Archive for the 'Specialty retailers' Category

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).

Does every airport need to be a mall?

RetailWire panelists commented recently on the trend toward ever more elaborate shopping facilities at airports — especially those with robust duty-free sales. I’m a skeptic about whether this is really a priority, vs. ensuring that airports are safe and efficient transfer points:

I’d be happy if airports like LaGuardia focus on upgrading their cramped facilities, restrooms, overcrowded TSA checkpoints and even places to eat (hello, Auntie Anne’s) before trying to recreate themselves in the image of Heathrow or the Mall of America. Many of our airports have enough infrastructure challenges on their plates without worrying about whether they are world-class shopping venues.

I flew through Heathrow a few years ago, and the process of transferring from an arriving flight from Madrid to a U.S.-bound connecting flight took far longer than any similar experience in this country. Between the bus ride from the tarmac to the terminal and then going through two separate (and lengthy) security checkpoints (after doing the same thing in Madrid), most of our two-hour layover was wasted with very little time left to shop in the fancy new BA terminal. Maybe things have improved, but you get my point: First things first.

L.L. Bean considers a new return policy

From a recent RetailWire discussion, I comment on L.L.Bean’s consideration of a less liberal return policy than it has always been known for:

Having worked for Kohl’s for 24 years, I have a bias toward more forgiving return policies. Kohl’s always viewed its return policies as a competitive advantage and marketing practice (even though there was plenty of gnashing of teeth among the merchant ranks) and I believe this is still the case. Stores can maintain this kind of trust with their customers, even if they look at tweaking the policy through issuance of gift cards for goods returned without receipts or after some time has passed.

I’d be very careful if I were L.L.Bean to walk away from part of what has defined its brand for a long time. As another panelist suggests, look for other reasons why costs are rising faster than sales, starting with merchandise assortments.

Can The Gap make its own luck?

After the CEO of Gap mentioned the lack of a fashion trend as part of his company’s sales problems, I posted the following (late in 2016) to RetailWire:

To blame soft sales on “lack of a trend” fails to recognize the retailer’s responsibility to help create those trends. Back in the Drexler-led heyday of The Gap, the company helped create the khaki phenomenon by getting behind the item in a huge way and by marketing it on TV as a must-have wardrobe item. The same principle applied to many other items in the store — from my days merchandising handbags, I remember a canvas tote in a bunch of colors that the industry dubbed “the Gap Bag.”

It sounds like Gap is suffering from the suffocating influence of both its creative direction and its data science, making it hard for entrepreneurial spirit to thrive among its merchants. (And it also looks like Gap has been slower to embrace the short-cycle, high-turnover model of its fast fashion competitors.) Gut feeling can still work wonders to drive sales, if a retailer has the courage to react quickly to big ideas.

And (upon further review) some more thoughts as Gap released its 2016 earnings in February:

One quarter doesn’t make a trend, but the 2% gain compares favorably to most of Gap’s competitors. In terms of merchandise content, there seems to be a renewed focus on what I would call “core basics,” which is what brought such success to Gap during the 90’s. Without ignoring the lessons of fast fashion retailers (especially in terms of speed to market and supply chain management), Gap will probably continue to gain traction if it takes a more classic approach to the business.