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Five must-visits in mass retail

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Lots going on in the mass retailing community these days — as is usually the case. With the holiday season fast approaching, mass retailers are sharpening their games, extending their reach, unveiling some dramatic new concepts and honing their basic skills.

With all the activity, the editors of MMR have arbitrarily selected five must-visits in the mass retailing community to stay abreast of the latest developments and get a head start in joining the retail conversation that’s sure to revolve around the newest, the boldest and the most innovative as the Christmas season approaches.

1. Walmart’s health care experiment. The location to visit is Dallas, Ga., home of Walmart’s just-opened health care-oriented store. This location is the newest — but certainly not the final — step on Walmart’s road to emerging as one of the nation’s most aggressive and impressive health care retailers. As usual, the Walmart team is able to see the future before it becomes apparent to the rest of the mass retail community — and this iteration of that vision is worth the trip, even for those who, until now, have never heard of Dallas, Ga., and mistakenly board the plane for Texas.

2. Wegmans’ newest supermarket, in Brooklyn, N.Y. Retail observers will have less difficulty locating Brooklyn than they might have finding Dallas (Ga.) and, for many, it’s an easier, if not always more pleasant, trip. Those willing to tackle the journey will not be disappointed. With its entry into New York City, Wegmans has solidified its reputation as perhaps the most accomplished supermarket retailer in America. That’s saying a ton, because supermarkets in the United States today have advanced the practice of the science and art of retailing far beyond what it has ever been before. And Wegmans, the upstate New York grocery operator that has wandered far beyond its headquarters city, in terms of both geography and innovation, has hit a new high in Brooklyn. Look for departures here that no supermarket retailer has yet attempted, much less perfected. A word of caution: Don’t take the subway.

3. The Kroger-Walgreens experiment. This is a daring test for Kroger, a food retailer that would dispute any best-in-class claims made for Wegmans (see previous paragraph) and a possible game changer for Walgreens. If traffic has become the name of the game, Walgreens is testing (successfully thus far) a way of drawing customers that would, in other times and under other conditions, bypass the drug chain in favor of a competing supermarket retailer. Add to this formula the growing appeal of online ordering and Walgreens has succeed in uniquely positioning itself as the place to collect grocery items that were previously ordered online through Kroger’s click-and-collect option. Hats off to Kroger, by the way, for undertaking an experiment most mass retailers would choose to bypass, simply because …

4. Dollar General — just because. Talk about coming in under the radar, Dollar General, the convenience-store retailer that’s far more than a convenience store retailer, has just opened its 16,000th unit. That’s a remarkable feat, but that number says less about the retailer than the many attractions of the stores themselves. Dollar General has both expanded the concept of convenience and made that concept obsolete. In this decade — and in this year — Dollar General has emerged as one of America’s most compelling and important mass retailers, at once redefining and broadening the concept of mass retailing in this country and establishing itself as more-than-worthy competition for those mass retailers who have been around for a while — and those who hope to be here for a while longer.

5. CVS — just because. With its purchase of Aetna, the CVS health care retailer (it can certainly no longer be labeled or identified as a drug store retailer) has embarked on a new, perilous and exciting journey — one that, if predictions here are accurate, will finish with CVS atop the health care community in America. And suddenly (or maybe not) the health care community is a location that all mass retailers in America want to join or increase their commitment to. Simply said, CVS has already done that. Its stores today bear remarkably little resemblance to the stores the retailer was opening as recently as a decade ago. They are more exciting, more shopping-friendly and more relevant to today’s American consumer than perhaps any other mass retailer can claim — and the rewards of that relevance are waiting to be gathered in — if, that is, CVS’ vision of the future is the correct one. If not … but that’s a story perhaps better told at another time.


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