Category Archives: Walmart

Bluetooth Technology Aids In-store Product Pushing

Do consumers need, when they go to the grocery store, more help than already is available from print coupons, downloadable coupons, window-poster ads, shelf extender ads, on-the-floor ads (for crying out loud!), and – less often these days – samplers hawking product samples in the deli, meat and produce section?

Retailers (and, bless ‘em!) manufacturers are always seeking to play their part in the ‘wait, there’s more!’ game popularized on late-night TV ads. The latest instore gambit, described in a New York Times article running to nearly 1600 words, is to reach out to unwitting (and even unwilling) shoppers through their smartphones.

Here’s how The Times leads into its article:

Imagine you are shopping in your favorite grocery store. As you approach the dairy aisle, you are sent a push notification in your phone: “10 percent off your favorite yogurt! Click here to redeem your coupon.” You considered buying yogurt on your last trip to the store, but you decided against it. How did your phone know?

Your smartphone was tracking you. The grocery store got your location data and paid a shadowy group of marketers to use that information to target you with ads. Recent reports have noted how companies use data gathered from cell towers, ambient Wi-Fi, and GPS. But the location data industry has a much more precise, and unobtrusive, tool: Bluetooth beacons.

These beacons are small, inobtrusive electronic devices that are hidden throughout the grocery store; an app on your phone that communicates with them informed the company not only that you had entered the building, but that you had lingered for two minutes in front of the low-fat Chobanis.

Bluetooth beacons, the article goes on to say, “are accurate within centimeters, using little energy, functioning like little lighthouses that emit one-way messages that can be detected by apps on your phone – even if the app is closed.

‘Living’ Version of ‘The Stalker Song’:                                      I’ll Be Watching You

All that’s bad enough, if you care a whit about your personal privacy, but The Times goes on to note that:

  • If your phone and a nearby beacon hookup, the computer on the other end of the beacon can be told what products you’ve walked by, and how long you’ve lingered in this or that department.
  • Foot traffic monitored by the beacon can reveal personal details such as your income and exercise habits; When paired with other information about you, companies can build a rich profile of who you are, where you are, and what you buy — all without your knowledge.
  • The app can be prompted to display ads for products you seem likely to buy.
  • It can send you a coupon after you leave, urging you to come back — a practice called “retargeting.”

Most people, The Times notes, “aren’t aware they are being watched with beacons, but the “beacosystem” tracks millions of people every day. Beacons are placed at or on airports, malls, subways, buses, taxis. sporting arenasgymshotelshospitalsmusic festivalscinemas and museums, and even on billboards.

The System Works Via A Phone App

In order to track you or trigger an action like a coupon or message to your phone, companies need you to install an app on your phone that will recognize the beacon in the store. Retailers (like Target and Walmart) that use Bluetooth beacons typically build tracking into their own apps. But retailers want to make sure most of their customers can be tracked — not just the ones that download their own particular app.

So a hidden industry of third-party location-marketing firms has proliferated in response. These companies take their beacon tracking code and bundle it into a toolkit developers can use.

The makers of many popular apps, such as those for news or weather updates, insert these toolkits into their apps. They might be paid by the beacon companies or receive other benefits, like detailed reports on their users.

That’s less than half what this article reveals. I urge you to read it to read it here.

 

Growing Number of Retailers Seeking Sales Growth with CBD Products

cbd_diagram

This is a revised version of an article originally published here on June 13.

America’s largest traditional supermarket chain has crawled onto the CBD oil bandwagon, announcing this week that it will begin selling CBD products. These are items based on cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating portion of the hemp plant – best known as the source of marijuana. Kroger, whose store count is exceeded only by Walmart, plans to offer such cannabidiol products as lotions, creams, and oils in 945 of its 2,764 stores before the end of June, according to a company news release.

Supermarket News said the CBD products will be carried at stores in Kroger’s Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, Michigan, Central, Louisville, Delta, Nashville, Mid-Atlantic, Roundy’s (Mariano’s and Pick ‘n Save), Dillons, King Soopers, Fry’s, Fred Meyer, QFC and Smith’s divisions.

Last month, The New York Post said it had learned that top executives at major chains such as Walmart and Target have been quietly meeting with makers of such CBD products as drinks, gummy bears, topical creams and oils. There are a surprising variety of products available that are infused with cannabidiol, or CBD, all of which have proven popular with the target market.

supermarket_interior-2

While Walmart has not announced any plans to sell any CBD products in store, it has for some time quietly been selling – for delivery, not store pickup – “hemp oil,” another non-intoxicating derivative of the hemp plant.

Motley Fool Lists Nine Retailers Adding CBD Products To Shelves

Motley Fool article dated June 3, 2019, cited nine retailers now (or about to be) selling CBD products.

They include health and wellness retailers – CVS Health, Walgreens Boot Alliance, and Rite Aid – who collectively dominate the pharmacy sector outside of supermarkets.

The Fool said CVS Health plans to carry select CBD products — topicals — in roughly 800 of its stores, spanning eight states in March. Just days later, Walgreens Boots Alliance’s declared nearly 1,500 of its US stores would also offer CBD products. Most recently, Rite Aid joined the party, announcing plans to carry CBD products in two states (Washington and Oregon).

Considering that front-end sales for CVS Health, Walgreens, and Rite Aid tend to have very low margins, the introduction of CBD products may slightly boost margins, or at the very least improve foot traffic into their stores.

Beauty retailer Ulta Beauty is a fourth brand-name retailer carrying CBD products. In mid-March, Ulta announced plans to carry five skin-care products from Cannuka that blend CBD with manuka, a type of honey that’s sourced from bees that pollinate Manuka trees. Ulta is currently able to sell these skin-care focused CBD products in all but three states (Nebraska, South Dakota, and Idaho) where CBD laws remain very strict.

gnc

The Fool said a fifth major wellness retailer where a consumer can pick up CBD products is GNC Holdings, which recently began selling a variety of CBD-infused topical creams of varying strengths. Known for supplying everything from performance supplements to health and beauty products, GNC’s entrance into the CBD product space was a logical move designed to appeal to the full spectrum of its customer base.

In addition to brand-name health and wellness retailers, four major apparel, accessory, and general retailers are now offering CBD products for sale. Among them are Designer Brands, Urban Outfitters, and Simon Property Group. The latter doesn’t directly sell CBD products, but as the largest mall operator in America, it is directly responsible for approving or denying what stores go into its malls. Recently, Simon Property Group and Green Growth Brands came to an agreement that allows Green Growth to open 108 shops in Simon’s malls this year to sell products containing CBD.

Let The Buyer Beware

Meanwhile, Healthline.com issued a warning that a product based on a hemp derivative, and its label may give the impression their benefits are broad-based, as CBD products are said to be, but consumers need to be careful what they buy.

That website noted recently that, “it’s easy for a brand to add hempseed oil to a product, adorn it with marijuana leaves, and highlight the word cannabis to make consumers think they’re receiving a CBD product that contains no actual CBD at all.”

Continuing, the Healthline author said: “So how can you tell what you’re purchasing? It’s pretty simple actually, check the ingredient list…

“Hemp seed oil will be listed as cannabis sativa seed oil. CBD will be listed as cannabidiol, full-spectrum hemp, hemp oil, PCR (phytocannabinoid rich) or PCR hemp extracts.”

The product Walmart sells is described as “Cold-Pressed, Unrefined Hemp Oil from non-GMO, Sustainably Farmed Canadian Hemp. 24 ounces.”

The CBD Products Market Is “The Wild West,” U. Penn Professor Says

Similarly, Dennis Thompson, a HealthDay reporter at WebMB.com, noted last month that, “CBD is being produced without any regulation, resulting in products that vary widely in quality,” citing Marcel Bonn-Miller, an adjunct assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

“It really is the Wild West,” Bonn-Miller said. “Joe Bob who starts up a CBD company could say whatever the hell he wants on a label and sell it to people.”

There are two factors drawing supermarkets to add high-margin CBD products to their product mix. First, because right now, they offer uncommonly high margins. Secondly, they are viewed by an increasing number of consumers as a prescription-free way of obtaining a pain reliever. Their present high margins are likely to lessen as competition heats up. And while some may find oil or capsules containing oil offer some relief from pain, that could become a painful subject for retailers if the government, via the FDA, decides to require cannabidiol to be tested and meet efficacy standards.

It remains to be seen how the market will shake out in coming years, as more states are certain to join the list of those already allowing sales of marijuana in addition to the non-intoxicating CBD product lines.

Walmart: ‘Big Chicken’ Pecks in Synch on Prices

big_chicken

Whether or not there’s been “collusion” in the White House, a Walmart law suit contends there certainly has been amongst a sizable number of chicken producers in America.

America’s largest retail grocer has filed an antitrust suit in federal court against various U.S. poultry companies alleging a conspiracy to inflate chicken prices, Dairy Herd Management has reported.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, the suit alleges that more than a dozen major chicken companies “reached illegal agreements and restrained trade.”

The suit alleges that as early as 2008 through at least 2016, “Defendants’ restraint of trade was implemented primarily through two mechanisms. The first focused on coordinating their output and reducing the supply of broiler chickens into the market. The second focused on (among other things) manipulating price indices with respect to wholesale chicken prices.”

FRANCE-AGRICULTURE-BIRD-FLU

Companies named as defendants include: Pilgrim’s Pride, Koch Foods, JCG Foods, Koch Meat Co., various Sanderson Farms units, House of Raeford Farms, MAR- JAC Poultry, Perdue Farms and Perdue Foods, Wayne Farms, various O.K. Foods units, Peco Foods, Harrison Poultry, Foster Farms, Claxton Poultry Farms, various Mountaire Farms units Amick Farms, various Case Foods units and Agri Stats Inc.

Noticeable by their absence in the suit are Tyson Foods, Inc., George’s Inc., and Simmons Foods, Inc. All three companies were named as defendants in similar price fixing cases in Illinois.

An annual SEC filing from November 2018 indicates 17.3% of Tyson’s consolidated sales in 2018 were to Walmart.

Walmart’s lawsuit alleges, “the broiler producers’ coordinated output restriction scheme was successfully facilitated by, monitored and policed using reports purchased, at significant cost, from Defendant Agri Stats, Inc. Agri Stats collects detailed, proprietary data from all Defendants and others, including housing used, breed of chicks, average size, production, and breeder flock levels.”

Several lawsuits have been filed since 2016 alleging price-fixing by poultry companies. One defendant to an earlier lawsuit, Fieldale Farms, “agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle claims by a putative class of direct purchasers alleging that it participated in this conspiracy.” As a result, claims against Fieldale Farms were released.

So far, none of these lawsuits have been resolved, making it difficult to know what impact they may have on the industry. Conspiratorial activity and price fixing can be incredibly difficult to prove, and in today’s digital age, companies can communicate without a paper trail or sufficient evidence that they agreed to adjust their supplies.

While some food retailers are duking it out in the courtroom, Costco has taken matters into its own hands, GroceryDive reports. That retailer is building its own chicken supply chain, “which will provide it complete control and the ability to provide consumers with a high level of transparency in its production practices,” the website says.

The challenge with bringing poultry production in-house, however, means Costco must now run an entire agribusiness within its retail business.

Their new supply system is projected to save Costco 35 cents per bird, which adds up to $25 million annually. Considering that U.S. consumers are scarfing down nearly twice as much chicken as beef and pork, saving excess costs on poultry is a top priority for retailers.

While hardly novel, this kind of industry collusion is, well, despicable. It’s not as if any stage of the chicken production process – and various steps are involved – isn’t turning a reasonable profit.

In Virginia – as no doubt is the case elsewhere – Perdue uses small, family-operated farms for hen-raising. Some of those farmers are Amish or Mennonite, operating in fairly remote rural areas where property prices are, pardon the pun, dirt cheap.

So, in at least a few known instances, are their power costs: Perdue farmers in some southern Virginia counties are serviced by an electric cooperative run,  with prices approved, by its members.

That entity’s overheads are, like other utility’s, proportionate to its customer base – meaning, in this instance, ‘modest’ compared to its larger supplier cousins.

Over the years, a few, scattered industry reports have noted that farmer contracts such as Perdue – a quite large corporation – are quick to squeeze their farmers and slow to share with them if profits turn up.

Walmart, in going after Perdue and its giant compatriots, is looking out for the little guy: In part due to increasing price pressure from the Aldis and Lidls of this world, Walmart is very consciously curbing price increases and cutting consumer costs as often as it can.

Its attack on ‘Big Chicken’ (don’t you love that epithet!!) is a big ‘peck’ in that direction!

 

 

Pennies (Not Quite) From Heaven: Flyers Abandon Nearly $1m At Airport Security

airport_check_point

Talk about unintended consequences: The ‘take-off-your-shoes-empty-your-pockets’ routine at American airports – all in the name of security – accidentally netted the government nearly $1 million in left-behind change and bills last year. That, the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) said, was the total in coins, loose bills and way more of the latter left in wallets and purses – plus an unknown number of belts, mobile phone, and other personal items – left in the plastic bins at security check points. (As you’d imagine, many of the phones and laptops eventually made it home. The cash, USA Today reported, has been given authority by Congress to spend the money however it sees fit to improve security. In past years, the TSA’s ‘tips’ have gone toward upgrading security signs and Precheck travel-expediting systems.

TSA reported the five airports ‘contributing’ the most the year’s unintended bounty broke down which airports ‘contributed’ what amount: NYC’s JFK Airport, came in at No. 1 with more than $72,300, followed by LAX at nearly $71,800, and then Miami, Chicago’s O’Hare, and New Jersey’s Newark airport. The airport where travelers hold tight to their legal tender? Nevada’s Reno airport, which only yielded $19.85 in 2018. And chances are the Reno passengers left little more – if that much – in the change slots at the slot machines!

I don’t know if anyone’s tracking it, but chances are that as supermarkets increase self-service checkouts, customers requesting ‘cash back’ from credit or debit cards are forgetting to grab it from the machine. (I’ve done it at least twice!)

An important reason that happens is because the cash-return slot tends to be below one’s usual eye-sight range. That, and the fact that customers, at that point in the shopping experience, want it behind them.

I once was chased into a Walmart parking lot by an associate waving my $20 bill in the air.  Some others probably haven’t been so fortunate.

Details — such as where cash-return slots are placed on checkout machines — can be costly to supermarket operators, because even when you aren’t paying attention, you can bet shoppers are!

Walmart VR Home Reinvents Advertising

walmart_virtual_kitchen

A new Walmart experiment breaks not just the fourth wall but eliminates walls altogether as it enables a virtual reality (VR) tour of a home environment where close to 70 identified items are clickable for ‘more information’ and for access to a shopping cart/checkout page. Walmart says the example is an apartment, but the principle applies to a house as well as an apartment.

‘The fourth wall’ is a theatrical device where a player steps or speaks through the invisible front wall separating players from observers. An excellent, albeit exaggerated example cropped up recently a performance of Henry IV at Los Angeles’ Shakespeare Center.

When a member of the audience became ill and needed medical attention, the show was paused. After a few minutes, Tom Hanks, in character as Falstaff, returned to the stage to recapture the audience’s attention.

Come back here,” he yelled to a few “scurvy rogues who stood up from their seats”. “God has decided this play needed a second intermission,””  he said. “Get back here or find this sword and many a dagger placed neatly in the tires of your carriage,” to laughs from the still-seated audience members.

It’s unlikely you will laugh at Walmart’s VR show, but you may gasp in surprise at how cleverly the company and its team of technologists – see FTT here – put a mix of national brands and Walmart own label items in situ (where you’d see/use them at home). This goes well beyond simply telling you, as an ordinary ad does, what things are and what they cost.

In the kitchen, for example, atop a ‘Seville Classics Easy-To-Clean Bamboo Cutting Board’, alongside a paring knife, is a halved apple, with one half quartered. On the same counter there’s a ‘Black+ Decker 2-Slice Extra Wide Slice Toaster, Red/Silver,’ a ‘Color Splash Cutlery Set with Wood Block 6-PC,’ and a ‘Keurig K-Compact Single-Serve K-Cup Pod Coffee Maker’. A clickable yellow circle appears beside each item. When clicked, as well as showing the item, it offers a “click here to buy” link.

Each other area of the home is similarly highlighted with promoted items, and the 3-D VR presentation takes the viewer well beyond the simple product representation of a typical print or TV advertisement.

While this most likely is the first example of this technology you’ve heard, rest assured it won’t be the last. It truly represents a reinvention of advertising as we’ve known it.

The principals it employs are applicable to a number of other situations and environments. Think home remodeling, and how excitingly (and easily) different design element and surface treatments, among other things, can be presented with this technology.

For this and other reasons (see FTT), rather than viewing Walmart as just a behemoth retailer (2,700 or so US stores), the company increasingly needs to be viewed as an innovator, as a disrupter in the retail space. Hopefully you won’t be physically displaced, albeit by only inches, by upcoming Walmart robots tasked to help track out-of-stocks and more in stores.

 

 

Walmart Boosting E-Commerce Potential

walmart_super-cropped

 

Walmart’s determination to well-serve its stores’  and customers’ needs in the e-commerce area was boosted a few days ago when the company announced it is adding 2,000 technologists to its existing staff of 6,000 in that area by year’s end.

‘Technologists’ are the Walmart employees who work on the technology powering Walmart stores and the company’s e-commerce businesses, a VentureBeat report noted on June 20.

The new-hire technologists will join Walmart Labs’ offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, CA; Bentonville, AR, where Walmart is headquartered; Reston, VA; and Bangalore, India. This role includes data scientists, engineers, and product managers, And NowUKnow explained.

Walmart Labs CTO Jeremy King spoke exclusively with VentureBeat about the division’s hiring plans for the coming year, citing the company’s growing online grocery effort in particular as the reason for Walmart Labs’ expansion. Walmart currently offers customers the ability to order groceries online and pick them up in-store in more than 1,500 of its stores. That count is due to expand to about 2,100 stores by the end of the year, VentureBeat noted.

“Oftentimes we have 50 to 100 items in an order, and we don’t send one picker out to the floor to pick one order and send it back — we’re really optimizing the pickup, and they’re picking somewhere between 5 and 15 orders at a time,” King told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “They’re actually [dealing with] fascinating machine learning problems.”

Walmart’s most formidable competitor in the online grocery pickup space — also known as “click and collect” — is and likely will remain Amazon. That company introduced free, two-hour delivery from Whole Foods stores to Amazon Prime members in certain cities in February. (Amazon acquired Whole Foods in mid-2017.

And while it doesn’t yet offer a click-and-collect option, job listings for pickers in certain cities indicate that it may soon do so.

Danny Silverman, the chief marketing officer at e-commerce analytics firm Clavis, told VentureBeat in a phone interview that the algorithms data scientists at Walmart and Amazon develop to make grocery pickups more efficient will be critical in determining which one gains a better foothold in the space — most click-and-collect services are “are unprofitable to neutral for the retailer, and it’s more about the long-term value of the customer than making money on the [individual] sale.”

“A lot of retailers don’t have real-time inventory management, so it’s very difficult for them to take an online order and then fulfill it successfully — so a big piece of customer satisfaction and winning is going to be on how much they manage their inventory and deliver on [the order],” Silverman added.

Attracting talent to Middle America and the coasts

King also spoke with VentureBeat about the different hiring challenges and advantages Walmart Labs faces with its different offices. Walmart created the Walmart Labs division in 2005, following its acquisition of SiliconValley-based social media analytics company Kosmix, reportedly for more than $300 million.

In Silicon Valley, King acknowledged that tech workers don’t always readily think of Walmart as a technology company. That’s part of the reason why the technology arm is branded as “Walmart Labs.” King said that Walmart Labs often pitches workers on Walmart’s scale.

“Around 140 million people [in the U.S.] walk into a [Walmart] store each week, and getting access to play with that kind of data is intriguing to most people [in the field],” King told VentureBeat.

In Bentonville — where many members of the tech team work on merchandising, supply chain, and point of sale challenges — Walmart Labs faces less challenges from other tech companies for talent. But outside talent is less familiar with what Bentonville — a city of just 48,000 people — is like. The Walmart Family Foundation in recent years has invested in a number of projects to improve cultural and outdoors offerings in Bentonville, such as spending $74 million in developing mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. Walmart is also the sponsor of the Bentonville Film Festival, launched in 2015.

One Family Moved from Philadelphia to Pentonville

Linda Lomelino, currently a senior researcher with Walmart Labs, told VentureBeat that she visited Bentonville twice — once for an on-site interview, and once with her husband and two children — before accepting the job with Walmart Labs and relocating to the area from Philadelphia.

“My husband and I did a lot of research about restaurants and schools and museums and cultural events — and any sort of surrounding experiences that we could have as a family. We also did a lot of research into the demographic profile of Bentonville,” Lomelino told VentureBeat. As of 2017, the city of Bentonville was about 75 percent white, 10.2 percent Asian, 9.2 percent Hispanic or Latino, and 2.7 percent Black, according to Census Bureau data.

King said that Walmart has also tried to create more opportunities for the tech community in Bentonville, hosting Tech Tuesday meet-ups at its office and working with engineering groups and other tech organizations for students at the nearby University of Arkansas.

“I think you’ll see more to come — J.B. Hunt (a major trucking company) and the other [companies] around there are all trying to attract technical talent to the area,” King said.

 

 

 

A Little-Plus About Lidl

lidl_exterior

A year ago, Germany-based grocer Lidl ‘invaded’ the United States. The company (whose name is pronounced leedl) originally set its initial US goal at 100 stores. That was scaled back, early this year, to 50. There presently are Lidl stores in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with more stores pending in New York’s Staten Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia.

The up-coming stores are likely to be closer to the company’s 15,000-20,000 sq ft (1393-1858 sqm) European model, for a few reasons:

(1) The US stores, judging from the one I’ve visited (several times), are seriously trying to do too much, as almost-full-service supermarkets, than they can deliver;

(2) they dedicate 12-25% of their floor space to nonfood items that might, might, generate high enough profits to justify the company’s investment in them… but they might not; and

(3) while in-store bakeries certainly are a potential draw, Lidl’s scratch versions – as opposed to bakeries doing bake-off of frozen or otherwise- ‘almost-finished’ products, involve serious up-front and ongoing investments. And using only Europe-inspired recipes may not be as good an idea as Lidl executives imagined, because European and American tastes differ.

A company website notes that, “At Lidl, our bread and baked goods are authentic European quality and they are always oven fresh because we bake several times a day. Take a deep breath – that smell is our croissants oven-baked on site! We melt the right amount of butter, dash the perfect amount of salt, and layer each luxurious taste to be the perfect flakey bite. The baked goods are made using the original recipes and baking processes that we perfected across Europe.”

Something Lidl may never (so far) have been recognized for is the quality of its shopping carts. Beyond the now-standard area for small, delicate items, their cars feature handles that are heavier than the types usually found at US supermarkets, and Lidl’s handles have shaped, plastic grips for the user’s hands. While the carts feel sturdy, they are easy to maneuver, and seem to be constructed so as to not face the fate of so many carts: jammed or broken wheels.

The care and attention that went into designing those carts wasn’t exercised when the entry into US market was planned.

While generally some 35% larger than their European counterparts, Lidl’s US stores’ shopping areas don’t employ space efficiently. Aisles are too wide, compared to most US supermarkets; the first-in-view produce section features multiple displays of some items and, in mid-June, had no available peaches – a serious summertime favorite across the US. (Meanwhile, a roadside stand a few miles up the road from the Danville VA Lidl was offering “South Carolina Peaches”); Non-food bins, which feature ‘specials’ on Thursdays and Sundays, were empty on Saturday – a huge waste of space and, no doubt, many missed opportunities to sell something – anything.

Americans like prepared foods. Lidl doesn’t, one must assume, like to sell prepared foods, at least not in assortments Americans are used to. Oddly, one of the widest ranges of packaged foods comprises sauces destined, as per package directions, to be used to turn plain pieces of chicken into Indian-Indian – as opposed to Native American “Indians” – dishes. It would amaze me if there’s an even middling demand for Indian food in Danville, population 42,000  or so, where there’s nothing vaguely resembling an Indian restaurant or Asian food market within 40 minutes (in Greensboro, NC, of all places!).

This Lidl offers frozen Indian entrees, as well. A generous assessment assumes they must sell, because the display is always well-stocked. (Alternatively, these long-shelf-life items, prepared in Canada, may not be selling well at all – but let’s  give the benefit of the doubt and assume stock is turning over nicely!)

 

Given the amount of space dedicated to them, Lidl clearly loves to sell cookies, packaged crackers and similar snack foods: The company’s Danville store has oodles of them.

The bring-your-own–bags – or buy Lidl’s for a few cents each – system seems to be widely accepted by shoppers. (I keep a bag full of Lidl bags in the trunk of my car so when I’m in Danville, I’m prepared. On my most recent visit, a departing customer tossed me a few Lidl bags he didn’t need, so I added them to my ‘bag stash’.)

I live an hour’s drive from that store, so I visit only when I’m in Danville for another reason. So I can’t report on day-to-day traffic there. Press reports have said the company hasn’t been converting fans of other local supermarkets – of which there are not a wide assortment in Danville – to Lidl regulars.

lidl-interior

My visit earlier this month was either the ideal time for encountering little in-store traffic… or a portend of problems to come: There were very few shoppers, at 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon. But the good news is, for Lidl, many of the few were loading carts with well over $100 in merchandise. That’s four to five times what a press report a few months ago said the average Lidl ‘buy’ was.

I like Lidl. It employs some clever time- and cost-savers such as price-labeling your own bakery and produce items. (Walmart’s self-checkouts require one to try to figure out how some produce items are listed in the system – corn, peppers, and chilies can be problematic  — or enter the PLU code. The latter often are as hard to locate as the product-look-up system is to navigate. Not so at Lidl.

A few months ago, writing in Forbes, noted retail analyst Walter Loeb  wondered why, rather than spreading stores from New Jersey to Georgia, Lidl hasn’t focused on a more condensed area and positioned stores closer together. The current scatter-shop positioning, he noted, makes it hard for any store to have more than a very local impact.

Well, the company recently appointed a new head of the US operation, a 15-year veteran of Lidl, and he’ll no doubt put that experience to good use getting Lidl USA back on the track envisioned by envisioned by Klaus Gehrig, director of the Schwarz-Group, which owns Lidl.

On average, competitors have lowered prices more than 9% in markets where Lidl sets up shop. That suggests US consumers have every reason to hope Schwarz-Group becomes more profitable thanks to Lidl USA.