Cathi Scarce can confidently say she knows the business of liquor retail from the ground up. She’s spent 25 years at Coles, starting on the retail floor and rising through the ranks to head of liquor at Coles,
Scarce has learned a thing or two. The Acting Chief Executive of Coles Liquor reveals her insights on the ever-changing liquor retail landscape in the May/June issue of Drinks Trade.
How has the business and the retail landscape changed over the past 25 years?
The biggest change we’re seeing is the way our customers shop, with many seeking a more personalised experience. Our bricks and mortar store offering now has to be complemented by how we talk to our customers online, so we’re not only investing in our stores but in our digital channels. We also know that for customers, value is about more than just price. It means the quality they enjoy and the convenience of having a shop near them with the products they want to buy available on the shelf.
How has the Coles demerger impacted the liquor channel?
It’s business as usual for us as the Coles Liquor team continues to offer great value and service at our 908 stores. Our job remains to make life easier for our customers and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. The biggest change on the horizon for us from an operational point of view will be the Joint Venture with Australian Venue Co that we announced in March. Under the Joint Venture, AVC will manage the day-to-day operations of Spirit Hotels, while Coles will continue to manage the 253 attached liquor stores. AVC has plans to grow the hotel portfolio in Queensland, which will in turn provide Coles with the opportunity to further grow its retail liquor business in that state.
How do you see liquor retail evolving in the future?
We know that Australians are drinking less and when they do drink it tends to be more occasion-based. People are looking for something special and seeking out premium products. We’re also seeing customers focus more on health and wellness so the boom in low alcohol and non-alcoholic products is only going to grow. People are also eager to understand where their beverages come from and the story behind them. There’s a movement towards supporting smaller, bespoke wineries, distilleries and craft brewers and the notion that customers are supporting local and they want to see those products represented in their local store. We work hard to ensure we stock a selection of well-known and loved drinks, as well as supporting emerging boutique products. There is definitely an evolution in how these brands talk to customers and the impact of social media. These days a brand can launch and sell their product entirely through Instagram.
There’s also growing appetite for liquor delivery and we are proud that Liquorland boasts the fastest Liquor Click & Collect service in Australian retail, with market-leading speed of service offered at almost 700 Liquorland stores nationally. Customers can see stock availability in real-time, by store, and place an order that will be ready to collect in under 30 minutes.
What’s your view on foreign chains such as Kaufland entering the market?
Liquor is a very competitive industry and there are lots of independents and small retailers as well as the bigger players. What’s important to us is that we continue to provide amazing quality, great prices and knowledgeable team members who are passionate about the products that we sell.
There’s always room for competition in the market so we will continue to focus on how we deliver an interesting range and great service in our many convenient locations around Australia. Customer demand for our exclusive brand products continues to grow, particularly in the wine category, and in the first half of the financial year these products accounted for almost 20% of liquor sales. In the same period we launched more than 50 new exclusive products and they are fast gaining praise within the industry, with dozens recognised with medals and awards, showcasing our commitment to working with our suppliers to deliver really great products to our customers.
What is your key focus for the next 12 months?
One of my key focuses is to continue working with the team to deliver a seamless customer experience and keep growing and improving our digital channels. We will continue to source top quality products from award winning suppliers for our exclusive range and look to innovate and work with suppliers who are developing new products to meet our customers’ evolving needs. I will also be overseeing the continued roll out of our renewed First Choice Liquor Market proposition and managing the transition through the Joint Venture with Australian Venue Co.