majority of these savings.

“The networked lighting controls currently generate about $400,000 in annual expense savings,” said Scott Prigge, senior VP national operations for Regency Centers. “Next year, we are on track to increase these savings by 55%, reducing our operating expenses by an additional $220,000. These savings have an immediate and impactful benefit to our bottom line, while also driving more competitive triple net expenses for our tenants.”

Currently, Regency has networked lighting controls installed at 48 neighborhood and community centers. It plans to add the lighting control systems to approximately 30 properties in the next six months to 12 months and will incrementally adopt the technology in its remaining portfolio where the investment makes sound financial sense.

“The payback period for the networked lighting controls is extremely attractive; typically one to three years, depending on the unique circumstances at each property,” said Mark Peternell, VP sustainability for Regency. “And this does not take into consideration the additional maintenance savings derived from extending the life of the fixtures, which are no longer burning all night long.”

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