The announcement by Pick n Pay in May that it would launch an on-demand grocery offer on Takealot’s Mr D app caught the industry by surprise. The market originally saw this as a tidy, ringfenced venture.
Since the Mr D offer went live in August, though, the two retailers have been inching closer and closer.
More than one experienced operator in the space has quietly questioned whether a deal between Pick n Pay and Takealot would make sense?
In many ways, an on-demand grocery partnership was a rare instance of a win-win partnership: Pick n Pay got access to more than 2.5 million active customers on the Mr D app, while Mr D got a scalable solution to its on-demand grocery and liquor problem.
Increasingly, consumers are leaning on the likes of Uber Eats and Mr D for convenience items like bread, milk, drinks (soft and otherwise), snacks and ice. This need has largely been filled by smart fuel station operators who have listed on the platforms, often with absurd markups to make the model work.
Uber Eats has rolled out first-party ‘Markets’ in key nodes with competitive pricing on a limited range of groceries and convenience products.
Enabling a selection of over 10 000 food and grocery items at more than 300 Pick n Pay stores on Mr D – crucially at the same price as in-store – was something of a coup.
For the country’s second-largest supermarket group, this deal meant additional scale for its in-store picking and packing teams who were already processing orders for its Pick n Pay asap! app, as well as its traditional online shopping offer. Whether an order is processed for one of its services or for Mr D is, operationally, irrelevant.
Because margins on groceries are razor-thin, scale is critical.
(Plus, this partnership benefits PnP as it is already playing catch up to the runaway success of Checkers Sixty60 … recall, it was practically forced into buying the Bottles app from its founders during the Covid-19 pandemic.)
This month, Pick n Pay said the Mr D service “has already been rolled out to over 300 stores with incredible success”.
Based on the very aggressive promotion of the offering, there are clearly some big turnover and order volume hurdles expected by both parties. First-time shoppers can get R100 off their grocery order of more than R200 until the end of the month and stand a chance to win R10 000 each week. PnP is also offering incentives to members of its Smart Shopper loyalty programme, including discounts and free delivery.
Beyond just Mr D
The commercial services agreement signed between the supermarket retailer and Takealot was centred on scaling an on-demand grocery offer on Mr D, but it maintains that it is “open to new and exciting pilots that empower its customers with multiple options to shop online”.
Following the launch of a standalone Pick n Pay Home online store last year, it has also quietly listed more than 500 general merchandise products – such as fridges, microwaves, ink cartridges and pool floaters – on the main Takealot site. Prices are very competitive, but the longer delivery lead times (sometimes upwards of five working days) versus Takealot’s own products remain a disincentive.
For Takealot, this fits into its standard marketplace platform which enables third parties to list and sell products on the site. The delivery lead times – especially for larger items – suggest that Pick n Pay is shipping to Takealot for fulfilment upon order (and not using the latter’s warehousing space). For Pick n Pay it opens another channel for general merchandise sales.
Extending physical reach
The latest move saw the two retailers pilot a Takealot pick up counter inside the Pick n Pay store at Table Bay Mall in Cape Town from mid December.
Both have been very careful to stress that this will run for a three-month period before deciding whether or not to extend this to more stores, but said “the results after two weeks [were] already very promising”. Notably, the counter launched one week before Christmas Day and reached collection capacity within two days.
Pick n Pay already has the space at its stores enabled for on-demand delivery (where PnP asap!/Mr D orders are staged) and these counters will drive additional footfall, which will translate into more baskets through the till. A reasonable occupancy fee will offset the rental costs.
For Takealot this solves a major headache as it expands its pickup point network. No rent, no building maintenance. A computer terminal, network connection and staff members on shifts to run the counter. What could be easier?
Extending this to areas where Takealot has no pickup points is a no-brainer, especially when there are Pick n Pay stores on or near trucking routes to its regional or neighbourhood sorting hubs. After all, a pickup point is just an address on a parcel, whether it’s a Takealot one or a Pick n Pay store.
Rolling these counters out with purpose will ensure that Takealot has an almost unrivalled pickup network across major centres.
Over time, this scale will mean a more efficient delivery network. In off-peak times, Mr D drivers will be able to drop off parcels collected from Takealot’s hubs at an in-store pickup counter and immediately thereafter complete a delivery from the PnP to a Mr D customer (real-time demand can be stimulated to ensure there are orders picked and waiting at stores).
All of this will further drive down the cost of delivery.
Which brings us to these private ‘open questions’ from somewhat informed quarters about a potential transaction between the two parties …
The market has generally assumed all along that Naspers’s plan for a Takealot ‘exit’ was a sale to Amazon.
But what does Amazon need Takealot for? One could argue that the latter’s only competitive advantage right now is its first-party delivery network (built on top of Mr D). Replicating this will take time and money. A strong courier partner could solve this in the short-term (and is almost certainly the route Amazon will follow at first), but the economics won’t work until volumes are material.
How then, does Takealot compete once Amazon arrives? Does it have the scale to go head-to-head with the world’s best online retailer?
On paper, the rationale for a merger (or buyout or whatever structure makes the most sense) seems compelling.
There is very little overlap (and there ought not be competition concerns).
And there’s an added bonus in that it solves a headache for Naspers, which aside from the Prosus cross-holding has no other assets besides Takealot and a legacy media business.
Pick n Pay offers an extensive physical footprint, decades of retail experience, and an incredibly valuable loyalty programme in Smart Shopper (with a participation rate of 80%).
Takealot offers robust top-line growth, a strong position in general merchandise, a very attractive third-party marketplace, and a logistics network that is the envy of many competitors.
Imagine the possibilities of merging the general merchandise supply chains of both Pick n Pay and Takealot. Walmart (and Massmart) would be drooling at the prospect!
In the most recent six months (to September), Takealot reported flat sales through its three platforms in dollar terms. In rands, though, this was up around 15% to R11.6 billion. Its trading loss was somewhere in the region of R200 million. Markedly, gross merchandise value (GMV) in the third-party marketplace grew 27%.
Pick n Pay, by comparison, reported interim turnover (to 28 August) of R51.3 billion. Its normalised trading profit was R1.2 billion.
The peak trading period over Black Friday and the festive season will see bigger second halves for both.
Combined, this is probably a business that would currently turn over R130 billion plus.
And the two are complementary, particularly when one considers what the general merchandise and grocery landscapes in the middle- and upper-income segments look like in five years’ time.
(There would be a valid question about whether there would be any efficiencies to be had across Superbalist.com and Pick n Pay Clothing.)
Does either need the distraction of a combination, with all the inherent execution risk, right now? Probably not. (And it goes without saying that any significant decision like this by Pick n Pay would need buy in from the Ackerman family, which retains 25% of the business.)
The danger, for Pick n Pay at least, is that it becomes ever more intertwined with Takealot as it chases its stated goal of increasing online revenue eightfold by FY2026. What happens if Takealot is swallowed up by a rival entity (perhaps even a global one) and low-margin on-demand grocery delivery simply isn’t that big a priority going forward?