Archive for March, 2011

Managing safety on “Black Friday”

From a RetailWire discussion about the tragic incident at a Walmart store on “Black Friday” 2008. Should Walmart have seen this coming, and are they liable for lack of adequate planning? Here’s my point of view:

When public safety is at issue, it’s the responsibility of private enterprise to ensure good execution. Walmart or any other big box retailer would clearly be negligent if there were other hazards on its property, such as electrical problems or faulty equipment. And clearly the “Black Friday” phenomenon at Walmart and elsewhere didn’t suddenly kick into high gear in 2008…this was literally an accident waiting to happen that required better pre-planning, not hand-wringing in hindsight.

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A higher state of shoe consciousness?

Most RetailWire panelists came to the same conclusion on the question of why women buy more shoes than men do:

It’s hard to avoid this discussion without generalizing and stepping into stereotypes, but here goes: Women will tend to buy more shoes than men since they view them as fashion accessories, not just as functional footwear. So the need for shoes appropriate to “the occasion” (the office, evening wear, casual wear) is much greater. Add the issue of color — women are more attuned to coordinating shoe color with the rest of their outfits, men are satisfied with black and brown.

At the same time, I’m speculating that men have a broader assortment of shoes in their own closets than in the past…but they still have some catching up to do. Does this constitute an “obsession” on the part of women? No…they are simply operating at a higher level of accessorizing “consciousness.”

Walgreens buys Drugstore.com

Clearly Walgreens sees faster growth in online business than in bricks-and-mortar as its penetration of every free corner in the U.S. grows. (And the Duane Reade acquisition puts it squarely in the center of the New York metro market.) There are plenty of economies of scale — focused on systems and logistics — by merging the “back office” functions of Walgreens.com and drugstore.com; the longer-term question is whether Walgreens wants to maintain separate website identities or more effective co-branding in the future.

QR codes: The next big thing?

It would be interesting to find out how many smartphone owners have downloaded scanning apps…I’m guessing it’s a high percentage and growing fast. Smart retailers will exploit this technology as a way to drive sales, instead of being afraid of the “competitive price-checking” empowerment of the consumer. QR technology can give retailers the ability to deliver product knowledge and micro-targeted offers to the consumer with a smartphone in her hand, as well as a deeper understanding of which products are drawing the shopper’s attention in the first place.

High-end retail: There’s luxury and then there’s luxury…

From a recent RetailWire panel discussion…the issue is whether high-end retail has returned to pre-recession levels. The examples cited include sales at the very high end of the consumer spectrum. My comment focuses on the “critical mass” of luxury retail that may not be at these lofty levels:

Somebody who can afford a private 747 jet is probably not too troubled by the cost of filling up the tank. And a wealthy consumer who spends $1.5m on a mastiff is probably not going out of his way to buy dog food at Costco. The ultra-high end consumer described in the article has been returning to pre-2008 spending levels for about a year. The bigger question is how the luxury retailers catering to this customer — and the much bigger tier of “merely wealthy” — is faring right now. All the evidence is that luxury and near-luxury retailers, from Tiffany to Neiman Marcus, are thriving.

Is “multi-channel” a thing of the past?

From a discussion on RetailWire about whether the terminology “multi-channel” is becoming outmoded as retailers evolve from bricks-and-mortar to e-commerce to new platforms. My position…it’s the thought process that matters, not the terminology:

It’s just a matter of semantics whether “multi-channel” is an outmoded term or not, and frankly irrelevant to the real issue. The most important questions that retailers need to address if they are dealing with multiple business platforms include: The efficiency of both e-commerce and bricks-and-mortar stores (if they operate both); making sure that the marketing approach is seamless between all channels; and, getting ahead of emerging technologies (smartphones, Facebook, etc.) instead of playing catch-up. Effective “multi-channel” retailing isn’t just about playing in different arenas, but having a winning and consistent strategy for all of them.

Amazon: The new low-price leader?

From a recent RetailWire discussion about Amazon’s increasingly competitive pricing. My point (below) is that Amazon represents great value, which is about price and a lot more. A side note: Walmart has built its business model on low prices, and now finds itself being beaten by both Amazon and Target…not a good thing if that is Walmart’s supposed competitive advantage:

Amazon built its brand position on assortment and convenience, even more than pricing. At the same time, it put a stake in the ground that it was going to be highly competitive in its original business (books) and has continued to compete aggressively in other categories like electronics. It comes down to the definition of “value”–it’s not all about price. There may be other retailers (e-commerce or bricks and mortar) with lower prices than Amazon, but it’s hard to compete against the total package.


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