Archive for November, 2013

Closed on Thanksgiving, right for Von Maur

Von Maur, the regional Midwest department store chain, recently announced its intention to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day, despite being surrounded by competitors who are opening next Thursday evening at 8pm or earlier. Von Maur is a family-owned company with a brand position somewhere between Macy’s and Nordstrom, and it has a longstanding tradition of closing for other holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day. (By the way, a similar policy doesn’t seem to have hurt Costco’s business.) Here’s my opinion, from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

Von Maur has the advantage of family ownership and a longstanding culture that helps it avoid the “rat race” of deep discounts, coupons and extended hours. And, needless to say, it has a brand position to protect which is greater in importance than opening on Thanksgiving evening. (Not to mention its own employee relations.)

I’m not sure that the Von Maur way — or the Macy’s way — is a beacon in one direction or the other. Macy’s and its competitors will argue their position (“everybody else did it”) but whether the early hours actually drive incremental sales is another story.

More on Amazon’s foray into food

Reports about Amazon developing a private-label team as it expands its grocery business prompted the following comment from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

Selling branded goods, not its own brands (with the exception of the Kindle) is central to the Amazon brand. (Not to mention great execution, competitive prices and broad assortments.) So I’m not certain that a deep dive into private brands is as critical to the success of Amazon’s grocery business as the competitive advantages it has already developed.

The most important step Amazon can take to have an impact in the shop-from-home (and home delivery) grocery business is to focus on logistics. While Amazon is busy building huge distribution centers around the country, it may also want to consider the wisdom of buying an existing food distribution company as a partner.

Brand challenges: New media, new distribution channels

From a recent RetailWire discussion about brand management, my comment is below. The topic focused on whether brands (vs. private label) still have a significant role to play in today’s retail landscape and — if so — how they can adapt their strategies in order to thrive. Here’s my perspecctive:

There is no doubt that social-networking tools can reach consumers who are unplugged from conventional media. Perhaps they don’t read the printed newspaper, or perhaps they watch TV on demand while skipping through the commercials. In any case, any brand needs to figure out how to reach this growing customer base in new ways.

Beyond the marketing question looms the question of distribution. Have you chosen the right stores to carry your brand? Is it a mass-market product that demands the widest possible distribution, or a brand with more high-end appeal and limited availability? Once you have answered these questions, it’s time to partner with retailers who have also figured out how to move their customers from satisfaction to loyalty.

Here we go again: Death knell for the department store?

Every so often, somebody from the specialty apparel world declares the death of the traditional department store. This time, it’s Leslie Wexner, the driving force behind Limited Brands, as quoted in a recent RetailWire discussion.) Not all traditional department stores are doing as well as Macy’s, but it’s hard to write off an entire segment when the market leader is robust and innovative:

Les Wexner’s comments are ironic given the flat business in women’s specialty apparel these days. Meanwhile, a well-run department store like Macy’s can push the sales-driving buttons wherever they happen to be…home, handbags, shoes and so forth.

So the demise of the traditional department store is premature, as long as we’re talking about Macy’s combination of omnichannel, store and merchandising initiatives.

Who is the “chief customer experience” officer, anyway?

There have been a couple of recent RetailWire panel discussions on the topic of retail organization charts. One of the hot issues is the buzz around the title of “Chief Customer Experience Officer.” What, exactly, does this mean? Which operating area does this person run — merchandising? marketing? stores? Isn’t the company CEO in fact the chief “experience” ¬†officer if the goal is to get the entire organization aligned with this concept? In any event, here are some more of my thoughts on the issue:

The place to start is a clear definition of “customer experience.” Is it the type of “high-touch” service expected in a luxury or near-luxury retailer like Nordstrom? Is it the smooth integration of the in-store and e-commerce process into an “omnichannel” vision? Is it the overall branding message of the retailer? And — let’s not forget — the merchandise content is the most visible sign of any retailer’s “customer experience.”

So the entire idea of “customer experience” is a hot buzzword right now (like “omnichannel”) without a clear definition of its meaning. If a retailer can make up its mind about what the concept stands for within its four walls, then it makes the most sense to assign primary responsibility to the C-level executive with the budgeting authority to make it happen.

Is “free WiFi” enough to engage consumers?

An article about Macy’s use of WiFi to track and engage customers was the starting point for a recent RetailWire panel discussion. (And the broader topic was covered on a RetailWire webinar earlier this year.) Here’s my opinion:

Offering free WiFi in retail stores is becoming as commonplace as offering it at your local Starbucks. The question is whether retailers use this as an engagement tool, not just as a convenience. Kohl’s is one example of a retailer who offers an instant “scratch-off” coupon on your smartphone when you log onto their Wi-Fi.

There are plenty of other examples of stores using Wi-Fi-enabled GPS to measure traffic patterns inside their stores. If a customer is concerned about privacy, he or she always has the option of not connecting…or perhaps not carrying a smartphone in the first place.

Good news for Lands’ End…finally

Sears announced earlier this month that they plan to divest their Lands’ End and tire & auto divisions. While the outlook for Sears Holdings continues to dim, this is good news for Lands’ End. Here’s a brief comment from a recent RetailWire discussion:

If Lands’ End wants to grow its brick-and-mortar footprint, and has the resources to do so, getting out of the Sears stores (and their lengthening shadow) is the best thing that could happen. The brand has managed to maintain its own brand integrity even in the middle of the slow-motion Sears train wreck.