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Here are four areas the $311 billion CPPIB investment fund thinks will be impacted by COVID-19

The Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, an asset manager controlling around $311 billion in assets for the Canada’s pensioners and retirees, has identified four key industries that are set to experience massive changes as a result of the global economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The firm expects the massive changes in e-commerce, healthcare, logistics, and urban infrastructure to remain in place for an extended period of time and is urging investors to rethink their approaches to each as a result.

“It really ties into the mandate that we have in thematic investing,” said Leon Pedersen, the head of Thematic Investments at CPPIB.

There was a realization at the firm that structural changes were happening and that there was value for the fund manager in ensuring that the changes were being addressed across its broad investment portfolio. “We have a long term mandate and we have a long term investment horizon so we can afford to think long term in our investment outlook,” Pedersen said.

The Thematic Investments group within CPPIB will make mid-cap, small-cap and private investments in companies that reflect the firm’s long term theses, according to Pedersen. So not only does this survey indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital.

The research, culled from international surveys with over 3,500 respondents as well as intensive conversations with the firm’s investment professionals and portfolio companies, indicates that there’s likely a new baseline in e-commerce usage that will continue to drive growth among companies that offer blended retail offerings and that offices are likely never going to return to full-time occupancy by every corporate employee.

Already CPPIB has made investments in companies like Fabric, a warehouse management and automation company.

The e-commerce wave has crested, but the tide may turn

Amid the good news for e-commerce companies is a word of warning for companies in the online grocery space. While usage surged to 31 percent of U.S. households, up from 13 percent in August, consumers gave the service poor marks and many grocers are actually losing money on online orders. The move online also favored bigger omni-channel vendors like Amazon and Walmart, the study found.

The CPPIB also found that there may be opportunities for brick and mortar vendors in the aftermath of the epidemic. As younger consumers return to shopping center they’re going to find fewer retailers available, since bankruptcies are coming in both the US and Europe. That could open the door for new brands to emerge. Meanwhile, in China, more consumers are moving offline with malls growing and customers returning to shopping centers.

Some of the biggest winners will actually be online entertainment and cashless payments — since fewer stores are accepting cash and music and video streaming represent low-risk, easier options than live events or movie theaters.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 30: General views of tourists and shoppers returning to the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall for the first weekend of in-store retail business being open since COVID-19 closures began in mid-March on May 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

Healthcare goes digital and privacy matters more than ever

Consumers in the West, already reluctant to hand over personal information, have become even more sensitive to government handling of their information despite the public health benefits of tracking and tracing, according to the CPPIB. In Germany and the U.S. half of consumers said they had concerns about sharing their data with government or corporations, compared with less than 20 percent of Chinese survey respondents.

However, even as people are more reluctant to share personal information with governments or corporations, they’re becoming more willing to share personal information over technology platforms. One-third of the patients who used tele-medical services in the U.S. during the pandemic did so for the first time. And roughly twenty percent of the nation had a telemedicine consultation over the course of the year, according to CPPIB data.

Technologies that improve the experience are likely to do well, because of the people who did try telemedicine, satisfaction levels in the service went down.

DENVER, CO – MARCH 12: Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment check in with people waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at the state’s first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. The testing center is free and available to anyone who has a note from a doctor confirming they meet the criteria to be tested for the virus. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

Cities and infrastructure will change

“From mass transit to public gatherings, few areas of urban life will be left unmarked by COVID-19,” write the CPPIB report authors.

Remote work will accelerate dramatically changing the complexion of downtown environments as the breadth of amenities on offer will spread to suburban communities where residents flock.  According to CPPIB’s data roughly half of workers in China, the UK and the US worked from home during the pandemic, up from 5 percent or less in 2019. In Canada, four-in-ten Canadian were telecommuting.

To that end, the CPPIB sees opportunities for companies enabling remote work (including security, collaboration and productivity technologies) and automating business practices. On the flip side, for those workers who remain wedded to the office by necessity or natural inclination, there’s going to need to be cleaning and sanitation services and someone’s going to have to provide some COVID-19 specific tools.

With personal space at a premium, public transit and ride hailing is expected to take a hit as well, according to the CPPIB report.

New York City, NY is shown in the above Maxar satellite image. Image Credit: Maxar

Supply chains become the ties that bind in a distributed, virtual world

As more aspects of daily life become socially distanced and digital, supply chains will assume an even more central position in the economy.

“Amid rising labor costs and heightened geopolitical risk, companies today are focused on resilience,” write the CPPIB authors.

Companies are reassessing their reliance on Chinese manufacturing since political pressure is coming from more regions on Chinese suppliers thanks to the internment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang and the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democratic and open society. According to CPPIB, India, Southeast Asia, and regional players like Mexico and Poland are best positioned to benefit from this supply chain diversification. Supply chain management software providers, and robotics and automation services stand to benefit.

“Confined to their homes for months and subjected to a rapid reordering of their perceived health risks and economic prospects, consumers are emerging from a shared trauma that will change their priorities and concerns for years to come,” the CPPIB study’s authors write.

Target sets sales record in Q2 as same-day services grow 273%

Following Walmart’s pandemic-fueled earnings beat posted on Tuesday, Target today also handily beat Wall St. expectations to deliver a record-setting quarter across a number of key metrics. The retailer on Wednesday announced its strongest quarter to date for comparable sales, which grew 24.3% in Q2, driving Target’s profit up 80.3% year-over-year to $1.69 billion. Online ordering was particularly popular, Target noted, with digital sales growing 195%. Same-day services like Drive Up, Order Pick Up and Shipt also grew by 273%.

In the quarter, Target topped estimates for revenue, same-store sales, adjusted EPS, and gross margin. It reported $23 billion in revenue, vs. estimates of $19.82 billion. Its record-settinbg 24.3% increase in comparable sales was well above the expected 5.8%. Earnings per share came in at $3.38 vs. the $1.58 forecast. And its GM was 30.9% instead of the expected 28.98%.

The company attributed its sales growth to a number of factors, including its ability to remain open amid the pandemic as an essential business, its customers’ overall trust in the Target brand, its ability to get customers to shop across its product categories, its digital services, and most notably, the return of customers to its stores in Q2.

The latter item doesn’t necessarily mean Target shoppers were walking the aisles, however.

Instead, it speaks the investments Target made ahead of the pandemic in bridging the gap between online ordering and its physical stores. In Q2, Target’s In-store Order Pick Up grew more than 60%, as shoppers headed inside Target to pick up their web orders, for example.

Target’s Drive Up service, which allows customers to shop online then pull up in designated parking spots to have orders brought their car, was up by more than 700% in the quarter.

And Target’s Shipt same-day home delivery service Shipt was up 350% over last year.

That means that for much of what Target customers think of as “online shopping,” their sales were actually being fulfilled by Target’s stores. In fact, Target said its stores fulfilled more than 90% of its second-quarter sales.

Image Credits: Target

To build out its digital fulfillment services, Target took a tech company-like approach in leveraging internal engineering teams capable of iterating quickly on new ideas. A team of eight, including four engineers, originally built Drive Up starting back in April 2017, for instance. By summer 2017, Drive Up was being tested in internally. It then rolled out to Target’s home market by that fall. And as of August 2019, Target’s Drive Up service was available nationwide.

The retailer has also made key acquisitions to aid its e-commerce operations, including its $550 million deal for Shipt in 2017, and more recently, its acquisition of same-day delivery technology from Deliv back in May. It has also integrated Shipt’s same-day service directly into its own website and app, instead of relying only on Shipt’s dedicated brand to reach Target shoppers.

The results of these efforts are now paying off in a pandemic where customers don’t necessarily want to browse stores’ aisles in-person to shop. And that has led to Target seeng what Yahoo Finance today described as “tech company-like growth” for its retail business.

Richmond Drive Up

Store opening at Target Houston – Richmond on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 in South Richmond, Texas. (Anthony Rathbun/AP Images for Target)

Target’s Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell additionally noted the company has added $5 billion in market share in the first 6 months of 2020, during which time it’s added 10 million new digital customers.

“Our second quarter comparable sales growth of 24.3 percent is the strongest we have ever reported, which is a true testament to the resilience of our team and the durability of our business model. Our stores were the key to this unprecedented growth, with in-store comp sales growing 10.9 percent and stores enabling more than three-quarters of Target’s digital sales, which rose nearly 200 percent,” he said. “We also generated outstanding profitability in the quarter, even as we made significant investments in pay and benefits for our team. We remain steadfast in our focus on investing in a safe and convenient shopping experience for our guests, and their trust has resulted in market share gains of $5 billion in the first six months of the year,” Cornell continued.

“With our differentiated merchandising assortment, a comprehensive set of convenient fulfillment options, a strong balance sheet, and our deeply dedicated team, we are well-equipped to navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, and continue to grow profitably in the years ahead,” he said.

The pandemic has played a role in what customers bought, too. Target said its sales were up across all five of its core merchandise categories. This was led by the strongest sales in electronics, a category that was up 70% year-over year due to people staying at home for work, school and entertainment, leading to more purchases of things like computers or gaming systems. Electronics were followed by home products, which were up by 30%, then increases of 20% for the beauty, food & beverages, and essentials categories. Apparel even shifted from a 20% decline in Q1 to double-digit growth in Q2. Customer basket size also grew 18.8%, as people shopped for more items on their Target runs.

Like Walmart, Target also saw a boost from government stimulus checks, which will likely taper off next quarter. But Target declined to offer further 2020 guidance, saying that the COVID-19 crisis makes consumer shopping patterns and government policies unpredictable.

 

Canalys: Google is top cloud infrastructure provider for online retailers

While Google Cloud Platform has shown some momentum in the last year, it remains a distant third behind Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud infrastructure market. But Google got some good news from Canalys today when the firm reported that GCP is the number one cloud platform provider for retailers.

Canalys didn’t provide specific numbers, but it did set overall market positions in the retail sector with Microsoft coming in second, Amazon third, followed by Alibaba and IBM in fourth and fifth respectively.

Canalys cloud infrastructure retail segment market share numbers

Image Credits: Canalys

It’s probably not a coincidence that Google went after retail. Many retailers don’t want to put their cloud presence onto AWS, as Amazon.com competes directly with these retailers. Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that as such, the news doesn’t really surprise him.

“Retailers have to compete with Amazon, and I’m guessing the last thing they want to do is use AWS and help Amazon fund all their new initiatives and experiments that in some cases will be used against them,” Leary told TechCrunch. Further, he said that many retailers would also prefer to keep their customer data off of Amazon’s services.

Canalys Senior Director Alex Smith says that this Amazon effect combined with the pandemic and other technological factors has been working in Google’s favor, at least in the retail sector. “Now more than ever, retailers need a digital strategy to win in an omnichannel world, especially with Amazon’s online dominance. Digital is applied everywhere from customer experience to cost optimization, and the overall technological capability of a retailer is what will define its success,” he said.

COVID-19 has forced many retailers to close stores for extended periods of time, and when you combine that with people being more reluctant to go inside stores when they do open, retailers have had to take a crash course in eCommerce if they didn’t have a significant online presence already.

Canalys points out that Google has lured customers with its advertising and search capabilities beyond just pure infrastructure offerings, taking advantage of its other strengths to grow the market segment.

Recognizing this, Google has been making a big retail push including a big partnership with Salesforce and specific products announced at Google Cloud Next last year. As we wrote at the time of the retail offering,

The company offers eCommerce Hosting, designed specifically for online retailers, and it is offering a special premium program, so retailers get “white glove treatment with technical architecture reviews and peak season operations support…” according to the company. In other words, it wants to help these companies avoid disastrous, money-losing results when a site goes down due to demand.

What’s more, Canalys reports that Google Cloud has also been hiring aggressively and forming partnerships with big systems integrators to help grow the retail business. Retail customers include Home Depot, Kohl’s, Costco and Best Buy.