Archive for the 'Consumer behavior' Category

Are social media driving the speed of trends?

The short answer to my own headline question (above) is “yes,” but there is a lot more to this issue. Here’s my comment from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

Social media may be a factor in fashion trends going Aeand moving faster. But the influence of “fast fashion” retailers (Zara, Forever 21 and others) can’t be understated. They mastered their supply chain in order to bring new goods to the selling floor a lot faster, and in order to react to early test orders in a big way. Most traditional retailers built their logistics around long lead times, especially on private-brand goods, and are scrambling to catch up.

The idea of “speed to market” requires a change in mindset — affecting supply chain management, the willingness to chase big ideas, and the ability of retailers’ vendors to move just as fast.

Advertisements

Groceries are battling too much space too

Excess square footage in general merchandising has been well-documented, especially with 2017’s wave of store closures. The trend hasn’t swamped grocery retail — yet — but don’t be surprised if the advent of online grocery shopping will take a toll. Here’s my comment, from a recent RetailWire discussion:

The grocery business is suffering from the same “overspace” problem that has plagued general merchandisers for years, leading to waves of store closures this year. The retailers in the middle — the old standbys like Kroger — are particularly vulnerable to increased competition from discounters, small-format stores and retailers doing a better job engaging with “foodies” and Millennials. (At least Kroger has a winning concept with Mariano’s in Chicago.)

There is no doubt that shopping behavior is changing. Some shoppers are opting for more frequent but smaller trips for fresher food, while others are bulking up at warehouse clubs. Aldi, Lidl and Trader Joe’s are offering smaller stores with curated assortments, and now Amazon is lurking in the background with its purchase of Whole Foods. As a regular shopper at Kroger’s “Metro Market” chain in Milwaukee, I can tell you that the overwhelming amount of choice (to fill all that space) makes even a simple shopping trip harder than it should be.

While some mid-tier chains are in a better position than others to survive, some industry consolidation is probably long overdue here. Meanwhile, here’s a related post about mall developers looking to fill empty space with food retail:

It’s ironic that we’re talking about food stores taking over vacant mall space today, after discussing excess square footage in the grocery business yesterday. There may be specific malls where it makes sense to add a small-footprint store like Fresh Market, but it’s hard to see how full-line mid-tier stores like Kroger can make this work on a large scale despite its test in Ohio. Presumably the grocery store would be the “last stop” on the shopping trip, if the shopper visits the rest of the mall at all.

The entire issue comes down to mall developers and how they reinvent all that real estate. Southdale (outside Minneapolis) is replacing a JCP store with a three-level fitness center; other malls are adding more dining and entertainment. But pulling off-mall retailers (TJX, Costco) into the fold may be a more viable solution if the price of entry is right.

Thoughts on the QVC-HSN merger

Here are some quick impressions that I posted on RetailWire about QVC’s plan to acquire HSN. “Home shopping” has lost its novelty — especially as TV viewers cut the cable cord — so the combined company faces some daunting challenges:

The initial benefit of the QVC-HSN merger comes from economies of scale in a mature segment. (It’s the same kind of play that Macy’s made for May Company several years ago, recognizing the lack of organic growth in traditional department stores.) But it’s clear that home shopping (via TV) is not where the action is. It’s up to QVC to figure out how to translate the “treasure hunt” experience of off-pricers to its model, and especially how to engage mobile shoppers at its site. It becomes an urgent challenge as more consumers (especially younger ones) continue to cut the cable cord.

Stagnant growth of loyalty programs

RetailWire panelists discussed some new data suggesting that loyalty programs’ growth is slowing at several retailers. Here’s my take on why this may be happening:

Loyalty involves establishing an emotional connection between the retailer and the customer, in order to move that shopper from a state of satisfaction to commitment. But far too often, retailers’ loyalty programs consist of little beyond price incentives. Extra discounts for cardholders may drive more frequency of visit but also encourage bottom-feeding when “loyalists” can apply one sale offer on top of another.

Among many other uses of data science, retailers can do a much better job using predictive technology to tell their best customers about new products of interest — not just when those products are available at the lowest possible margin to the store.

Should customers pay extra for service?

RetailWire recently posted an online discussion — about whether customers will pay an upcharge for customer service — that triggered plenty of comment. My perspective follows, and it is based on the idea that there is more than one way to define “service”:

To answer the question, you have to define “customer service” differently for different kinds of retailers. Customer service at Nordstrom means “high touch” and the SG&A cost of providing it is covered by high merchandise gross margins (or it should be). Conversely, expectations of “customer service” at Target are totally different — shoppers expect store shelves to be well-stocked and checkout lines to be efficient. Again, this lower-expense model is reflected in tighter merchandise margins.

My point? Customers are already paying for the “customer service” they seek in the stores they choose, based on the “cost of goods sold” that they are willing to pay. Any surcharge imposed by retailers to meet or exceed these expectations (hidden or otherwise) would be a bad idea.

Outlet malls aren’t “overstored” yet

In light of the troubles at the regional mall, and the wave of 2017 store closings, it’s worth noting that outlet malls continue to flourish. RetailWire panelists had a recent chance to weigh in, and here’s my theory:

The growth of outlet malls over the past several years flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that brick-and-mortar retail is dead. Outlet malls provide the same kind of focus on “treasure hunt” and value that have kept companies like TJX and fast-fashion retailers performing well. They have the added cachet of multiple designer brands, at the same time that those brands are trying to clean up promotional activity in their department store accounts.

In fact, the proliferation of outlet malls (and their upgraded appearance and tenant mix) is one more issue making it harder for the traditional regional mall to tread water. But outlet mall developers need to be careful about overexpansion: There are up to a half-dozen outlet malls around the Chicago area where there used to be one. Part of the appeal of “destination shopping” will be lost of these malls become too commonplace.

Is the pendulum swinging back on early Thanksgiving openings?

I’ve argued for awhile that earlier and earlier Black Friday (or Thursday) openings are counterproductive. Here are some recent thoughts posted on RetailWire:

Some of the biggest players (Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Best Buy) still plan to open on Thanksgiving. But the pendulum is swinging back, and the Mall of America’s announcement that it plans to close on Thursday will be a major influence on other mall operators. It seems clear that the push for earlier “early bird” hours on Black Friday (followed by midnight openings, followed by Thursday openings) has had a diminishing effect on sales — by draining any sense of urgency out of Friday morning shopping. (And the availability of goods online hasn’t helped, either.)

It’s hard for the retailers who insist on being open for Thanksgiving to be the first one to blink, but it seems clear that consumer sentiment is tugging them in that direction.

And this more recent post:

While the reports of the death of Black Friday are greatly exaggerated, there is no doubt that it’s lost importance on the retail calendar. The shift to e-commerce is part of the reason, but the bigger cause is retailers’ greediness in pushing their “early bird” hours earlier and earlier and finally opening on Thanksgiving itself.

My long experience working for a company that knew how to “nail” Black Friday tells me that the event was once as much a social occasion as a way to hunt for deals. Opening earlier and earlier never seems to result in more net sales but actually becomes counterproductive when any sense of urgency about “early birds” flies out the window.