Archive for the 'Strategy' Category

What should the new Penney CEO do first?

Here are a couple of related posts (from RetailWire) about the future of JCP. The first one notes the departure of CEO Marvin Ellison for Lowe’s, and the second post joins the debate about whether Penney can appeal to both Boomers and Millennials:

JCP continues to have a sales problem; its comp-store sales for 2017 and the first quarter of 2018 lagged its competitors and failed to take advantage of the continuing decline of Sears. Kohl’s experienced similar weather issues in Q1 but managed to deliver a 3.6% store-for-store sales increase.

It sounds like 20/20 hindsight, but Mr. Ellison operated in a comfort zone since joining Penney, based on his long background at Home Depot. (And now he is really moving back into that comfort zone.) The push toward home goods — especially major appliances — appears not to be the answer to Penney’s lackluster sales.

When Penney finds a suitable replacement, I expect the company to accelerate its store closure program — unless there is opportunity by heading in the opposite direction and picking up sites from Bon Ton, Sears and so forth. But Mr. Ellison’s strategic retreat (while Kohl’s pushed to maintain its store base as part of an omnichannel strategy) looks like a mistake from here.

And another post more focused on customer segmentation:

JCPenney has presented its investors (and consumers) with a false choice over the past several years, even predating the Ron Johnson era. Either “cater to our current core market of aging Baby Boomers” or “figure out how to attract Millennials.” Any store expecting to be sustainable in the long run needs to figure out how to do both.

It’s possible to carry robust assortments of both Liz Claiborne and brands targeted to younger shoppers, especially in women’s apparel. Without those younger consumers with increasing spending power to accompany their sheer numbers, the “old” JCP base will continue to shrink.

It will become clear that Marvin Ellison made a mistake shrinking the footprint of Penney’s “softlines” businesses in order to squeeze in major appliances and more furniture. In hindsight, JCP could have used this space to offer broader and deeper assortments of apparel and accessories targeted to both Millennials and their moms.

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Backstage a short-term win for Macy’s

As the topic of this post suggests, I am a skeptic about whether a store-in-store location strategy for Backstage really makes sense for Macy’s. Here’s my recent comment from RetailWire:

It’s hard to argue with the sales lift that Backstage has brought to the first group of stores, but I have my doubts the long-term strategic impact. From the local Macy’s store with a Backstage installation, I see a messy collection of “stuff” that doesn’t even meet the housekeeping standards of my local Marshall’s — not to mention the standards of the rest of the Macy’s store. And the off-price space is getting very crowded, at the risk of oversaturation.

It would be worth knowing more before passing judgment: Is the sales increase driving any kind of gains in Macy’s “upstairs” departments? And what kind of product is selling in Backstage? Again, from my observation, the “upstairs” brands at Macy’s have no interest in selling their labels inside Backstage, so the brands I shopped could just as easily be found at a Kohl’s or JCPenney store.

Is Aldi moving “uptown” too fast?

Here’s a recent comment from RetailWire about Aldi, and its decision to open more stores in upscale suburbs and neighborhoods. I think it’s a smart idea:

Many of the original Aldi locations (at least here in the Milwaukee area) were in lower income neighborhoods often suffering from “food desert” syndrome. The stores filled an important niche, but eventually Aldi started growing into middle-income and more upscale suburbs here. I’m sure the same phenomenon has happened around the country. If Aldi is serious about upgrading its merchandise content, the store experience has to keep pace.

Again, a local parallel: Pick ‘n Save stores (first part of Roundy’s, now a Kroger division) began as bare-bones stores with food displayed in cut-open shipping cartons stacked on empty gondolas. The formula worked for awhile (Pick ‘n Save became the market share leader here) but eventually customers expected a better experience. The same is true of outlet malls — from “piperack” operations to very upscale today.

So Aldi is making the smart move, especially where the trade-area demographics dictate, as long as they don’t simply duplicate their Trader Joe’s formula.

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.

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.


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