Archive for the 'Department store retailing' Category

Department stores expand off-price concepts

Macy’s reported in its year-end earnings call that it plans to expand its Backstage off-price concept to 100 more stores this year. (And Backstage is located inside existing Macy’s locations.) Here’s what I had to say on RetailWire about the wisdom of this trend:

There is a big difference between what Nordstrom and Kohl’s are doing (building out freestanding Rack and Off/Aisle stores) and what Macy’s is attempting by locating its Backstage concept inside its full-line stores. Either way, department stores are jumping on the off-price bandwagon because it’s a hot segment with the “treasure hunt” experience that some shoppers are looking for. But at what point does the segment get overcrowded?

Macy’s may feel strongly enough about Backstage to roll it into more locations, but from my experience it does nothing to enhance the overall store “brand.” (Bob is dead-on regarding the housekeeping.) And the merchandise content is not compelling, since Macy’s “upstairs” brands feel safer dealing with TJX than having their goods show up in Backstage. From what I’ve observed, there is a lot of closeout product from brands that you might find at JCP or Kohl’s but not on the main floor of Macy’s.


Macy’s drops out of the Plenti program

Macy’s was one of the charter members of the Plenti loyalty program, where shoppers could earn points by buying gas at Mobil, renting a car from Alamo, and so forth. Here’s a quick RetailWire comment about the move, which rightfully places the spotlight on Macy’s own Star Rewards program:

As a Macy’s shopper, I was confused by the purpose of the Plenti program and wasn’t sure of the benefits. I wasn’t necessarily interested in some of the other brands participating in the program, and it “muddied the waters” of the Star Rewards program. I’m sure that I wasn’t alone, and Macy’s is right to focus on revamping Star Rewards with more personalized, data-driven rewards for its best customers.

Can Macy’s claim a turnaround?

Today’s RetailWire panel focused on Macy’s 2017 holiday results, where they reported a 1% gain for the season. Despite the optimism of their executive chairman Terry Lundgren, most panelists agree with me that the celebration is premature:

As the article points out, Macy’s comp sales of 1 percent paled in comparison to J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, in a season where brick-and-mortar retailers did better than expected. So they actually lost market share during a robust shopping season, and probably ran behind in their physical stores if you assume that most of their growth came from e-commerce.

It’s hard to point out much good news in these numbers, other than being “less bad” than year-to-date. The large number of store closures doesn’t appear to have driven sales to remaining locations, and the jury is still out on the wisdom of the Backstage store-within-a-store strategy. In this panelist’s opinion, it does little to enhance the brand image of the rest of the store.

Another Amazon/Kohl’s tie-up

To follow up on my comment on “smart home” shops at Kohl’s, now comes word that Kohl’s will test Amazon processing locations (pickup and return) in several markets. I agree with most fellow RetailWire panelists that it will drive traffic to Kohl’s but is an even better deal for Amazon as it fills in its physical footprint:

Omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS already put strain on existing store operations, as panelists just discussed in the context of holiday hiring. So Kohl’s ability to process Amazon returns (even unpackaged ones) without affecting their other operating standards will be something to watch. Without payroll support from Amazon, this could be a heavy lift.

As to who comes out ahead in this collaboration, I understand that this will drive even more traffic to Kohl’s stores. (And my usual disclosure that I worked there from 1982 to 2006.) But Amazon picks up as many as 1100 more brick-and-mortar locations (if it rolls chainwide), with the eventual ability to add pickup lockers and even an ordering kiosk if they play their cards right. So it looks like Amazon is the biggest potential winner in this deal.

Holiday hiring and the “omnichannel” challenge

Two recent (and related) comments from RetailWire on the subject of holiday hiring and whether stores are prepared to deal with the operational demands of omnichannel. First up, my take on the kinds of stresses on payroll and customer service that stores are trying to manage today:

BOPIS can have an impact on customer service especially in those stores where payroll is being stretched to manage “omnichannel” process instead of the shopper in the store. I’m thinking particularly of department stores (Macy’s, for one) whose higher-touch service standards have slipped while they are asking the same sales associates to cover additional tasks.

But there is another kind of “customer service” (in self-selection stores like Target and many others) that really depends on efficient restocking of fixtures and quick checkout. I don’t see BOPIS having the same kind of stressful effect on these stores’ service standards.

And here’s the second comment, published a few days later after Target and Macy’s revealed their holiday hiring plan:

Target’s hiring forecast vs. 2016 is a healthy sign, and Macy’s announcement is also a positive in light of the smaller store base. What both retailers are signaling is that they are figuring out the manpower requirements of omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS and ship-from-store without sacrificing the service standards they need to maintain in their core brick-and-mortar business. This seems to be a particular challenge at Macy’s, so it’s good to see them recognizing the cost of a solution.




Amazon and Kohl’s in a “smart home” alliance

Amazon and Kohl’s announced jointly that they are setting up “smart home” shops in 10 test stores in Chicago and Los Angeles this fall, using 1000 square feet to promote items like Echo along with related devices and the home services to set them up. Reportedly (according to RetailWire) the shops will be staffed by Amazon and the revenue will accrue to them. Here’s my comment:

A ten-store test in an 1100-store chain is not significant in the short term, but it’s an interesting alliance. (My usual full disclosure: I worked for Kohl’s between 1982 and 2006.) It’s curious that the sales revenue goes straight to Amazon (with a presumed piece of the action to Kohl’s), compared to the traditional model where somebody walks into the store and uses his/her Kohl’s card to buy an Echo Dot. It’s also a recognition that the “smart home” business needs more hands-on salesmanship.

Amazon look like the winner in this deal, because it potentially leads to another brick-and-mortar tie-up with a much bigger store footprint than Whole Foods, without the cost of a flat-out acquisition. Meanwhile, Kohl’s benefits from increased traffic and a meaningful use of space at a time when it is “right-sizing” about half of its stores. This bears watching.

Macy’s reshuffles the merchant deck

Macy’s new CEO Jeff Gennette announced yesterday the hiring of a new president (with background at eBay and Home Depot) and the restructuring of its merchant organization. The company also announced plans to grow its private brand penetration from 29% to 40%. Here’s my comment from a recent RetailWire discussion:

I’ll start with this point: Growing private-brand penetration from 29% to 40% will only drive Macy’s sales if the company gets the merchandise content right. I’d argue that there are already too many private brands and lack of clarity between them, especially in women’s apparel. Macy’s execs may be able to tell the difference, but I doubt the average shopper can define what Karen Scott vs. Style & Co. vs. Charter Club (and so forth) really stand for. Let’s face it: Most stores trying to grow their private label business are doing it as a margin play, not a loyalty tool, and it’s often moved the sales needle in the wrong direction.

As to the new hires and restructuring: It’s clear that Macy’s is doubling down on omnichannel with the hiring of Mr. Lawton. It’s also clear that streamlining its merchant organization is meant to bring more speed to the decision-making process. Let’s see if the new team can tackle those “clarity of offer” problems after all.