TJ Maxx Defies E-Commerce Trends

The Washington Post: The success of TJ Maxx “offers some insight about what is — and isn’t — proving enticing to customers in the current shopping environment. For starters, TJX’s strength is evidence that the recent woes of traditional retailers can not simply be chalked up to the rise of online shopping. Marshalls has no e-commerce offering at all, nor does HomeGoods, another fast-growing TJX-owned chain … T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods offer hard-to-ignore evidence that customers are still plenty eager to shop in physical stores if the merchandise, price and service are on point.”

“The booming sales at TJX also underscore the extent to which shoppers generally are embracing off-price shopping, with its promise of name brands at low prices and a treasure hunt-like shopping experience … So far, TJX’s strategy is proving quite productive, with research firm eMarketer estimating that its stores generate about $309 in sales per square foot.”

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Cadillac House: The Car as a Retail Experience

Bloomberg: “Cadillac House is a coffee shop/retail boutique with an art gallery twist and even a bespoke scent … The 12,000-square-foot space is located on the ground floor of the company’s New York office and will open to the public on June 2 … the point of this new space is not to sell cars … No, this time Caddy has convinced some well-respected fashion-y names to make it more of a destination: Visionaire, the creative firm and magazine, will curate an exhibit at Cadillac House each quarter; the fashion brand Timo Weiland will sell clothing in a pop-up shop; 12.29, which scented shows for Rodarte and Lady Gaga, is concocting a signature ‘Cadillac’ fragrance for the room. New York’s Joe Coffee is providing the beans.”

“We have tried to tell people what you’re supposed to feel from the Cadillac brand,” said Melody Lee, who is Cadillac’s brand director. “But what we hadn’t quite fully established was an environment that you could walk into.”

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The ‘New’ Applebee’s: Hand-Cut & Wood-Fired

Business Insider: Applebee’s “is installing wood fire grills in all 2,000-plus locations across the US — a $40 million investment by the chain’s franchisees. The grills will completely change much of Applebee’s menu’s meal preparation, impacting 40% of items on the menu. It’s a major change that Applebee’s hopes will allow the chain to gain culinary credibility and stand out from the vast array of casual dining restaurants across the US, which have struggled to keep up in an era dominated by fresh fast casual chains.”

“You’re going to see it and hear it,” said Julia Stewart, the chairman and CEO of Applebee’s parent company DineEquity, Inc. “You’re going to literally smell it when you’re in the parking lot, and then you’re going to walk in and see it on the menu, and then you’re going to have a food server talk about it in a very excited way.”

“Beyond the grills, the chain is adding new items like hand-cut wood-fired steaks to the menu, training employees as meat-cutters, and remodeling locations across the US. It is also launching a $120 million marketing campaign, the largest in the company’s history, with a new creative agency.”

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Crowdsourced Insights: The New Focus Group

“Crowdsourcing is fast, cheap and scruffy, especially when you need to move quickly,” says Lee Mayer in The New York Times. Chris Hickens of UserTesting, which uses crowdsourcing to get at consumer insights comments: “Crowdsourcing has replaced focus groups. It’s faster and a lot cheaper. Innovation is going so fast that we need faster answers.”

“Josh Gustin, co-founder of the online men’s wear store Gustin in San Francisco, put his own twist on crowdsourcing. He was searching for a better way to sell his handmade wares, which include jeans from denim woven on vintage shuttle looms … The company’s new approach is simple, yet deeply cost-effective. A garment is designed and then posted on the site. If 100 people order it, for example, it goes into production. The result: zero inventory and zero waste.”

Gustin comments: “We suffered through the old retail model and the capital requirements. You can never guess right.” The efficiency realized via crowdsourced insights also enables him to “offer jeans once priced at more than $205 for $81, and a $200 Japanese cotton button-down shirt for $69.”

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365: Like A Playroom for Foodies

The New York Times: 365, “the much anticipated new grocery concept from Whole Foods Markets …feels like a sort of foodie playroom. Shelves, racks and refrigerated cases are splashed with bright primary colors and surrounded by exposed insulation and polished concrete floors. All the fixtures are low profile — the highest shelving rises just 72 inches. Electronic terminals are lined up, ready to accept orders.”

“Instead of a human sommelier, there’s Banquet, a wine app developed especially for 365 stores by Delectable. Want a bottle of special Frankies olive oil for $9.99? That’s a so-called green-and-gold product, the name for goods procured and sold exclusively at 365 and only temporarily available.”

The 365 stores will stock roughly 7,000 items, compared with 35,000 to 52,000 for a traditional Whole Foods. Meat is sold only in packages, lowering the cost of offering specialty cuts of meat served up by a butcher. The store will still sell a wide variety of organic produce, though its selection of conventional produce is wider … The 365-branded locations will have about 100 employees, compared with 250 to 500 in a traditional Whole Foods.”

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Shah & Shah: A ‘Speakeasy-Style’ Jewelry Store

The Washington Post: Colin Shah “has put his family’s jewelry trade in a time machine and turned it back to the speakeasy approach that great-grandfather Izzy used when he ran it in the 1930s. There is no storefront. No marketing. No signs. Shah & Shah boutique lies behind a door on the sixth floor of a downtown office building. You push a doorbell to get buzzed inside.”

“Most customers are referred, which means they come in more positive than fearful … A lot of hustle is involved. Word of mouth means socializing with clients, talking to people, attending parties. Last week, he held an open house with champagne and chocolates for Mother’s Day … Everything is a throwback to the days of personalized jewelry sales. The walls include black-and-white photos of the family’s shops from the past. There is a photo of a young Jack Benny.”

“Shah wants every touch to hint at elegance. He plops down a beautiful silver candy dish filled with Edward Marc dark-chocolate nonpareils. He follows with a bottle of Hildon water, which looks like glass artwork that might be for sale. Most of his business is in creating jewelry for the 2,500 customers on his client list … Shah did more than $2.3 million in sales last year … Profitability can run well into the middle six figures.”

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Lord & Taylor Is Coming Up Roses

Washington Post: Lord & Taylor “has ordered up a big roster of rose-emblazoned pieces, many of them exclusives from labels like Karl Lagerfeld Paris and Calvin Klein, that are meant to cater to the contemporary, trend-conscious shopper … In addition dresses and blouses, they’ve lined up offbeat items like rose-flavored gummy candies and rose-shaped temporary tattoos. And in some stores, the products will be featured in a shop-in-shop it calls The Birdcage.”

“It’s a major merchandising and marketing effort that executives hope will … telegraph a fresh, contemporary direction … without alienating the loyal shoppers who might fondly remember that the rose was a staple of Lord & Taylor marketing from 1946 until it was phased out over the last 20 years … The idea … to harken back to the company’s heritage … is a tactic retailers across all price points are turning to right now based on the belief that millennials will respond to this kind of storytelling.”

However, “the story of the rose may be so obscure and unfamiliar to young shoppers, it may be hard for them to even understand the collection as an ode to history and heritage.”

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The Gucci Experience Goes Up In Smoke

The New York Times: “On Java Road in Hong Kong, a new pair of brown leather Gucci loafers, lovingly wrapped in cellophane, hangs from a storefront — the deal of a lifetime at less than $3. Just not this lifetime. The shoes are paper replicas, meant to be burned as offerings to relatives who have died — a modern twist on an old Chinese custom … But the Gucci handbags and shoes that grandmother may have cooed over when she was among the living now appear to be out of her ethereal reach.”

“It seems Gucci’s zeal to protect its brand extends into the hereafter. Last week, its parent company … sent a letter to six local stores that sell the paper offerings, telling them to stop selling replicas of Gucci products because they were using its famous trademark.” However, a Hong Kong law professor “said Gucci would have a difficult time” making its case. “To successfully sue for trademark infringement … a company has to demonstrate that people confuse the cardboard replicas with real Gucci products, which is highly unlikely.”

“The shopkeepers lament what they see as the absurdity of it all. Their target market — the dead — does not appear to intersect with the well-heeled, or aspiring-to-be wealthy, living and breathing Gucci customers who frequent the outlet’s shops in Hong Kong, one of the company’s top markets. ‘Our customers are totally different,’ said one shopkeeper … ‘They burn these things to send to the spirits’ … Jing Zhang, fashion editor for The South China Morning Post, wrote: ‘The symbolism of a global, multibillion-dollar luxury company ‘warning’ perhaps some of the poorest retailers in the city over items that could not ever be taken for the real thing just seems a little bullying’.”

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There’s Nothing ‘Illegal’ About Retail Subscriptions

Bloomberg: “Adore Me is among a group of buzzy Internet retailers accused of sometimes placing customers into unwanted and hard-to-cancel retail subscriptions. Several of these companies have been hit with lawsuits alleging unfair business practices, including JustFab (apparel), Blue Apron (food delivery), and Birchbox (beauty samples). Adore Me is currently facing a lawsuit from a disgruntled subscriber.”

“There’s nothing illegal about retail subscriptions, of course, and many businesses with automatic renewals make the billing process crystal clear. Some services are transparent in their mission and describe themselves primarily as pay-each-month subscriptions, like razor seller Dollar Shave Club.”

“But weak and misleading disclosures are pervasive among subscription e-commerce businesses, says Francisca Allen, the deputy district attorney of California’s Santa Clara County. Allen pursued the JustFab and Stamps.com settlements, both of which included reforms to the companies’ websites. Consumers are losing tens or even hundreds of millions per year on unwanted automatic-renewal subscriptions, she says, and there’s not enough regulatory muscle to monitor and stop unfair practices.”

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Late & Great: Philip Kives

The Guardian: “The late Philip Kives is “hailed as having invented the infomercial, producing a live, five-minute TV ad for a Teflon non-stick frying pan … the format stood him in good stead when he diversified from homeware and into music in 1966 … At the time, the idea of a multi-artist compilation was a rarity, because record companies were not keen to have their artists on the same LP as artists signed to competitors.”

Few were the households in the 1970s that didn’t have some sort of K-tel release propped up beside the stereo in a manner that makes the supposed ubiquity of an act like Adele today pale in comparison … For Kives … music was just another product like the Patty Stacker, the Bottle Cutter, the Veg-o-Matic food cutter and the Miracle Brush … While artists might bristle at the idea of being sold in the same way as a tool for chopping vegetables or cleaning suede, for Kives it was still the boardwalk and he was gripped by the thrill of sell, sell, sell.”

“Today, marketing executives like to regard themselves as super-sophisticated, guiding what they do with endless data, market research and analysis; but they are still working on many of the same principles that Kives perfected half a century ago. Except he was arguably much closer to the audience, understood them better and respected them more.”

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