How TJ Maxx Defies Digital Gravity

The Wall Street Journal: “Traditional retailers are in crisis, damaged by rapidly shifting consumer tastes, technological change and cut-throat price competition. And then there’s TJX Co., which is defying gravity with the simple idea that under the right circumstances people still like to shop in stores … Central to TJX’s success are its merchants. The company employs more than 1,000 buyers who buy apparel and other goods from more than 18,000 suppliers around the world. Each buyer controls millions of dollars and has authority to cut deals on the spot, unlike most department stores, which can take weeks to review and approve orders.”

“Stores typically get deliveries several times a week. The schedule ensures a continuous stream of products to lure shoppers. And because TJX doesn’t purchase the full range of colors and styles, stores have one or two items in a particular color or size, giving customers an urgency to buy … Its stores have no walls between departments, so it can quickly reconfigure floor plans. Similar clothes from different labels can be found on the same rack.”

“One area where TJX trails other retailers is on the Internet … Some brands won’t let TJX sell their products online because they don’t want the items to be easily searchable at lower prices. For certain brands that allow online sales, shoppers have to click on items before they can see brand names. The restraints are similar to those in the physical world, where some companies do not allow TJX to advertise their brands. Advertising individual labels is not part of TJX’s marketing strategy.”

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Zero-Margins & The Future of Retail

Vox: “Competing with Amazon is terrifying for any incumbent business because the company’s executive team operates on a radical model whereby the company’s overall net income is nearly zero quarter after quarter … That’s an enormous problem for every grocery chain in America, which already operate on razor-thin margins … A Whole Foods under Amazon’s stewardship will almost certainly accept lower profit margins than it does as an independent chain — and that spells trouble for everyone else in the grocery business.”

“Whole Foods could deliver value to Amazon without necessarily delivering profits. The stores would create a useful additional channel for selling Kindles, Echoes, Fire TV boxes and other Amazon hardware. And by linking discounts to Amazon Prime membership, it could drive sales of those. More subtly but perhaps more importantly, encouraging Whole Foods shoppers to in some sense ‘log in’ with their Prime accounts would generate tons of new user data that could feed the larger Amazon beast.”

“The bottom line is there are lots of ways that a cheaper, but fundamentally similar, version of Whole Foods could contribute to the Amazon gestalt even while run as a zero-margin business.”

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Amazon Patents Shopper-Control Technology

The Washington Post: “Amazon was awarded a patent May 30 that could help it choke off a common issue faced by many physical stores: Customers’ use of smartphones to compare prices even as they walk around a shop. The phenomenon, often known as mobile ‘window shopping,’ has contributed to a worrisome decline for traditional retailers.”

“But Amazon now has the technology to prevent that type of behavior when customers enter any of its physical stores and log onto the WiFi networks there. Titled ‘Physical Store Online Shopping Control,’ Amazon’s patent describes a system that can identify a customer’s Internet traffic and sense when the smartphone user is trying to access a competitor’s website.”

“When that happens, Amazon may take one of several actions. It may block access to the competitor’s site, preventing customers from viewing comparable products from rivals. It might redirect the customer to Amazon’s own site or to other, Amazon-approved sites. It might notify an Amazon salesperson to approach the customer. Or it might send the customer’s smartphone a text message, coupon or other information designed to lure the person back into Amazon’s orbit.”

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New Realities of the Grocery Experience

The Wall Street Journal: “The challenges for grocers today include a new reality: The days of shoppers filling carts during a big weekly trip to their neighborhood supermarket appear over for now. Consumers are more targeted in their shopping habits. They are less loyal to retailers and more willing to buy groceries online. And they are buying more from stores at two poles: ones with cheap prices, and ones that offer high-quality fresh food, often at a premium.”

Natalie Kotlyar, a consultant, says shoppers expect “convenience, selection and the right price and they want it now. Everyone is trying to meld those concepts to create the perfect shopping experience.”

“Chains that don’t adapt quickly to the changes in consumer behavior and business dynamics won’t survive, say analysts, who, along with some supermarket executives, expect more consolidation in the coming years and predict more grocery stores will close. To compete with Amazon, Wal-Mart is offering curbside pickup and home delivery in test markets. Kroger is expanding its platform for customers to order groceries online and pick them up at the stores. It also said it has invested $3.8 billion in lowering its prices over the past decade.”

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Report: Best Buy To Trial ‘Test Drive’

Retail Dive: “Best Buy is trying harness something that’s already common practice among consumers — the concept of buying something to figure out if you really want it, knowing full well there is a decent chance you will eventually return it. It’s perhaps a cumbersome way to find out if a purchase is really worth making, but it has become a culturally acceptable method.”

“With a try-before-you-buy program, Best Buy is looking to divert that sort of activity, and convince a customer who normally would buy and return later to pay an additional fee to rent an item for several days to decide if they really want it. The retailer recognizes that such a fee might not be attractive on all products, and for now seems to be reserving it for a handful of bigger-ticket tech products.”

“The program could also help Best Buy capture a prospective customer’s attention earlier in the buying process while they are still researching a purchase. Amazon has done very well in making itself essentially a shopping search engine to be used by consumers in the earliest phases of their product hunts, and Best Buy may feel it can get in on that action by enticing customers to try products without a full commitment.”

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Hollar: The First Online Dollar Store

Fast Company: Hollar is “the first online dollar store … reimagining the physical stores as a digital discount haven where the majority of inventory costs $2 and nothing goes for more than $10. Tens of thousands of products are available, ranging from necessities to impulse buys … Hollar stocks brands you recognize (Huggies, Jergens, Febreze, Pop-Tarts) and ones you probably don’t (Zing, Num Noms, Bolis Ice Pops). Via the site and app, you can buy a $3 cellphone case alongside $1 dishwasher soap and $1.50 baby bibs.”

“Hollar experienced double-digit month-over-month sales in the last year and hit its first million-dollar month in April 2016, just five months after launch, with the average purchase totaling $30 … Hollar’s typical customer is female, a mom between the ages of 25-34. And, unlike the target client of most retail startups, she is not an affluent resident of the country’s coasts. She lives in suburban and rural areas, with a middle-to-low household income.”

“A similarity to Pinterest has proved appealing to millennial moms, who make up a full 85% of Hollar’s customers and are usually in the market for deals in the top categories of toys and home goods … There’s no question that the country’s widespread move to mobile has added to Hollar’s success. While one in five American households still doesn’t have a home computer, nearly all own a smartphone—and they do everything on it.”

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How Best Buy Engages Shoppers

The Wall Street Journal: “Best Buy, the electronics giant left for dead a few years ago, is bucking America’s retail slump by turning its cavernous stores from a potential drag on its business into a way to fend off Amazon.com Inc.”

“To fend off digital competition, Best Buy gave up efforts to charge consumers more in stores than online. It promised in 2013 to match online competitors’ prices and brought its prices in line with Amazon’s—a move that has paid dividends now that shoppers can instantly check prices on their smartphones … The price guarantee made a loyal shopper out of Anton Robinson, a 34-year-old lawyer in New York City. He buys his music equipment from Best Buy because he prefers to test products in person and doesn’t have to compare prices.”

“Best Buy also found a way to get more out of its giant stores. The company eliminated much of the floorspace once dedicated to DVDs and other media and has given it to brands such as Samsung, Verizon and Microsoft , which both pay rent and provide staff with expertise … Best Buy plans a nationwide rollout of in-home advisory services, in which consultants will visit consumers to field technology questions. Says CEO Hubert Joly: “Having these conversations in the home unlocks all sorts of discussions with the customers. There’s some needs that people never talk about in the stores.”

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Kishore Biyani: Quote of the Day

“One has to understand that at the end of the day, e-commerce is also a place where one is buying a product and a brand. In the long term, it’s all about who does it efficiently and what the customer prefers. Even after 20 years of e-commerce in the US, physical is 90% of retail. You can’t get out of physical. You have to use airports, roads, bridges—you can’t have digital or virtual transportation.” – Kishore Biyani, CEO of Future Group, one of India’s largest retailers, quote in Quartz.

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‘Amazon Charts’ Re-Define ‘Best Seller’

The New York Times: Amazon now tracks “not only the top-selling digital and print books on Amazon, but the ones that customers spend the most time reading … With its lists, Amazon aims to redefine the notion of a best seller, expanding it to include books that are ‘borrowed’ from its e-book subscription service, and ones that are streamed on Audible. As a result, the lists give increased visibility to books that might not typically appear on other best-seller lists.”

“All of Amazon’s acquisitions and new features are having a cumulative effect, allowing the company to draw on its vast customer base and troves of data to discover what is popular, and return that information to customers, creating a lucrative feedback loop … Crowdsourcing and data mining are also driving the company’s approach to its bookstores, which act as showcases for books popular with customers on the site. While the stores have traditional categories, like fiction, nonfiction and travel, the most eye-catching shelves feature categories culled from Amazon’s customer data.”

“The first thing customers see when they walk into the store is a large display table, labeled Highly Rated, which includes books with an average rating of 4.8 stars or higher on a scale of 5 … Another display case, labeled Page-Turners, features books that people finish reading on their Kindle in fewer than three days … Another section features the most ‘wished for’ books from Amazon’s website … The books are all displayed face out. Under each book is a card with the average customer rating, the number of reviews and a featured review from an Amazon reader. Displaying the full cover of each book mimics the visual look of Amazon’s website, and might lure customers to unfamiliar titles.”

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Google Eyes: Watch While You Shop

The Washington Post: “Google executives say they are using complex, patent-pending mathematical formulas to protect the privacy of consumers when they match a Google user with a shopper who makes a purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. The mathematical formulas convert people’s names and other personal information into anonymous strings of numbers.”

“The formulas make it impossible for Google to know the identity of the real-world shoppers, and for the retailers to know the identities of Google’s users, Google executives said. The companies know only that a match has been made. In addition, Google does not get a detailed description of the individual transactions, just the amount spent.”

“Google would not say how merchants had obtained consent from consumers to pass along their credit card information. In the past, both Google and Facebook have obtained purchase data for a more limited set of consumers who participate in loyalty programs. Consumers that participate in loyalty programs are more heavily tracked by retailers, and often give consent to share their data with third parties as a condition of signing up. (Not all consumers may realize they have given such consent, according to the digital privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation).”

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