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Time To Downsize Hypermarkets? A Reboot For Argentine Retail

Responding to changing consumer habits, big box retail in Argentina have started converting outlets to offer an easier and cheaper shopping experience.

In a Buenos Aires supermarket
In a Buenos Aires supermarket
Natalia Muscatelli

BUENOS AIRES — Facing low-growth forecasts in 2018, on top of years of declining sales, Argentinian supermarkets and hypermarkets are seeking new ways of enticing customers who increasingly are turning away from massive big-box shopping experiences. It is not just about inflation and Argentines' declining purchasing power, it is also a response to changing consumer attitudes that can be seen worldwide.

For the big chains, falling consumption figures and high rent costs mean supermarkets are no longer profitable per square footage.

It is a time of general crisis for big retail surfaces. Last week, for example, France's Carrefour — which has many outlets in Argentina — announced it would convert 16 hypermarkets into wholesaling outlets, to reduces shelving costs and capture customers buying in bulk to get the best prices.

Meanwhile, wholesalers Diarco are taking the opposite approach. Just a month ago, the firm announced it would open smaller, neighborhood stores. These typically cover around 300 square meters and target both local shopkeepers who tend to buy there, and ordinary shoppers who had previously frequented big stores or Chinese markets. Vital, another wholesaler, is reportedly planning similar moves this year.

Asian businesses in Argentina, whose total sales rose barely 5% in 2017 after falling 12% in 2016, are also planning new distribution centers that double as wholesale outlets. Yolanda Durán, head of the Asian business owners' association CEDEAPSA, said the sector would cut commissions paid to wholesalers and assure better product prices by dealing directly with the industry. This could cheapen products by up to 28% compared to prices in big supermarkets.

Welcome to Carrefour in Mendoza, Argentina — Photo: Tjeerd Wiersma

Walmart's Juan Pablo Quiroga explained the U.S.-based retailers strategies for 2018, citing three fundamental points: pricing, innovation at points of sales and electronic commerce. Walmart will keep its Every Day Low Price policy, Quiroga said, and boost its brand by cutting down on one-off promotions ("two for one"), to dissuade people from visiting their supermarkets only on specific days. Innovation will include opening new businesses inside their premises to lower operating costs. These will act as rent-paying "tenants', like laundries, kiosks or payment centers inside big shopping surfaces.

You have to adapt to customers' changing habits.

"The traditional hypermarket of 13,000 square meters is losing traction across the world," says Quiroga. Which is why, he explains, the brand wants to reduce its own sales surfaces to as small as 6,000 square meters, cutting logistical costs.

Walmart's online sales are a source of potential growth, with its Store Pickup service, used for online purchases, proving increasingly popular. The service is available in 21 of its 106 outlets in Argentina, and sales with Store Pickup have reached 1.8% of all its sales.

Stay in your car

Other supermarkets like Cencosud, Jumbo, Disco and Vea are introducing very similar "drive thru" or al auto services, where the shop will load what you bought online into your car. This is available in some outlets inside the capital and the Buenos Aires province, allowing customers to buy online or by phone and take their purchases home for free, "without getting out the car and in the hours that suit them best," declares Jumbo, a Chilean brand.

Such novelties have become crucial for retailers, says Quiroga, as "you can't just open branches to grow, and a big part of your investment must go into conversions."

He says the major retail players must evolve with the times. "The hypermarket model of the 1990s isn't working like before," Quiroga concludes. "It is not enough just to have big retail space to cover your market today. You have to adapt to customers' changing habits."

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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