Archive for the 'Department store retailing' Category

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.

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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.

Second quarter sales show a pulse

The stock market did not react well to most stores’ second quarter earnings, but there were hints of improvement from most retailers. My comment below (from RetailWire) focuses on Nordstrom in particular but several other stores show signs of figuring out omnichannel too:

The results of Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale (and the “less bad” sales reports from Macy’s and Kohl’s) may point toward a stronger second half than expected. It’s too early to tell if we’re seeing a full-fledged revival of women’s apparel sales (still reported as a weak spot on Kohl’s earnings call), but the Nordstrom numbers are encouraging.

I shopped the Anniversary Sale in a couple of markets, and you’d be hard pressed to find a robust sale offering in men’s or women’s — so there must have been some traffic-driven regular-price selling in the mix. Hats off to Nordstrom for sticking to its promotional discipline, and for continuing to ride the success of its Rack and e-commerce businesses.

Discounting finds the cosmetics department

A topic near to my heart, from a recent RetailWire panel discussion:

Speaking as a former buyer of cosmetics (going back to 1980) and then as a merchandise manager with oversight of the category, the beauty business has been the last refuge of full-price selling in department stores. But the temptation to put these goods on sale has migrated from discount stores and mass merchants to those department stores — with the added impact of Sephora, Ulta and online sales. And like anything else related to price promotion, retailers will find it hard to stop taking this particular drug once they start.

A long time ago, cosmetics fed off the traffic that the traditional department stores enjoyed. Then they became “headquarters” businesses in their own right given the strength of brands like Lauder, Clinique and Lancome. Eventually customers were trained to “wait for the gift-with-purchase,” just as they were trained to “wait for the sale” elsewhere in the store.

Those legacy brands are aging, just like the legacy department stores that carry them. This pattern is being repeated throughout the retail industry and the entire CPG world. So the conventional wisdom — that discounting cosmetics will only commoditize the business — may be true but may not be relevant anymore.

Sears to sell Kenmore through Amazon

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” seems to be the theme of Sears Holdings’s latest decision. It will be selling Kenmore-branded appliances through Amazon, as the online giant expands its footprint into new categories. Here’s my take, from RetailWire:

If Sears’s goal now is to monetize its assets, then the decision to sell its Kenmore brand through Amazon was a good one. Kenmore, after all, is the strongest brand left in the Sears toolbox. And the Alexa tie-in is smart, too, no matter whether it originated with Amazon or Sears (or its appliance suppliers).

But the move raises a white flag, too: It signals that Sears’s own physical and online footprint is barely relevant anymore. If you can buy a Kenmore dishwasher from Amazon (including delivery, installation and warranty service), why would you bother finding a Sears store as it continues to shrink its store count?