Archive for the 'Strategy' Category

Department stores expand off-price concepts

Macy’s reported in its year-end earnings call that it plans to expand its Backstage off-price concept to 100 more stores this year. (And Backstage is located inside existing Macy’s locations.) Here’s what I had to say on RetailWire about the wisdom of this trend:

There is a big difference between what Nordstrom and Kohl’s are doing (building out freestanding Rack and Off/Aisle stores) and what Macy’s is attempting by locating its Backstage concept inside its full-line stores. Either way, department stores are jumping on the off-price bandwagon because it’s a hot segment with the “treasure hunt” experience that some shoppers are looking for. But at what point does the segment get overcrowded?

Macy’s may feel strongly enough about Backstage to roll it into more locations, but from my experience it does nothing to enhance the overall store “brand.” (Bob is dead-on regarding the housekeeping.) And the merchandise content is not compelling, since Macy’s “upstairs” brands feel safer dealing with TJX than having their goods show up in Backstage. From what I’ve observed, there is a lot of closeout product from brands that you might find at JCP or Kohl’s but not on the main floor of Macy’s.

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Did Walmart deserve the punishment?

By “punishment,” I mean the 10% drop in Walmart’s stock price yesterday (February 20) when the company reported slower-than-expected sales and profits in its e-commerce business. My comment at RetailWire expresses a contrary opinion about the market reaction:

Walmart’s stock took a similar hit a few years ago when management decided to investment-spend in the store experience — more payroll in areas like fresh food, remodeling and refixturing as needed, and so on. These were smart strategic choices that weren’t meant to please investors only interested in the latest quarter. Walmart’s decisions at the time have been rewarded with better results ever since.

I look at the 10 percent drop in stock price as a similar overreaction. Walmart is now starting to come up against its own numbers after the Jet.com acquisition, and (more importantly) it’s doing major spending on logistics and marketing to gain omnichannel market share. I’m no stock picker, but maybe this is a buy opportunity …

Can Macy’s claim a turnaround?

Today’s RetailWire panel focused on Macy’s 2017 holiday results, where they reported a 1% gain for the season. Despite the optimism of their executive chairman Terry Lundgren, most panelists agree with me that the celebration is premature:

As the article points out, Macy’s comp sales of 1 percent paled in comparison to J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, in a season where brick-and-mortar retailers did better than expected. So they actually lost market share during a robust shopping season, and probably ran behind in their physical stores if you assume that most of their growth came from e-commerce.

It’s hard to point out much good news in these numbers, other than being “less bad” than year-to-date. The large number of store closures doesn’t appear to have driven sales to remaining locations, and the jury is still out on the wisdom of the Backstage store-within-a-store strategy. In this panelist’s opinion, it does little to enhance the brand image of the rest of the store.

Is the off-price space already overcrowded?

Any student of retailing has seen segment after segment get overcrowded with imitators and then go through a period of consolidation — from department stores to discounters. Here’s a recent RetailWire comment that elaborates on this issue:

Every time a retail segment gets overcrowded with “me too” brands, a shakeout is inevitable. Between the key players like TJX and Ross, the luxury retailers’ outlet brands, and the new entries like Backstage and Off/Aisle, the market is ripe for consolidation. It’s no different from the waves of brand closures that swept the department and discount store industries, but I do expect TJX and Nordstrom Rack to be among the survivors.

Meanwhile, off-pricers keep expanding their brick-and-mortar footprints (often in other retailers’ closed sites) at the same time that most other big chains are working on omnichannel initiatives. You can argue that the “treasure hunt” appeal of off-pricers doesn’t lend itself easily to e-commerce, but this segment of retail needs to figure it out in a hurry.

Omnichannel: Not just a matter of semantics

As retailers continue to grapple with their own definition of “omnichannel,” I thought this RetailWire comment might offer some clarity:

I ordered razor blades from Amazon a few days ago, and I just ordered some K-cups this morning. (They will be here later today.) Would I describe this as “omnichannel,” because it involves commodity items that I might have found in a physical store? No, I would call this purely an e-commerce transaction.

A true “omnichannel” initiative is one that bridges the divide between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar. If I had bought the K-cups from walmart.com (and picked them up at the store), that would be closer to an omnichannel play. And the more seamless the shopping experience, the better … whether I am buying food, consumables or apparel.

Once we get past the semantic distinctions, there is little doubt that programs like BOPIS, BORIS, ship-from-store and curbside pickup are escalating rapidly. The consumer continues to search for the perfect combination of price and convenience — the “blue-eyed unicorn” of today’s retail.

The “upselling” opportunity depends on training

From a recent RetailWire discussion, here are my thoughts on the volume opportunity of “upselling.” As usual, the issue depends on the kind of retailer we’re talking about:

Upselling can’t work everywhere — in a mass merchant or discounter, for example, where associate training is more focused on “process” like running the registers or restocking the shelves. But there are plenty of specialty stores (and even department stores) that need to make upselling part of associate training in the first place. Filtering out candidates during the hiring process if they are uncomfortable engaging with customers is the obvious place to start, followed by extensive role modeling after the hire.

Who does this the best? I’d argue that Nordstrom has always made it part of the company culture. In the shoe department, for example, associates are trained to bring out three pairs if the customer picks just one to try on. It’s a simple lesson for other stores to learn, if they’re willing to try.

Forever 21 enters the beauty space

The Forever 21 team is testing a new beauty concept (“Riley Rose”) in a number of GGP malls around the country. I commented at RetailWire about this news before seeing one of the prototype stores:

As the article says, the beauty space is crowded and getting more so. New entries like Riley Rose point out the core issue: Weak traffic in department store anchors (and their aging demographics) force the cosmetics business to find new avenues. Sephora and Ulta have been the biggest players so far, but don’t ignore the huge beauty business being done by discounters, drug chains and even Amazon.

So the jury will be out until Riley Rose opens its doors. (One of the first locations is at the Mayfair Mall here in Milwaukee, part of the GGP rollout.) Will the Forever 21 customer recognize Riley Rose as a spinoff? And will Riley Rose look and feel different enough from Sephora to succeed? Stay tuned.

Postscript: I shopped the Riley Rose location at the Mayfair Mall in December, and it’s a fresh alternative to Sephora and traditional mall anchors’ cosmetics departments — complete with an assortment of snacks and toys. I expect to see the concept evolve and expand over time…it was definitely attracting traffic and shoppers.


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