You'll find much about the independent retailing sector as you page through this week's issue of SN and read the editorial column below. The occasion, of course, is the annual meeting of the National Grocers Association in Las Vegas.
Given all that, let's take a different and broader look at the world to round out the picture a bit by finding out what issues are important to those driving the opposite end of the business, namely those in charge of large-scale and multinational retailing and manufacturing enterprises. To do that, let's turn to an opinion survey newly issued by CIES, The Food Business Forum.
CIES, the trade association based in Paris that draws its membership from the ranks of the largest food-distribution companies and their suppliers worldwide, asked 378 food-business executives to rank a dozen issues according to how "top of mind" they were. Those surveyed operated businesses in North America, Europe, South America and Asia-Pacific. The survey has been conducted since 1996. It poses identical questions to both retailers and manufacturers and presents results as an aggregation of those two camps, and separately.
Let's take a look at the results.
It will come as little surprise that of the issues forming the survey, it was e-commerce that has sunk to dead last for both retailers and their suppliers. In recent years, that matter was as high as second ranking in concern. When a bubble bursts, it bursts everywhere. Conversely, the matter of greatest concern to retailers at the moment is that of customer loyalty and retention, up from the second-ranking issue last year. Meanwhile, manufacturers put questions of the internationalization of retailing first, the same rank it occupied last year. They see customer loyalty as the second-ranking issue.
Retailers' selection of customer loyalty as their chief concern shows that heightened competition is a worldwide phenomenon. Retailers everywhere are grappling with how to make a distinctive offer, how to win customers, and how to cement the customers they win. Retailers also rank matters surrounding food safety and security as their second-most-important issue. Retailers perceive as their third-ranking issue questions of formats, services and assortment. Actually, those three rankings make perfect sense in this ultra-competitive marketplace of the world, and they are clearly interrelated.
It's in the matter of internationalization that we see the clearest difference between retailers and manufacturers. Retailers rank internationalization sixth in the survey's hierarchy of concerns, down from last year's fifth. This is probably indicative that many retailers, notably those in the Americas, have been little interested in internationalization in recent years, and that some internationalized retailers have had a tough go of it in the past couple of years. Conversely, manufacturers for many years have been far more internationalized than retailers, and they continue to seek ways to leverage that attribute to good advantage.
Other concerns that rank further down the survey, for both retailers and manufacturers, include those of technical standards, environment, employee recruitment and the image of retailing.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this survey, then, is that in the main, the issues that cause sleepless nights for retailing executives in North America aren't far removed from those nagging at their counterparts elsewhere in the world.