Archive for the 'Retailing' Category

Walmart on a roll?

Walmart’s 2nd quarter results were strong, although their stock price may or may not be rewarded for it in the short term. RetailWire panelists addressed a simple question — is Walmart unstoppable? — and here’s my response:

I would never say “unstoppable,” but Walmart’s strategies in its stores and omnichannel certainly seem to be paying off. They do need to anticipate the impact of the Amazon-Whole Foods tie-up, in terms of its impact on online grocery retailing. But Walmart is seeing payback from its multi-year investments in upgrading brick-and-mortar, focusing on better execution in food, and getting its full-size prototype right

Walmart is the most obvious case of a retailer figuring out how to leverage its e-commerce business into store traffic, but Target’s results seemed to point to the same thing. Even stores like Kohl’s with comp-store decreases suggested 2nd quarter improvements in store traffic — so maybe the stores with the most aggressive omnichannel effort are starting to see results.

H&M switches to quarterly reporting

H&M is joining most other retailers in reporting comp-store sales on a quarterly basis, not monthly. I joined other RetailWire panelists in commenting on this change:

I agree that there used to be too much focus on monthly comp-sales numbers, given changes in the promotional calendar, holiday shifts from one year to the next, and weather deviations. So I understand H&M’s desire to report quarterly sales as a more accurate measure of its business trend.

On the other hand, it’s hard to conclude that the retailers who switched from monthly to quarterly reporting awhile ago saw any benefit to their sales trend. (In some cases, just the opposite.) If anything, the change has put even more spotlight on quarterly earnings rather than the long-term strategic view for many of these companies.

Can JCP be a player in toys?

JCPenney recently announced an expansion of its toy business, in time for holiday 2017 selling. RetailWire panelists weighed in on the topic, and here’s my take:

Toys are a double-edged sword for softlines retailers like Penney and Kohl’s who want to strengthen their children’s offerings. It’s hard to avoid carrying toys, but it’s also hard to compete against the dominant space of the discounters and big-box stores. (Not to mention the low margins.) Customers have come to expect the best selection and prices from market leaders like Amazon, Walmart and Target.

The broader risk to JCP is that it becomes a “bunch of stuff” with the addition of new categories (from appliances to toys, from bikes to electronics). Just because the store has square footage to burn doesn’t mean that overassortment is a winning long-term play.

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.

Changing of the guard at J. Crew

The decision by longtime J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler to step aside was widely reported yesterday. (I recently discussed the departure of the company’s creative director.) Drexler is being replaced by James Brett, current president of the West Elm lifestyle brand. RetailWire panelists discussed what to anticipate at J. Crew, and I wrote the following:

First, keep in mind that Mickey Drexler is not exactly riding into the sunset: He retains his chairman title and a significant ownership in the company. So it remains to be seen whether Mr. Brett has the freedom to reshape the company as much as it needs. It’s not always easy for somebody with Mr. Drexler’s track record to walk away.

As to the reshaping, I expect to see a few things happen: First, a faster expansion of the Madewell business. Second, a course correction for the J. Crew brand itself, perhaps back to its legacy positioning as a more affordable (but still aspirational) alternative to Ralph Lauren. (Right now it’s nowhere close to a clear point of view.) And, third, expanding the J. Crew brand (once it is fixed) into new categories, just as Mr. Brett has done by treating West Elm as a lifestyle business.

JCP pursues B2B opportunities

Here’s a new RetailWire comment on Penney’s announcement that it is going after B2B opportunities with hotel operators, property developers, etc. to place its home goods in these kinds of facilities. It’s another example of CEO Marvin Ellison taking a page from his Home Depot playbook:

I’d be less concerned about the borrowings from Home Depot if I didn’t see improvements on the softlines side happening at the same time. There’s evidence (at least to these eyes) that the new merchant team at JCP is making some headway especially in women’s apparel, where the assortments and brand identity look crisper than they have for awhile.

That being said, the B2B initiative is a puzzle to me. Penney may see it as a volume opportunity — and a branding opportunity to place its private-label home goods inside hotel rooms, etc. But will hotel operators and franchisees be interested in dealing with a middleman, if they already source their linens and towels through the buying power of brands like Hilton, Marriott, etc.?

Another frontier for Amazon to cross?

Amazon is reportedly scaling up its infrastructure in order to tackle the major appliance and furniture markets. Panelists weighed in on RetailWire about the challenges and opportunities, and I see the upside:

I commented a couple of weeks ago that Amazon had not yet made big inroads into the major appliance market — but obviously they are headed in this direction, along with furniture. To some degree IKEA has already figured out how to generate furniture sales not tied to its showrooms, so it’s clearly an opportunity for Amazon too. No doubt that they will figure out the logistics of bulky products but this still seems like a business where customers want to “kick the tires” — so perhaps Amazon ought to test showrooms in their early test markets.