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Big Lots Accelerates E-Grocery Strategy

Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
Big Lots Accelerates E-Grocery Strategy
The new partnership brings Big Lots' closeout groceries and everyday essentials directly from the store to the customer's door.

Big Lots is taking the first step in accelerating its e-commerce strategy by launching a partnership with Instacart.

The two companies have partnered to launch same-day delivery nationwide from nearly 1,400 Big Lots stores across all 47 states where the retailer operates. The new partnership brings Big Lots' closeout groceries and everyday essentials directly from the store to the customer's door. Beyond grocery, the launch also introduces a wide variety of home goods and décor to customers via the Instacart marketplace.

"We recognize people throughout the U.S. are depending on delivery now more than ever to get the household essentials and goods they need. We're proud to partner with Big Lots to deliver groceries alongside affordable items for every occasion, providing Big Lots customers with a quick and easy way to connect online with a retailer they love," said Chris Rogers, VP of retail at San Francisco-based Instacart. "This partnership enables customers to access the products and savings from Big Lots they've come to know, love and rely on — all delivered directly to their home."

In addition to all of Big Lots' grocery and pantry staples, customers shopping via Instacart will be able to select from a variety of Big Lots aisles, including home goods, kitchen and dining, beauty, pet, personal care, office and craft supplies, toys, and more. 

"At Big Lots it's our mission to make big savings on home essentials accessible to our customers in the communities we serve. Our partnership with Instacart will bring our assortment of home goods, groceries and everyday essentials to customers online in a new way," said Erica Fortune, VP of e-commerce at Big Lots. "This announcement is another example of our commitment to offering exceptional value, surprising products and an easy shopping experience to families across the U.S."

Instacart partners with more than 350 national, regional and local retailers to offer delivery from 25,000-plus stores across more than 5,500 cities in the United States and Canada. The company's delivery service is currently available to more than 85% of households in the United States and more than 70% of households in Canada.

Last month, in a first-quarter earnings report, Big Lots said it saw so many new grocery shoppers during the past few months that it now plans to launch what it calls a "pantry optimization initiative" in September.

"This initiative repositions our food and consumables square footage from food staples to food entertainment and consumables," Big Lots CEO Bruce Thorn said during a June 5 Q1 earnings call. "The assortment will include national brands along with everyday low prices, coupled with owned brands and closeouts. This offering will allow more of our customers to find more of the items on their shopping list, which will also increase trips."

Thorn said the closeout chain is "positioned to win going forward" in attracting consumers who are staying home and looking for pantry essentials, and also consumers in financial distress looking for deals.

"Our merchandising mix is exactly what consumers want and need today, filled with food, consumables and stay-at-home assortments with structurally sound margins," Thorn said. "Our loyal customer base has increased in size over the last few months."

Big Lots noted that it's reconfiguring the front of its stores to free up square footage for consumables to drive higher revenue, increase box productivity and generate more margin per square foot.

During the call, the retailer also teased its plans to launch Instacart.

"We believe this is a very important next step in our omnichannel experience, and we are exploring other same-day delivery services for our larger product assortments, including furniture," Thorn said. "The growing popularity of curbside pickup, which we added in Q1 has validated the opportunity we see to grow these convenience options at an accelerated pace to meet the customers' new demands both throughout the crisis and in the post-COVID-19 world."

For the first quarter ended May 2, Big Lots reported net income of $49.3 million, or $1.26 per diluted share, compared with adjusted net income of $37 million, or 92 cents per diluted share (non-GAAP), for the first quarter of fiscal 2019. The higher profits come even as the pandemic has resulted in the company's increasing wages and spending more money on store cleaning. 

Net sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 totaled $1,439 million, an 11.1% increase compared with $1,296 million for the same period last year, with the growth resulting from an impressive 10.3% increase in same-store sales and sales growth from new and relocated non-comp stores.

"I am very proud of our team over the past quarter. We've grown as an organization through these unprecedented times, and it has been amazing to see the team step up our game," Thorn said. "We are off to a strong start in the second quarter, and believe we are well positioned to navigate through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, with strong alignment between our assortment and current customer demand. Equally, we are very focused on ensuring sustainable improvements in our business beyond the crisis. We are applying the learnings of the last few months and continue to roll out our Operation North Star strategies to support our positioning as a go-to neighborhood discount retailer."

For the second quarter to date, Thorn noted that same-store sales are up strongly, reflecting a continuation of the acceleration in business that began in mid-April. The company said that it expects comp trends to moderate over the balance of the quarter, due to a number of factors, including the reopenings of competitors and other retailers, the planned cancellation of the July Friends and Family event, potential inventory constraints in certain categories, and the abatement of stimulus-driven demand.

Assuming same-store sales for the second quarter increased in line with the first quarter, Big Lots would expect diluted EPS to be in the range of 65 cents to 80 cents. Based on quarter-to-date sales, the company said that it believes the foregoing same-store sales assumption is conservative.

Big Lots, based in Columbus, Ohio, operates 1,404 retail stores. The company is No. 46 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2020 list of the top food retailers in North America.

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