Propensity for Testing
Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., said Martin and his team have a strong willingness to experiment that helps drive the company’s learning and contributes to its success. They also collaborate with suppliers very effectively to arrive at pricing and assortments that drive sales and profitability, he explained.
“They are very sharp, and they are very willing to engage in very rigorous debate with the supplier community,” Hertel said. “It’s not an old-style confrontational relationship — It’s the kind of relationship where both sides really need to be committed to finding out what’s the truth, and having a vigorous debate about what’s the right thing to do.”
He noted that Ahold has a long history of sharing its data with vendors, which contributes to more informed decisions.
The company’s willingness to experiment with new things — such as its Scan It! handheld self-scanner deployment, now in 339 stores — also contributes to its success, Hertel explained.
“They are not going to hit home runs on every one, and they might not even get base hits on everything they try, but I think what characterizes them is they are open and willing to try a lot of different things,” he said.
The self-scanner system provides Ahold with another vehicle for delivering targeted offers.
“They have been out there with a lot of things early, and not all of them worked, and not all had a game-changing impact,” Hertel said. “But they are always approaching it with an experimental mindset of, ‘Let’s try it and see. What’s the worst that can happen?’”
That’s an important attitude to have in the fast-changing world of digital communications and technology-enabled marketing, he explained.
“You have to be willing to try a lot of different things, and be willing to fail fast,” he said. “There are a lot of organizations that don’t want to do that — they would rather try one thing and be 100% right than try 20 things and have five of them work, but those five just keep you on the cutting edge.”
More recently, Ahold has deployed a smartphone application for use in 21 of its stores that allows customers to use their iPhone or Android mobile device. The company plans to expand that test soon with an eye toward full rollout by year-end.