Archive for the 'Off-price retailers' Category

Backstage a short-term win for Macy’s

As the topic of this post suggests, I am a skeptic about whether a store-in-store location strategy for Backstage really makes sense for Macy’s. Here’s my recent comment from RetailWire:

It’s hard to argue with the sales lift that Backstage has brought to the first group of stores, but I have my doubts the long-term strategic impact. From the local Macy’s store with a Backstage installation, I see a messy collection of “stuff” that doesn’t even meet the housekeeping standards of my local Marshall’s — not to mention the standards of the rest of the Macy’s store. And the off-price space is getting very crowded, at the risk of oversaturation.

It would be worth knowing more before passing judgment: Is the sales increase driving any kind of gains in Macy’s “upstairs” departments? And what kind of product is selling in Backstage? Again, from my observation, the “upstairs” brands at Macy’s have no interest in selling their labels inside Backstage, so the brands I shopped could just as easily be found at a Kohl’s or JCPenney store.

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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.

Will an off-price concept fix H&M?

H&M is jumping on the off-price bandwagon with a new concept called Afound, with the objective of liquidating its goods more effectively. (It’s also a hot segment with a lot of new players over the past few years.) Here’s my comment from a recent RetailWire discussion about what really ails the company:

I’m not sure that another off-price brand in an increasingly overcrowded market is a long-term solution to H&M’s problems. They need to address a few core problems in their existing stores first, as the article points out:

1. How does H&M move faster in the product development cycle, to compete more effectively against Zara and even Forever 21?
2. How does the company figure out a more effective liquidation strategy for its existing stores, instead of leaning on a new concept?
3. How does H&M play catch-up on omnichannel, considering it was late to the party?

H&M stores have always avoided the chaotic, “treasure hunt” feel of a typical Forever 21 store — and with a bigger focus on basic, affordable “wear to work” apparel for budget-minded shoppers. But this has come at the cost of becoming boring and predictable, compared to Zara’s unbeatable speed to market.

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.

Is the off-price space already overcrowded?

Any student of retailing has seen segment after segment get overcrowded with imitators and then go through a period of consolidation — from department stores to discounters. Here’s a recent RetailWire comment that elaborates on this issue:

Every time a retail segment gets overcrowded with “me too” brands, a shakeout is inevitable. Between the key players like TJX and Ross, the luxury retailers’ outlet brands, and the new entries like Backstage and Off/Aisle, the market is ripe for consolidation. It’s no different from the waves of brand closures that swept the department and discount store industries, but I do expect TJX and Nordstrom Rack to be among the survivors.

Meanwhile, off-pricers keep expanding their brick-and-mortar footprints (often in other retailers’ closed sites) at the same time that most other big chains are working on omnichannel initiatives. You can argue that the “treasure hunt” appeal of off-pricers doesn’t lend itself easily to e-commerce, but this segment of retail needs to figure it out in a hurry.

Does Gordmans have a future as an off-pricer?

Stage Stores bought the Gordmans Midwest-based chain out of bankruptcy earlier this year, and announced plans to convert it from a promotional department store to an off-pricer. I commented on a RetailWire panel discussion about the game plan along with Stage Stores’ decision to maintain multiple nameplates:

From my recollection shoppoing a few Gordmans stores in the past, they were a Kohl’s wannabe without the geographic footprint to be sustainable. Now they are aiming to be a TJ Maxx wannabe but will still be saddled with the same problems. It’s tough to enter an increasingly crowded sector without the physical footprint or the buying power to compete against TJX, Ross Store and now Backstage.

Stage Stores is trying to maintain multiple concepts and brands (Peebles, Goodys, Bealls and now Gordman). Why not operate one concept under one brand-name umbrella? It’s the “Bon Ton syndrome” where none of the individual brand names is strong enough to overcome the lack of scale.

Are off-pricers bulletproof?

Off-pricers represent the hottest segment of brick-and-mortar retail right now, even more so than “fast fashion” retailers. RetailWire panelists discussed whether they are invulnerable to challenge, especially in a soft demand cycle for apparel. Here’s my point of view:

The “wheel of retailing” is a longstanding premise that new formats overtake old ones….only to be overtaken themselves when a newer innovation comes along. Off-pricers are playing a hot hand right now: Customers like the values and the “treasure hunt,” However, the category runs the risk of oversaturation even though the segment is gaining apparel share at the expense of more traditional models, and it faces the ongoing competitive threat of e-commerce.

Given all of this, hats off to TJX for continuing to develop new formats (especially in the home store) as one way to inoculate itself against these challenges.


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