Tag: retailers

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Amazon Across America

My first reaction to Amazon buying Whole Foods is “Huh?” Few brands could be any more different. The online retailer is all about giving customers the most for the least amount spent, while the grocer is the pricey purview of the alt-organic lifestyle elite. No moment is better metaphor for Whole Foods’ clientele than the exchange I heard between a thirtysomething couple standing at the deli holding chicken luncheon meat. “Is it free range?” the women asked her husband. It had to be, or she wouldn’t buy. They argued. I silently chuckled: luncheon meat—not a bird! It’s all pressed meat, Honey. You do know that?

But from another perspective, and one transcending retail store presence, are other considerations, like brand affinity and buyer demographics. For the first, Amazon may be all about value, but in an increasingly middle-class and well-to-do demographic kind of way, particularly among city dwellers. Despite sharing similar cut-throat margin, expansive business philosophies with Walmart, Amazon doesn’t carry the same stigma among the socially conscious “better-thans”. For the second, who do you think plunks down 99 bucks a year for Prime membership or can’t wait for two-day free delivery or is too busy to go to the store to buy groceries? Without hard numbers to back the supposition, I’d bet there is lots of existing and potential regular shopper overlap among these customers and those who walk Whole Foods’ aisles. 

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The Ring Returns

Yesterday, I put on my wedding ring for the first time in 13 years. The saga starts in January 2004, in an incident described in missive: “Man on the Train“. I got poison ivy—in Winter, no less—after giving a homeless guy money while riding the DC Metro. That was the suspected scenario from my then doctor, now retired, Gabe Mirkin, a well-known fitness physician whose office was around the block from our house. Dr. Mirkin surmised that the homeless dude had residue on his hands and clothes from sleeping outdoors. Brrrr.

I closed the blogpost recounting the incident: “My left hand is so swollen, today I may ask a jeweler to cut off my wedding ring”. And I did, returning to White Flint Mall, where was the store from which my wife and I bought matching gold bands in 1989. The shop had closed, but another jeweler expertly performed a clean hackjob. Whoa, color returned to my finger! White Flint is gone now, BTW. The upscale mall was torn down in summer 2015. WTH? 

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How Did It Come to This?

Surely somewhere in the collapse of retailer American Apparel there is a metaphor appropriate for the policy platform put forth by Donald Trump. The President talks about bringing jobs back to the United States and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Ironically, with AA, we see the demise of an iconic, hip “Made in the USA” brand, with its remaining assets being sold to Canadian-based Gildan. What’s up with that? Eh?

The Featured Image, and the pic following below the fold, tells a different story: Recent remembrance of another American Apparel, which allure popped pop culture’s cherry, for coolness and sex-appeal. On May 8, 2010, the retailer’s San Diego store held a rummage sale that drew long lines that wrapped around the block such that the end overlapped the beginning. I captured the moment with the Sigma DP2s. What a change in 7 years—and not just for the one clothier. Last year, local company Sports Chalet went out of business, around the same time as national chain Sports Authority. The Limited is shuttering all its stores, and Macy’s nearly 70. Should we blame China or, hehe, Amazon

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Apple Store Then and Now

Fifteen years ago today, the first Apple Store opened at Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va. I was there, covering the event for CNET News. Four days earlier, then CEO Steve Jobs briefed journalists—bloggers, bwahaha, no—across the way at upper-scale Tysons Galleria. Most of us thought his scheme was kind of nuts, as did analysts, and news stories reflected the sentiment. Recession gripped the country and rival Gateway was in process of shuttering more than 400 retail shops. Timing was madness.

But companies that take big risks during economic downturns are most likely to reap rewards later. Retail would be Apple’s third walk across the tightrope during 2001. The others: iTunes (January); OS X (March); iPod (October). I’ve said before that these four are foundation for all the company’s successes that followed, including iPhone. But 15 years ago, battling the Wintel duopoly with less than 2 percent global PC market share, Jobs figuratively walked a tightrope across the Grand Canyon carrying original Macintoshes in each arm. 

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From Amazon’s Bookstore Risk Can Come Great Rewards

There is collective head-scratching across the InterWebs about a Wall Street Journal report that Amazon will open as many as 300, or even 400, stores selling books. The company’s massive success selling ebooks and the cost and selection advantages of warehousing their physical counterparts make the concept seem nonsensical. I contend that it’s brilliant.

Amazon is in process of expanding online services into the purview of local retail, which biggest competitive advantage is immediacy. In conjunction with the $99-per-year Prime program, the online retailer offers faster shipping; same day, and within hours, in some locales. The company increasingly contracts its own carriers, as well. Immediacy requires presence. What better location than a bookstore that also warehouses other goods and provides customer service operations? That’s all without considering the branding opportunities, which, as Apple Store demonstrates, can be huge. 

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#OptOutside is Brilliant Marketing

Well, Hell, I just spotted an email sent by REI three hours ago, and I am having a “Miracle on 34th Street” moment. It’s like Macy’s Santa sending customers to Gimbels. The outdoor clothier and gear retailer will close for the biggest shopping day of the year. While other sellers countdown to sales, REI ticks time until doors closed.

Marketing tagline: #OptOutside. And there is a website, to socially share and join the community going outdoors rather than inside the concrete jungle of rabid, frothing sales seekers. You know the breed. They’ll attack anyone and anything—no prey is too large—to save two bits on a dollar. They roam in vast herds of destruction across the retail prairies the day after Thanksgiving. They are vicious, vindictive creatures. REI is right to free employees from serving them, or customers encountering these beasts drawn to discounts like they were pheromones of heat. 

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What Next? Price Negotiations at Walmart Checkout?

One Geico Insurance commercial claims that “auctioneers make bad grocery clerks“. Strange if bidding is soon the norm in big-brand retail, but one-on-one. Today, Amazon announced something surprising: “Make Me an Offer“, where buyers can negotiate prices with sellers. I do not jest. Seriously. As if Amazon prices aren’t insanely low enough.

The web retailing giant claims 150,000 items in the program, which isn’t about auctions, since all negotiations are solely between buyer and seller. From my quick review, Amazon chooses wisely. The majority of items I see are those where pricing could be, perhaps should be, considered more arbitrary, like artwork, memorabilia, and other collectibles. 

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In the Waiting Line

Some things are just too weird for rational definition or explanation. Tonight, my daughter had the most unusual and upsetting experience while waiting in line at the local Old Navy.

We went to the store looking for blue jeans. My daughter, who is 12, said she needed a new pair. After trying on a few pairs, she picked out faded jeans. But tween angst led us out of the Old Navy to the Aeropstale, where she tried on a pair of size 00R. Size zero zero? They fit, but she decided on the Old Navy jeans. I gave her money to buy the pants, and we separated so that I could grab some cherry turnovers from the Arby’s.