Former Amazon executive Brittain Ladd, now a Dallas-based industry consultant specializing in digital transformation and strategies, has made a name for himself as an outspoken voice in the debate about the future of the grocery business.
Jon Springer: Welcome to the Break Room, Brittain. Many people know you as the analyst who “predicted” the Whole Foods-Amazon partnership. Can you briefly recap the reasons you saw this coming?
Brittain Ladd: Groceries are the most personal items a customer shops for. They inspect and select most of the items they buy, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and so on. You can’t duplicate this online, and I knew no matter how hard Amazon tried, they would fail. The only alternative was to buy a retailer.
We’re nearing a year since Whole Foods and Amazon teamed up. What’s your impression of the progress the combined company has made so far? What still needs to be done?
Everything is exactly where I thought it would be. Amazon and Whole Foods need to complete updating the assortment and adding a few store-within-a-store sections, but that’s about it. I don’t expect Whole Foods to start having a major impact until 2021.
Amazon plans in terms of a decade. When they acquired Whole Foods, they knew they would spend the first two to three years perfecting the store assortment and layout; integrating systems; identifying the optimal location to build more stores; and finalizing the strategy for how to introduce Prime Now as the mechanism for grocery deliveries, as well as leverage the Prime program to increase the number of shoppers. Out of the 100 million Prime members, only 20% shop at Whole Foods. Amazon understands the value of increasing the percentage as close to 100% as possible. Everything I listed will take time to be implemented and perfected. By 2021, the foundation should be in place, which will allow Amazon to be very aggressive on going after the customer.
You previously worked with Amazon Fresh, which appears to be winding down in most markets and/or merging with its Prime Now offering. What can be learned from the Fresh experiment?
Online only isn’t enough and fresh means everything. I’ve always viewed AmazonFresh as nothing more than an experiment until the optimal grocery solution was discovered. AmazonFresh is a stopgap measure—that’s it.
Kroger + Nuro or Kroger + Ocado: Which of these newly launched partnerships do you see as having the biggest impact in changing how America shops for groceries? Why?
Ocado and Kroger, by far. Nuro has a big hole in their business model: Once groceries arrive at a house or apartment complex, how do the groceries get from the vehicle to the customer? We researched this at Amazon, and customers were not willing to embrace a solution that required them to leave their home or apartment to pick up and carry groceries from a small vehicle to their home. I termed this “the last 60 feet problem.” Nuro has a solid team and they may be able to come up with a mobile basket that can drive itself to the front door.
Doug McMillon asks, “How am I doing?” How do you answer?
Where is Walmart’s AWS [Amazon Web Services]? Why aren’t you investing in Salesforce or WeWork? Why not acquire Salesforce? India is fraught with risk and danger—how do you prevent India from turning into Walmart’s Vietnam? Walmart does not have a strong track record internationally, and acquiring a company that was losing massive amounts of market share to Amazon is a risky bet.
What company or technology will have a big impact on grocery that isn’t being talked about enough today?
Not even close: Zume. Zume will change the world.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve gotten in your career?
Execution is everything. Period.
What stores do you typically shop?
Kroger, Whole Foods and ICON Meals.
Is a hot dog a sandwich?
54% of Americans don’t believe a hot dog is a sandwich, and I agree.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
Two cups goat milk, one banana, 10 egg whites (raw), 35 grams of protein powder. Blend and drink.