Archive for the 'Strategy' 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?

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.

JCP today, fitness center tomorrow?

The Simon development group is taking a three-level JCP store — soon to close at Southdale Center outside Minneapolis — and redeveloping the space as a fitness center. I’m among the RetailWire panelists discussing this smart “reinvention” strategy that can be applied to malls around the country:

Creating a fitness center out of an existing mall anchor is a creative way to reinvent excess real estate — instead of waiting for another retail tenant or tenants to energe (unlikely) in today’s overspaced environment. I’ve been in the JCP store in question and it was grossly overspaced for the volume it probably generated during the last few years.

Students of retail history (and Minnesota natives like me) know that Southdale was the first fully enclosed regional mall in the U.S. It served its purpose as a retail mecca — and community center — for many years, but the mix of anchors and nearby competition from Mall of America has made it less relevant in its current form. So the Simon team deserves credit for finding new reasons for people to come to Southdale and other malls like it.

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.

Thoughts on Macy’s self-service shoe and cosmetics departments

RetailWire panelists just took on the subject of a new test at Macy’s, in which its shoe and cosmetics departments are being converted to “assisted self-service” instead of the traditional associate-driven model. In the case of shoes, Macy’s is getting more of its inventory out of the stockroom and bulked out on the floor, with apparent early success. I’m raising a caution flag, however:

It’s hard to tell whether the reconfigured shoe department is meant to be a sales driver or an expense saver. JCP recently reconfigured a store that I visited to mass out its shoe inventory — DSW-style — instead of depending on salepeople to find the right size in the back. (And these associates are often paid a commission, just like cosmetics salespeople.) But it gets to the heart of what Macy’s wants to be. As Art put it, are they trying to be JCP or Kohl’s? Are they finding the hidden costs of “omnichannel” (BOPIS and so forth) to be unsustainable for a traditional department store?

And one more issue: By abandoning the Nordstrom model (where the salesperson is trained to bring out three pairs of shoes when the customer asks to look at one), Macy’s may in the long run walk away from the sales and margin potential of “upselling” that shoe and cosmetics departments should be known for. A declaration of victory may be premature.

Is the era of brick-and-mortar growth dead?

The wave of store closures this year (and beyond) casts a shadow over traditional brick-and-mortar retailing, but it’s premature to declare it a dead end for companies that still have growth prospects. Here’s my RetailWire commentary on the issue:

In business school many years ago, I took a retailing class from a marketing professor who often said, “There’s no such thing as ‘over-stored,’ but under-retailed.” Obviously the glut of square footage is an even bigger problem than in 1977, given the development of exurban sprawl, big box stores, new mall formats, retail consolidation, and (of course) e-commerce. But the teacher’s point still has relevance today.

Some stores continue to have a good chance to expand their physical footprint. (There has been recent comment, here and elsewhere, about chains like Zara and Uniqlo being opportunistic about picking up others’ sites.) But growth for its own sake means nothing without a clear brand identity, coherent merchandising and smart use of technology to drive loyalty and omnichannel initiatives.

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.?