Exclusive Brands: Enough already?

Ted Hurlbut, a fellow RetailWire panelist and blogger, provoked a conversation about the runaway trend toward “exclusive brands” at today’s retailers. How much is too much? Here’s my perspective:

I agree with Ted Hurlbut’s point of view about exclusive lines. One of the biggest changes in the retail landscape over the past five years has been the move from national brands carried across several competing retailers to “exclusive labels.” Sometimes these have been well-executed, with a compelling design point of view and brand positioning. Just as often, however, these brands have been created mostly as margin plays, so one retailer can avoid competing on price with another. JCPenney has been especially guilty of layering one “exclusive brand” on top of another, with very little editing, with resulting confusion especially in the women’s apparel zone.

Apparel companies have jumped onto the “exclusive brand” bandwagon as a way to please their big national accounts, but with very little differentiation in product development. So the “sea of sameness” still exists even though the label names might be different from store to store. Retailers need to approach this challenge carefully: “Exclusive label” proliferation might benefit the store’s margins in the short run but can quickly dilute the overall brand position that management is trying to achieve.

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