Heineken: We don’t understand our shoppers well enough to succeed online

The Dutch brewing company says a lack of shared data, not enough collaboration and marketers not investing in the right places is holding back its ecommerce ambitions.

Heineken admits it is struggling to keep pace with the shift to online, held back by a lack of data, not enough collaboration and marketers not investing in the right places.

Ghislaine Prins-Evers, the Dutch brewing company’s global head of ecommerce, believes the grocery sector is at a “tipping point” in terms of the importance of online. But says the sector is still grappling with ecommerce and how best to reach customers online.

“For Heineken to be successful in ecommerce, we truly need to understand the omnichannel interactions,” she says, speaking at IGD’s digital commerce conference yesterday (16 October).

“I do not think we understand our shoppers well enough to succeed. We need to convince e-retailers to start sharing data. In this changing world and with this changing shopper, we need to understand and you cannot understand based on intuition; that’s the whole dynamic of this channel.”

Prins-Evers said digital pure-play retailers are usually “much more willing” to collaborate and share data than multi-format retailers. But even if it has the data, Heineken faces a challenge to improve its analytical capabilities and help its operating companies make sense of the data.

According to Heineken, which owns more than 170 beer brands including Amstel, Red Stripe and  Birra Moretti, 58% of people use a tablet to shop, 41% want access to real-time promotions and discounts in-store, 32% compare products and read reviews on-the-go, and 53% want to use their mobile to compare prices quickly and easily.

“Consumers are always on and we need to be ready for that,” Prins-Evers said. “If you look at the consumer purchase journey, the purchase decision hierarchy is not linear. We believe there is a stage before we need to take into account – the capture stage, and capturing the consumer online when they are intending to buy something.”

To take advantage of the opportunity, Prins-Evers believes marketing and sales will need to start working better together, although she admits this is currently “very difficult” at Heineken.

“If you really want to change, you might need some marketing money to actually do some of the sales stuff. At Heineken, this is a very difficult thing to achieve. To work together with marketers to make sure some of their money is going to a retailer, this is the trick we need to master,” she explained.

However, Heineken has seem some success in this area. Prins-Evers cited a ‘Dry January’ promotion for its non-alcoholic Heineken 0.0 beer as an example of “true collaboration” between marketing and sales, which began with basic leaflets and posters before activating “neat” online activations.

“This is the future,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve captured it all and I don’t think we are experts yet but this is a good start to try to understand those consumers that are in the online but also offline worlds.”

Bringing together tech and marketing

In an effort to bring tech and marketing people closer together so the compnay can better understand consumers, Heineken is setting up ‘digital commercial accelerator unit’ in its most mature markets. Yet despite this initiative, Prins-Evers said Heineken is “really not there yet”.

“We need to do more; we need to strengthen partnerships and drive online sales with retailers in the markets, we need to help markets hand in hand to make the right strategy and support them,” she said.

“We need to look at the ecommerce-ready supply chain and global e-retailers and see if we can do global work together in key markets to test things. We can improve, we can adapt, we need to learn and to test. Yes we’ve created a language but we’ve not found the answer to all the questions.”

Prins-Evers said certain functions need to interact with one another “much more than ever” and that it is especially important to hire experts to do this.

“Don’t let those ecommerce managers sitting there now in the faraway corner of the business think they’ve solved it,” she said. “This is about true collaboration across the supply chain, marketing sales and trade marketing. If you don’t have dedicated people within those functions that are able to cooperate, we are heading to a lost cause.”