Cover Story: One Step at a Time
Admittedly a latecomer to the party, general merchandise retailer Meijer (pronounced Meyer) has begun embracing e-commerce. While Meijer.com was up and running for consumers as an informational website since the late '90s, merchandise wasn't available for purchase until September 2007. Better late than never for the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based seller of everything from groceries to pharmaceuticals to electronics and apparel.
E-commerce has benefited Meijer in various ways, but two areas stand out: increased sales, and increased traffic generated for Meijer's 190 "supercenters" throughout its five-state footprint of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. The website is still a work in progress, however, as online sales account for only a fraction of total revenues.
Meijer's top categories online can be credited for upward of 10 percent of all company sales in select product categories, and it's seen weeks when that number swelled to 20 percent. Yet other product categories represent as little as a quarter of a percentage point of total sales.
"Looking at some of our competitors, if we did consistently across the board between 2 [percent] and 5 percent of our general merchandise business online, that would be great," says Tom Nakfoor, Meijer's vice president of e-commerce. "But I can't say that we're there yet, across the board. We're just too new and still growing."
Brand First, Selling Second
When it launched as an e-commerce site, Meijer.com was more about aligning the company's brand — the look and feel consumers experienced online — with its brick-and-mortar locations than being a selling channel. This meant syncing up promotions, pricing and messaging to what was displayed in its stores.
Although comfortable for Meijer's long-time customers, who'd grown accustomed to visiting the company's website to view its weekly ads circular before purchasing in stores, the company knew it had to sell online to compete with the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world.