Posts Tagged 'Dick Seesel'

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.

In praise of Amazon (again)

As the biggest “disrupter” in retail, Amazon is always a hot topic on RetailWire. Here’s a recent comment:

There may be more innovative retailers who are not as visible as Amazon, but it’s hard to think of a company with such scale that is less willing to rest on its laurels. I know that some panelists view Amazon’s push into new businesses and logistics methods as not much more than a well-oiled PR machine (see yesterday’s discussion of intimate apparel as an example). But it’s hard to deny that the company is anything but complacent when it comes to extending its reach and improving its execution promise.

The real test for Amazon will be its success in rolling out innovative brick-and-mortar retailing models. The bookstore and especially the C-store tests will be telling, because most other stores with “omnichannel” strategies have not succeeded in offering an innovative approach to the business of shopping.

And more thoughts from another post:

Amazon’s competitors have it all wrong if they think it’s all about low prices. (And this is the fundamental error behind Walmart’s “brand promise” over the years.) Amazon has always been focused on breadth of assortment and great execution. As the company has entered more categories (starting all the way back when when they were in the business of shipping books), it has never lost sight of these key competitive advantages. Customers’ expectations have been scrambled as a result, and everybody else (whether pure play e-commerce or omnichannel) is just trying to keep up.

“Voice assistants” riding a wave

Two recent RetailWire posts address the growth of Amazon and competing voice recognition devices — with Amazon’s Echo being the most popular:

Anything that makes the Amazon shopping experience even more seamless is a market share opportunity. As the panel discussed recently, it’s no wonder that several national retailers are aligning with Google’s voice assistant instead.

Retailers probably have their own opportunities to apply voice recognition technology to their own mobile apps. (Maybe this has already happened.) Voice activation seems to be the next “smart” thing, so it’s a win for whoever gets there fastest.

The second post concerns the national retailers who are aligning with Google, not Amazon:

If this works, it’s an opportunity for Google to play catch-up on the head start that Amazon has established with Echo, and to establish a stronger beachhead on the “device” front. But it’s also an opportunity — or attempt — for several retailers to marginalize Amazon’s e-commerce business that has eaten into their own market share.

JCP: Too early to declare victory

JCP’s CEO recently declared that its (slight) 2016 profit repreesented an historic turnaround. Most RetailWire panelists agreed with my contrary view:

It’s admirable that JCP has stopped bleeding cash but its net earnings in 2016 were just over $1 million (not the EBITDA number, which was higher). So it’s premature to declare an historic victory in light of store closings and soft sales. The slippage in gross margin in 2016 is another area of concern, because competition won’t be any easier in 2017.

With those reservations in mind, Mr. Ellison has had his eye on the ball ever since assuming the CEO chair and continues to focus on the right things — data science, expense controls, driving sales opportunities and weeding out unproductive locations.

Will Target’s latest reset work?

Target’s CEO announced last week that investors should expect tough 2017 returns as the company invests in stores and more competitive pricing. Here’s my recent comment from RetailWire:

Walmart was criticized a couple of years ago for investment spending on its stores because it was likely to put a dent into short-term results. But the long-term view for WMT is brighter because of this decision, and Target is aiming for the same kind of outcome.

But Target has some specific challenges ahead that a store revamp won’t fix on its own:

1. The longstanding conflict between “cheap” and “chic”: Target needs to be more price competitive but has built its brand promise on more aspirational goods;
2. The continuing lack of traction in the grocery business, especially to drive more frequent visits;
3. The head start on e-commerce (and omnichannel) that its biggest competitors already have;
4. The company’s longstanding inability to keep its shelves and pegs filled.

I can’t overstate the importance of the last point. A trip to Target where a third of the shopping list can’t be filled is a waste of time, no matter how compelling or competitive the merchandise might appear.

Two comments on omnichannel

Here are a couple of RetailWire posts on the subject of whether e-commerce is eating into brick-and-mortar retail. The first comment was published after stores reported year-end sales:

“Omnichannel” retailers like Macy’s, JCP and Target are still heavily dependent on their physical footprint. Each store reported rapid e-commerce growth (from 17% in Penney’s case to 30% at Target), yet each of them also reported total comparable-sales declines in the low single digits. So it’s clear that the combination of brick-and-mortar and omnichannel isn’t driving sales yet.

All of these stores and others have opportunities to improve their assortments, customer service and overall store experience. Omnichannel initiatives like BOPIS and “ship from store” have put even more strain on retailers’ ability to execute these “Retail 101” issues better. But until they do, their overall sales will continue stuck in neutral.

The second comment was published today:

“Cannibalization” may be the wrong term, because retailers with true omnichannel strategies need to think about how to grow the overall pie. Continuing to think about business silos (e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar) will stand in the way of a consistent overall approach to the business.

But there’s no doubt that brick-and-mortar is losing its relevance, as seen in the growing number of chains closing locations or throwing in the towel altogether. To go back to the question of how to grow the overall pie…why isn’t that happening? Why aren’t strategies like BOPIS (intended to drive traffic to stores) driving incremental sales?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, but I continue to believe that the operating demands of turning a physical store into a mini-distribution center are eroding the service-centric reasons why consumers shop in those stores in the first place.

“Cannibalization” may be the wrong term, because retailers with true omnichannel strategies need to think about how to grow the overall pie. Continuing to think about business silos (e-commerce vs. brick-and-mortar) will stand in the way of a consistent overall approach to the business.

But there’s no doubt that brick-and-mortar is losing its relevance, as seen in the growing number of chains closing locations or throwing in the towel altogether. To go back to the question of how to grow the overall pie…why isn’t that happening? Why aren’t strategies like BOPIS (intended to drive traffic to stores) driving incremental sales?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, but I continue to believe that the operating demands of turning a physical store into a mini-distribution center are eroding the service-centric reasons why consumers shop in those stores in the first place.

 

 

 

 

Department stores’ search for relevance

From a recent RetailWire blog post, I have some comments about the continuing struggles in the department store segment. Some of my concerns are based on the relevance of their merchandise content, and some are based on the “sameness” of the shopping experience:

There are two key “relevance” issues, especially pertaining to traditional department stores: First, are retailers using all of the technological tools at their disposal to enhance their brands? Are they leveraging today’s tools (mobile payment, RFID, and so forth) to improve customer service or simply to cut costs? And how has “omnichannel” (especially BOPIS) actually eroded the shopping experience? There is very little difference between shopping at Macy’s or Dillards today compared to 30 years ago, other than UPC scanning and more sophisticated POS terminals.

Second — and it always comes down to this — is merchandise content. I’ve shopped a lot of traditional department stores over the last few weeks, and I’m struck by how much inventory and square footage continues to be devoted to dressy career apparel for men and women. This may be the retailers’ sweet spot (as they see it), but the lack of adaptation to change is concerning. Do these stores not recognize that Boomers are retiring — and leaving the workforce — in droves? Do they not see that most Millennials are working in more casual environments and are shopping elsewhere for their wardrobe needs? (Add to this the slow reaction to the movement toward activewear-as-sportswear.)

Sometimes achieving “relevance” costs money — whether through new tech tools, more payroll or a fresh coat of paint. But mostly it’s about the products, brands and trends that stores choose to put forward.