Archive for the 'Retailing' Category

Diminishing returns for Black Friday

With the release of the NRF’s annual holiday shopping forecast comes a RetailWire discussion about Black Friday. The debate? Whether the event itself is essentially dead as a volume driver. My opinion? Not so fast:

“Killed” is too strong a word, because Black Friday still represents one of the biggest shopping days on the retail calendar. But the day has lost its punch for a number of reasons:

1. Most obviously, the shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce. With the growing number of store closings and “zombie malls,” this will be a bigger problem than ever throughout the 2017 holiday season.
2. The Thursday paper stuffed with promotional circulars doesn’t reach the huge number of Gen Y and Z shoppers who don’t even read the paper.
3. As stores have extended Black Friday opening hours into Thanksgiving itself, they have simply cannibalized their own business.

I could go on, and these are tough “macro” challenges for an individual retailer to overcome. Some of the potential solutions involve greater use of targeted social media and other messaging to reach younger customers…and this is true from early November all the way to the last crucial weekend before Christmas.

But the biggest challenge may be to make the sale offerings and merchandise content more compelling. Easier said than done (without months of advance planning), but the recent focus on putting entire assortments on sale — instead of key items at compelling price points — has drained Black Friday of its former sense of urgency.

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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.

 

 

 

Target’s choice: Cheap chic, or just cheap?

A brief RetailWire comment below on Target’s re-pricing of food and commodity basics,  which is something they periodically need to do:

Target periodically needs to reset its prices on commodities because of customers’ nagging perception that it charges too much. This has always been an issue with Walmart as its key competitor, and now Amazon adds to the challenge with its dive into the grocery price wars.

The key to making this work is to drive the higher-margin categories like apparel at the same time. (That’s really the key to the company’s success, not its grocery business.) Target’s reset of its private brands needs to accomplish this goal, otherwise the lower prices on food and household goods will only erode the company’s profitability.

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.

More on combating the Amazon grocery juggernaut

Another timely discussion at RetailWire about the best ways for grocers to fight the Amazon-Whole Foods tie-up. To me, it’s not just about price competition but a lot more:

Most of the spotlight on the Amazon/Whole Foods acquisition has focused on price cutting, but these were necessary to make WF more competitive. Look for more cuts to come, to help Whole Foods overcome its “Whole Paycheck” brand reputation.

But longtime observers of Amazon know that the keys to its success are its assortments and its mastery of logistics. If I were a competitor, this is where I would focus my efforts before being run over by the Amazon juggernaut. Improving the efficiency of the shopping experience — whether through faster checkout, better execution of home delivery or higher in-stock rates — will go a long way toward dealing with the looming challenge.

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.