Posts Tagged 'Amazon'

End of the line for Toys “R” Us?

Big retail news of the day (as discussed at RetailWire) is the announcement that Toys “R” Us is throwing in the towel. Here’s my post-mortem:

It’s unlikely that Toys “R” Us is going to stay afloat, and this is a big deal for those who follow the recent history of retailing. They were among the first “category killer” stores with broad assortments of a single category in a big-box format. There have been others (Linens ‘N Things, Sports Authority, etc.) but this one stands out. If you see reporting on “the Amazon effect,” it’s more complicated than that.:

It’s tough to survive in a highly seasonal business like toys given the growth of e-commerce and the dominance of discounters in the same category. And there has been a generational change, where many of today’s kids are interacting with technology (smartphone apps, streaming video games) instead of the toys of a short time ago.

And one more lesson learned: A mountain of private-equity debt doesn’t help.


Can Circuit City make a comeback?

Whoever bought the Circuit City brand after the store’s demise a few years ago plans to revive it — both as an e-commerce site and as a re-engineered brick-and-mortar store. The question in front of RetailWire panelists: Does the world need a revived Circuit City? (Or, as their headline put it, “Can Circuit City come back from the dead?”) Here’s my skeptical point of view:

This reminds me of the Linens-N-Things saga, in which the brand survives as an e-commerce site but its physical stores are long gone. There simply wasn’t the need for two similar big box concepts, so Bed Bath & Beyond turned out to be the survivor. (But BBBY stock price has fallen sharply in the past five years, like many retailers, as it faces increased competition from Amazon and others.)

It’s hard to see what value Circuit City brings to the table at this point — except as a web-only play. Does a small-footprint “experiential” store offer something different from Best Buy or Apple? (Especially now that Best Buy is removing CD’s from its physical stores, it’s easy to see that they will roll out more engaging and productive uses of that space.) The Circuit City brand was already “damaged goods” because of bad decisions they made to reduce customer service and in-store expertise.

Online grocery sales gaining share quickly

It should come as no surprise (except, perhaps, to traditional grocery chains) that online sales are the fastest growing segment of the industry. Today’s RetailWire panel reflects on whether the major players are ready for this trend. Here’s my opinion:

The wave of online sales that has swamped general merchandising is now catching up to the grocery industry. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to food retailers after watching other industry segments caught flat-footed. It’s only now that general merchandisers have developed omnichannel strategies that are helping them turn a corner.

The key for grocery retailers is to reach the customer where he or she wants to shop. This may mean home delivery or it may mean BOPIS — and it may also mean a simpler shopping experience in-store with less overassortment to choose from. Rest assured that Amazon is going to deliver a more convenient experience (with higher in-stock levels) while traditional food retailers are still trying to figure out if there is a threat.

Online shopping: Mobile or laptop?

Online shopping is migrating rapidly from desktops and laptops to mobile devices. On RetailWire, panelists recently discussed this trend:

The answer to the question depends on which retailer you’re talking about. Amazon (for example) makes the process of buying directly from your smartphone app as simple as possible, so it’s easy to buy without having to reach for your laptop. On the other hand, some transactions are more complex (for example, the dishwasher we bought after Thanksgiving) and really benefit from a bigger keyboard and screen to “close the deal” — even if the initial searches happen on the smartphone screen. (At least that’s true for this troglodyte.)

Lesson learned for all e-commerce and omnichannel retailers: Follow the Amazon model where possible, and make the transaction as easy as you can — from search to selection to checkout. If more retailers follow this example, the smartphone share of wallet will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

Holiday 2017, in several observations

Starting with Black Friday, I’m stringing together a few comments on RetailWire about the holiday 2017 shopping season. By all estimates (and retailers’ reports), sales were better than expected considering the doom-and-gloom early in 2017 about the “death of brick and mortar” at the hands of Amazon. Here’s the thread:

1. Most of the anecdotal evidence and reports from retailers suggests that foot traffic was down, especially on Friday, but overall sales volume was good. This suggests that stores’ omnichannel strategies are working to drive total sales, instead of the “silo” effect of looking at e-commerce and brick-and-mortar as two separate businesses.

There is also a sense of higher discretionary spending, which will tend to benefit department stores along with off-pricers specializing in apparel. Early cold weather doesn’t hurt, either.

2. Several factors came into play, including low unemployment, the “wealth perception” of high stock prices, and a break on the weather that helped drive sales of seasonal goods. But I think there are two other key factors in this holiday season’s apparent success: First, the large number of store closings during the first half “cleared the deck” for those left standing to gain market share. And, even more important, most brick-and-mortar stores finally figured out how to leverage their own e-commerce business into a true “omnichannel” experience for their customers.

Value perception not tied to discounting

Retailers who assume that customers’ value perception is based on “Did I get the best price?” are making a strategic mistake. Here’s a recent RetailWire comment on the topic:

Whether “discount” is part of your brand DNA, “value” needs to be. But don’t confuse one with the other — customers’ value perceptions may not be shaped by whether your store has the lowest price. It’s really about whether they are paying a fair price (in their minds) for the goods and services received, so “lowest common denominator” is not always the right answer.

Once you make the distinction between value and discount, I do agree that “convenience” is a common thread across all kinds of retailers. But what constitutes convenience? For some stores, it might be a saturation approach to their location strategy (think Starbucks or Walgreens). For others, like Nordstrom with fewer locations, it might involve everything from free shipping to the 24/7 curbside pickup that they are testing this holiday season. The Amazon model doesn’t fit all circumstances, but Amazon has clearly raised shoppers’ expectations.

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 (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.