Archive for the 'Specialty retailers' Category

Is Wayfair “Amazon-proof”?

As Amazon expands further into home furnishings, RetailWire panelists discussed Wayfair — one of the hottest online retailers out there — and whether it can keep growing in the face of new competition. Here’s my take:

Nobody is “Amazon-proof,” because the company has a quick learning curve (and willingness to investment-spend) whenever it decides to move into a category. But Wayfair is in a better position than Amazon’s competitors in other industries: It has a niche, a following and a strategy that are serving it well right now. Something to watch: Will Wayfair decide down the road that it needs an omnichannel game plan through a footprint of brick-and-mortar showrooms or a strategic alliance with another furniture retailer?

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.

Was dropping tobacco a mistake at CVS?

CVS garnered a lot of publicity a few years ago when it stopped selling cigarettes and related smoking products. More recently, the giant pharmacy chain is making a bigger push into “wellness” categories, at the same time that its comp sales show some softness. Here’s my take, from a recent RetailWire discussion:

The comp-sales problem at CVS seems unrelated to their decision three years ago to drop tobacco products. It was the right decision then, and the “healthy” brand positioning makes sense. CVS is not operating in a vacuum, but is competing against Walgreens — which seems at times more interested in being the neighborhood C-store than in selling health-related products.

The trick now for CVS is to build on its tactical steps and brand equity to grow its topline sales.

Sears opens appliance/mattress stores

RetailWire panelists discussed Sears’ plans to open stores specializing in nothing but major appliances and mattresses. While this may have been a solid strategy 20 years ago, count me as a skeptic given Sears’ issues today:

It’s hard to picture anything solving the Sears problem at this point. The company just announced the closure of a mall anchor here in Milwaukee (after closing another anchor over a year ago), leaving it with just one full-line store here. I’m sure the story is being duplicated around the country, at the same time that Sears has been closing (not opening) appliance-only franchise stores.

Sears’ legitimate franchise in appliances is evaporating as it continues to shrink its footprint and sell off its key brand (like Kenmore). The appliance space is crowded with competitors, now including major investments by Amazon and JCPenney. And who needs another place to buy mattresses, especially given the growth of online sales?

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.

CVS vs. Walgreens: Who’s easier to shop?

Upon reading a RetailWire discussion about new store merchandising initiatives at CVS, I weighed in with some recent observations of my own:

Given a switch of insurers last January, I’m shopping less at Walgreens and more at CVS. I’ve always had a problem with the navigation issue at Walgreens: It’s just as difficult to find things in my newly remodeled neighborhood store as it was before. And the overassortment of categories having nothing to do with health and wellness may be good for Walgreens’ position as the “neighborhood convenience store,” but it certainly doesn’t help the customer figure things out.

The competing CVS is noticeably easier to shop, with wider aisles and better directional and product signage. If the company takes its execution to the next level — as reported — it could be part of a broader competitive advantage over Walgreens.

Who gains when HHGregg loses?

Among several other stores closings announced in 2017, the regional electronics and appliance chain HHGregg may have flown under the radar. It did come to the attention of RetailWire panelists like me:

Best Buy will benefit, naturally, in those markets where HHGregg had a store footprint and market share. There are significant clusters of stores around Chicago, in the mid-Atlantic and mid-South (including Atlanta) and in Florida. But don’t expect it to compare to the demise of Circuit City — not only because HHGregg isn’t a national competitor but also because of the changing retail landscape.

Another retailer that might gain share is JCPenney, as it pushes into the major appliance business. Keep an eye on the big home improvement chains, too; this is one business that hasn’t been dominated by Amazon (yet).