Amazon-Whole Foods Yields Instacart Boomlet

Forbes: “As the obits piled up, Apoorva Mehta couldn’t help but shake his head. It wasn’t his death that the press was heralding, but that of his startup, Instacart, a five-year-old grocery and retail delivery service valued at $3.4 billion. That morning in mid-June, Amazon stunned the world by announcing its purchase of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. As shares of grocery chains plunged, many in the tech press noted that few had more to lose than Instacart.”

Yes, but: “As Whole Foods executives broke the deal news to Mehta and Instacart’s chief business officer, Nilam Ganenthiran, in a 6 a.m. call, the two messaged each other with thumbs-up emojis. As if on cue, Mehta’s and Ganenthiran’s phones began ringing and lighting up with text messages shortly after–and they didn’t stop all day. It was execs from grocery chains, including some of the ones whose stocks were cratering, calling to talk business.”

“Within months, Costco announced that it was deepening its partnership with Instacart and would offer delivery directly from the Costco.com website. After discussions that spanned four years, grocery giant Kroger inked a deal for Instacart to deliver from its Ralphs subsidiary. Several smaller chains also signed up, bringing Instacart’s partner count to more than 165.” Mehta comments: “It really was like a thermonuclear bomb against the entire grocery industry.When we look back, that may have been a turning point for Instacart.”

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Lord & Taylor Sinks Its Flagship

The New York Times: “In selling its Italian Renaissance-style building to a WeWork joint venture for $850 million, Lord & Taylor and Hudson’s Bay are acknowledging that even the grand physical shopping spaces of old are now worth more as office space catering to millennials.”

“As Lord & Taylor struggles to find its footing in the e-commerce age, WeWork is capitalizing on the needs of the new economy. The company is offering flexibility and informality to a generation that is increasingly untethered to traditional offices. It allows workers like entrepreneurs or graphic designers to choose the size and style of the space they prefer, and to lease it for as long or short as they want.”

Hudson Bay executive chairman Richard Baker comments: “What we figured out is that, for the retail business, we could make our stores more interesting and younger.” WeWork, he added, “was looking for great locations that were convenient and fun.”

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Late & Great: Arthur Cinader

The New York Times: The late Arthur Cinader “decided to start J. Crew in the early 1980s while running the Popular Merchandise Company, a business, founded by his father in Rye, N.Y., that used a catalog to sell affordable clothing and home furnishings directly to consumers … The new venture took the word “crew” from the water sport and affixed a J in front because it was thought to be graphically appealing … Mr. Cinader empowered his daughter, Emily Scott, to conceive of the company’s aesthetic and oversee the design of its apparel while he focused on the financial side of the business and on marketing through the J. Crew catalog.”

“J. Crew opened its first store at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan, followed by stores in San Francisco, Chestnut Hill, Mass., and other places. The segue proved successful, and by the mid-’90s the company had several dozen stores collectively generating revenue in excess of $500 per square foot … The success of the company owed much to Mr. Cinader and Ms. Scott’s scrupulous focus on their target demographic: affluent, high-achieving people who wanted to signal a certain pedigree with their fashion choices, but not one so stuffy that they would think twice before associating with it.”

“Articles in the business press over the years have described J. Crew’s niche as one notch below Ralph Lauren and one notch above retailers like Gap or the Limited. While the company’s first catalog featured photographs from the Weld Boathouse at Harvard, J. Crew marketed itself to the man or woman who might have attended any college or university and simply wanted to evoke a hint of the Ivy League.”

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Amazon: A Bad ‘Hood For Luxury Brands?

The Wall Street Journal: “Amazon is courting companies across the retail spectrum, but one sector is still mostly holding out: the world’s club of luxury brands. Swatch and others in the luxury industry say Amazon’s online marketplace undermines the strict control they say is key to maintaining a sense of exclusivity—and keeping prices high. While some makers of luxury products have decided to join Amazon, many of the industry’s biggest players—including Swatch, Gucci owner Kering, luxury-watch maker Cie. Financière Richemont SA and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE —are staying away for now.”

“The absence of high-end products has hampered Amazon’s push to be a force in the fashion industry, despite years of working to expand the merchandise it sells officially though its website. Adding luxury goods would help Amazon boost margins and build loyalty among customers of Amazon Prime, its premium service favored by higher-income shoppers that offers faster delivery and other perks, according to former executives familiar with the company’s shopper base.”

“One of the biggest worries for these luxury companies: The difficulty of segregating their product listings from the rest of the goods sold through the site. That means a $5,000 suit from luxury Italian menswear company Brioni, a subsidiary of Kering, can appear next to a $200 suit from Kenneth Cole.” Jean Cailliau, executive adviser at Paris-based investment bank Bryan, Garnier & Co., comments: “That contradicts the essence of luxury selling and shopping, where the product is the product also because of its environment.”

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Starbucks Shutters Digital Store

The New York Times: “As customers increasingly shift their retail shopping toward e-commerce, Starbucks is bucking the trend: It shuttered its online store … Maggie Jantzen, a company spokeswoman, said that the decision to shut down the online store was part of a push to ‘simplify’ Starbucks’ sales channels … The company’s chief executive, Kevin Johnson, spoke on Starbucks’ most recent earnings call about a ‘seismic shift’ in retailing. To survive, he said, merchants need to create unique and immersive in-store experiences.”

Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz told investors last April: “Every retailer that is going to win in this new environment must become an experiential destination. Your product and services, for the most part, cannot be available online and cannot be available on Amazon.”

“Starbucks said it would continue to sell branded products like coffee through grocery stores and some online sites managed by its sales partners. But it broke the hearts of some fans by ending retail sales of a cult-favorite product line: flavored syrups. The mixes used to concoct drinks like the Pumpkin Spice Latte are generally not for sale in the company’s stores, but Starbucks stocked them on its website … On eBay, a jug of Starbucks pumpkin spice syrup could be had on Sunday for $100.”

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Disney Brings Its ‘World’ To Retail

The New York Times: “Quietly, like a mouse on tiptoe, Disney overhauled its retail store at the Northridge Fashion Center mall in late July. Out went the twisty Pixie Path aisles, the ornate displays, the green walls and the color-changing fiberglass trees. In came a movie-theater-size screen, a simplified floor plan, white walls and more items for fashion-conscious adults … the Disney Store here was a prototype, and the company has been monitoring sales and consumer feedback as it prepares to revamp its 340-store chain.”

“The redesign makes Disney’s stores a bit more like Disney’s theme parks. For instance, daily parades at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida will be streamed live to those colossal video screens. During the parades, store personnel will put out mats for shoppers to sit on and roll out souvenir carts stocked with cotton candy and light-up Mickey Mouse ears. The screens could easily be used to stream other events, such as red carpet arrivals for Disney movie premieres. That kind of programming could bolster foot traffic, and thus sales — while also turning the stores into a more potent promotional platform for Disney’s films, television shows and theme parks.”

“As it attempts a new mall strategy, Disney is also remaking its e-commerce operation. ShopDisney.com is replacing DisneyStore.com. The new site will have a less cluttered look and a vastly expanded assortment of designer merchandise aimed at adults (Mickey-themed Ethan Allen furniture and a $350 Siwy denim jacket with Minnie embellishments will be on offer). The site will also stock more items that previously were available only in stores inside Disney theme parks.”

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Retail Apocalypse: Fact or Fiction?

USA Today: “In 2017, U.S. retailers have opened, or plan to open, 1,326 more locations than they will be closing, according to IHL Group’s Debunking the Retail Apocalypse report, which was sponsored by several companies. When you add in restaurants, the increase jumps to 4,080 new openings in 2017 with another 5,050 planned in 2018. Or, to look at it another way, between chain stores and restaurants, 10,123 will close in 2017, but 14,239 will open.”

“To compile the study, IHL looked at over 1,800 retailers and restaurant chains with more than 50 U.S. locations across 10 retail vertical segments. It found that for every chain with a net closing of stores, 2.7 brick-and-mortar retailers would be posting a net gain in locations. The research firm also noted that if you add in retail chains smaller than 50 locations (including restaurants) the number of new openings in 2017 climbs to over 10,000.”

“It’s not a retail apocalypse, but how Americans shop is changing. The ease of online shopping means physical retailers need to be about more than the ability to put goods immediately into consumers’ hands. That does not mean that brick-and-mortar retail is dead or dying, it’s simply shaking out the winners and losers.”

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5 Ways Best Buy Beats Amazon

The New York Times: “Best Buy’s rebound has been surprisingly durable. Revenue figures have beaten Wall Street’s expectations in six of the last seven quarters … How do they do it?” Highlights from a conversation with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly: 1) Price. “Price-matching costs Best Buy real money, but it also gives customers a reason to stay in the store, and avoids handing business to competitors.” 2) Humanity. “The associates in our stores are much more engaged now, much more proficient,” Mr. Joly said.

3) Showcase & Ship. “Mr. Joly realized that with some minor changes, each of Best Buy’s 1,000-plus big-box stores could ship packages to customers, serving as a mini warehouse for its surrounding area … Best Buy also struck deals with large electronics companies like Samsung, Apple and Microsoft to feature their products in branded areas within the store. Now, rather than jamming these companies’ products next to one another on shelves, Best Buy allows them to set up their own dedicated kiosks … Even Amazon has set up kiosks in Best Buy stores to show off its voice-activated Alexa gadgets.”

4) Quiet Cuts. “Under Mr. Joly, Best Buy has used the scalpel as quietly as possible … he has never announced a huge, public round of layoffs, which can crater employee morale and create a sinking-ship vibe.” 5) Luck. “It’s lucky that the products it specializes in selling, like big-screen TVs and high-end audio equipment, are big-ticket items that many customers still feel uncomfortable buying sight unseen from a website. It’s lucky that several large competitors have gone out of business, shrinking its list of rivals. And it’s lucky that the vendors who make the products it sells, like Apple and Samsung, have kept churning out expensive blockbuster gadgets.”

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Stores as Experiences: Back to the Future

The Atlantic: “The funny thing about stores-as-experiences is that, even as a notion that is shaping retail’s future, it also represents a return to its past.” Tracey Deutsch, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, comments: “Apple might be interested to know that the first post-WWII malls often used similar rhetoric about public squares. Victor Gruen, who designed Southdale (the first indoor mall) and who really created the look for many of these shopping centers, saw himself as creating new public space.” Gruen based his vision on “the ancient Greek Agora.”

“In the 19th century, the creators of early department stores, too, were attuned to the experiences of shoppers, particularly the middle- and upper-class women they catered to. Deutsch notes that these stores had cafes and tea rooms in which customers could rest, along with plenty of attendants to help carry any purchases.”

“The journalist and historian Marc Levinson offered another historical precedent for experiential retail … the Great American Tea Company, which set up a coffee-roasting plant in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in 1865, aimed to dazzle people walking by with its sights and smells. (Levinson says the idea was inspired by the spectacle of P.T. Barnum’s nearby American Museum, which displayed live animals and freak shows.) Levinson comments: “A few years later, the company … played up its supposed connection with Chinese tea growers by painting its stores in vermillion and gold leaf, adding Chinese wall hangings and oriental lanterns, and turning the cashier’s station into a pagoda. Customers were meant to experience a bit of China as they bought their tea.”

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