Amazon: ‘Subscribe & Save’ or ‘Bait & Switch’?

The New York Times: What do subscriptions to a newspaper, magazine or Netflix account have in common? Once you sign up, you expect to pay the same rate every month. Yet that’s not the case at Amazon when you subscribe to its Subscribe & Save program, which automatically refills orders for household staples like instant coffee, napkins or trash bags.”

“Buried in the e-commerce company’s terms and conditions is that the Subscribe & Save discount is applied to the price of the item at the time that the order is placed. And on Amazon, prices change frequently — including sometimes rising.”

“In Amazon’s online forums, dozens of people posted about prices of Subscribe & Save items fluctuating, with some calling the program a ‘bait and switch’ subscription scheme. Amazon declined to comment. The company emails people 10 days before a recurring subscription delivery, when it informs customers of a new price of their item so they can change or skip the order. Any sticker shock, analysts said, may be the result of Amazon’s complex pricing system coming into conflict with consumer expectations of a traditional subscription.”

“Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst for Forrester Research who follows Amazon, said the retailer was probably pushing prices up to test how loyal customers are to products and how much more they are willing to pay for them. Yet the sharp price changes on Subscribe & Save items caught her by surprise.” She comments: “It doesn’t seem as customer-friendly as Amazon typically is. That’s what’s unusual.”

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Home Depot: Stores Are Fulfilling

The Wall Street Journal: “About 42% of Home Depot’s online orders and almost 90% of its online returns for the second quarter were handled by its stores, executives said this week as they announced a 9.3% increase in net profit to $2.4 billion, on a 6.6% increase in revenue.”

“Many in the retail industry believe fulfilling online orders from physical stores can be provide store owners an advantage over online competitors like Amazon.com Inc., allowing brick-and-mortar shops to serve as both showrooms and well-located mini-distribution centers.”

“Home Depot says it is aided in part by its existing delivery service, which previously only served in-store customers, and its investment into new order management software. Online purchases can now be delivered from more than 700 stores, faster and with shorter scheduled-delivery windows than previously possible.”

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Pop-Up Shops Help Malls Compete

The Wall Street Journal: “Mall landlords are turning to short-term retailers known as ‘pop-up stores’ to attract shoppers and boost revenue as department stores and other tenants struggle to combat the growth of online commerce … Pop-up stores that introduce local brands, perform demos and offer shoppers an elite selection of products or allow them to interact directly with designers can help drive traffic to other tenants.”

“One big potential category: online retailers that don’t yet have a substantial bricks-and-mortar presence … For other retailers, a temporary space is also a way for established brands to offer new services. Auto maker Audi AG introduced Audi on demand in a San Francisco pop-up store. The service lets customers book Audi coupes, sedans, SUVs and convertibles by the day and have them delivered within the city limits.”

“In Westfield San Francisco Centre, the owner set apart the entire fourth level for pop-up shops, events and co-working space. The mall, which houses Bloomingdale’s and retailers such as Burberry and Kate Spade, said this ‘Bespoke’ project had seen success at appealing to shoppers seeking alternative experiences at malls and businesses looking to test to their prototypes.”

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Home Depot: Retail ‘Oasis’ Against Amazon

The Wall Street Journal: “Do-it-yourself chains Home Depot Inc. and Lowe’s Cos. appear to have built a retail oasis mostly walled off from the reach of online behemoth Amazon.com … Executives from the home improvement chains cite a litany of favorable housing trends for their good fortunes. New households are being formed and housing turnover remains steady. Millennials are even willing to buy homes … All that spurs trips to large chains to pick out appliances and paint colors, and plan projects around the home.”

“But the e-commerce giant doesn’t have a toehold in large parts of the home improvement space, like lumber, paint and gardening supplies. Home Depot says just 25% of its business—smaller, easy-to-ship items like power drills and small hand tools—faces tough online competition.”

“That doesn’t mean either chain is immune to Amazon. A UBS survey in June found that 11% of consumers planning a home improvement project themselves planned to buy something from Amazon. That is far behind the 36% who said they planned to shop at Home Depot and the 21% at Lowe’s, but up from just 7% a few months back.”

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Michaels: The Art & Craft of The Retail Experience

“We’re not Apple. We don’t make the new iPhone that people will line up in advance for. We need products that people want in an environment they want to shop in,” says Chuck Rubin, CEO of Michaels, in Forbes.

“Michaels is one of the most surprising retail successes of recent years. It has stuck to transforming its brick-and-mortar stores while almost completely ignoring e-commerce … While the company’s core hasn’t changed–it sells cheap craft supplies–Rubin has modified its stores to make it easier for novice crafters to find items. They’re bringing in more of those types of customers by moving beyond sewing-room basics, adding cooler items, like those coloring books, and Michaels-exclusive products, such as Isaac Mizrahi-branded yarn.”

“The most striking part of Michaels’ success is how it contradicts the digital era’s implied mandate for retailers–that survival hinges on selling online. But Michaels hasn’t wasted millions competing with Amazon.com on e-commerce. It’s grown while focusing squarely on improving what’s within its stores’ four walls … The Web remains a no-man’s-land for Michaels … Rubin knows all that stands between Michaels and Bezos is the in-store experience.”

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Luxury: It’s Not What It Used To Be

USA Today: “People around the world who usually flock to luxury goods are worried about events that threaten global stability including terrorism fears, the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union and China’s slowdown. At the same time, luxury retailers are losing share to online sellers, the same issue bedeviling mainstream store chains. They’re also suffering at the hands of discounters and fast-fashion luxury lookalikes.”

Milton Pedraza, CEO of The Luxury Institute, comments: “The story with luxury is it’s just not as a exclusive and it doesn’t justify the price like it used to. Too many of them are discounting and there’s not enough consumer demand.”

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Cadillac House: Not Your Father’s Dealership

The Verge: “The next stage in transforming Cadillac is to bring its 925 dealers up to snuff. That’s where the Cadillac House comes into play, a chic public space where anyone can drop by and steep in the brand’s past, present, and future. Each detail of the facility has been carefully considered — it sells Joe Coffee (a local favorite), offers free Wi-Fi, stages art installations … it hosted a block party bash featuring a short set by My Morning Jacket. The Cadillac House has a few cars on view, but it’s not a car dealership. Discreet product specialists are trained to answer questions about features on new models like the CT6.”

Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen comments: “Our office, the Cadillac House, this is what our dealer experience should be like. Our focus here must be on increasing the overall quality of the business. It must be about increasing transaction prices. It must be about brand positioning and upgrading quality of the dealer and doing so in a way that we continue to build the relationship between Cadillac the manufacturer and our dealer network. We have to navigate a very difficult path.”

He adds: “It’s really those small dealers that we want to turn into powerhouses. We want to create a boutique experience, separate from the rest of the GM brand, and we want to help our dealers.”

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Project Sync: Home Depot Streamlines Shelves

The Wall Street Journal: “Instead of filling its warehouse-style racks to the ceiling with Makita drills, rolls of Owens Corning insulation and cans of Rust-Oleum paint, Home Depot wants fewer items on its shelves and it wants them to be within customers’ reach … It is a shift happening across the retail sector as companies try to figure out ways to profitably serve the growing needs of online shoppers while making their network of stores less of a financial burden.”

Home Depot has “instituted ‘Project Sync,’ a series of changes that include developing a steadier flow of deliveries from suppliers into its network of 18 sorting centers … When the shipments get to stores, workers move them right to the lower shelves, eliminating the need to store and retrieve products from upper shelves using ladders and forklifts … Savings can be used to have more workers on the floor or finding orders for shoppers who are picking them up.”

“This also keeps stock from collecting dust out of reach. ‘You would stack it high,’ says Jessica Thibodeaux, manager of a Home Depot just outside Houston, ‘but it wouldn’t fly’.”

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Indie Bookstores: Something Better Than Amazon

The New York Times: “The pronounced stock shortage inside the Librairie des Puf … is not the result of an ordering mistake, but the heart of the shop’s business model. There are books, but they are not delivered in advance from wholesalers. They are printed on request, before the customer’s very eyes, on an Espresso Book Machine … It is a radical reinvention of a store that first opened its doors in 1921.”

“Independent bookstores … are beginning to carve a path out of their business’s decade of decline. ‘It’s an industry which is very much starting to rebound,’ said Nick Brackenbury, one of the founders of NearSt,” which “aims to help local shops adapt to the needs of the modern customers by making local shop inventories ‘shoppable’ from a smartphone, allowing customers to search for titles, find local stores that sell them and see routes there.”

“We just want local stores to be able to offer customers something which is just better than Amazon,” Mr. Brackenbury said.

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