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STORY Needs (Digital) Work

STORY – a concept described as “narrative retail” –  opened in 36 physical Macy’s locations last week. Curiously, there was no digital opening.

Narrative retail presents a theme-based, curated assortment that is reinvigorated with a new story every two months. It is meant to generate traffic, enhance the Macy’s brand and produce a reasonable amount of sales.  STORY’s opening theme is COLOR – with products, displays and scheduled events all celebrating the hues of our lives.

We visited STORY at two Chicagoland locations – the downtown State Street Macy’s and at Woodfield Mall. Neither location matched the description or pictures we saw of the Herald Square location. But they weren’t bad. At Woodfield, Story displaced the Coach handbag assortment on a prominent pad near the escalators. Two sales associates were happy to speak with consumers, the navigation was clear and I learned about future events.  There were fun gift giving items to buy under $30.

STORY’s physical execution turned out alright.  But there is a huge hole in Macy’s STORY strategy.

1) The STORY assortment is neither presented nor shoppable as a collection on Macy’s desktop website, mobile site, or app.

2) Macy’s desktop and mobile site feature an introduction to STORY, but the app does not.

3) No result appears if a consumer searches for STORY on the mobile site or Macy’s app.

4) If a consumer searches for a key item from the concept – the Levi’s X Crayola jean jacket, for example – you can find it on Macy’s site – but the product page has no tie-back to the STORY concept.

5) If you look at Macy’s Instagram feed there is no mention of STORY – although there is #StoryatMacys

6) And at Woodfield, once the largest mall in America and still a powerhouse, there was no instagrammable location within the STORY pad.

Macy’s goal may be increased store traffic and brand awareness – but a digital-lite strategy will not have the impact Macy’s needs. Nearly 600 Macy’s stores will not have STORY shop-in-shops. The 36 that do will not look as good or have the impact that the execution in Herald Square presumably has. The instagrammable moments there look fun.

A strong digital strategy and investment including shoppable collections could introduce STORY to a much broader audience, drive purchase, drive visits to the store, drive add-on purchases during a BOPIS transaction, and ultimately have a greater impact on Macy’s.

We hope this move comes in the future.

This article first appeared in Forbes.


BrandBox and Neighborhood Goods – Is Everything Old New Again?

Neighborhood Goods – a re-invented department store concept – will open shortly in Plano, Texas.  The 14,000 square foot location will showcase a rotating portfolio of previously digital-only consumer brands, dining options and a community space. The concept describes itself as a department store with a story.  Alongside this news, property owner and manager Macerich announced a new concept opening at Tyson’s Corner – BrandBox.  BrandBox is a dedicated space in the A-level mall featuring a similar portfolio of emerging digitally native brands in their own mini-storefronts, built-out and operated by Macerich.  Short-term leases are provided to encourage a rotating selection of new brands.

Both are experiments in creating physical shopping spaces that entice the consumer to visit, making a set of promises to the shopper, brand, and property manager.

To the consumer:

  1. The space will deliver an ever-changing assortment of newness.
  2. The space will provide a reason to linger.

To the brand:

  1. The space will make it easy to test physical retail.

To the property manager:

  1. The space will be a millennial magnet, drawing the next generation’s spending power.
  2. The space will gather data on which brands and concepts are winning and will serve as a pipeline of future long-term tenants.

These aren’t the first attempts to deliver these promises.  A few other examples include: B8ta, the Kickstarter of the physical world (or a new Brookstone.);    IRL, a 2017 experiment orchestrated by the Lion’esque Group & GGP at Chicago’s Water Tower Place;  The Edit at Roosevelt Fields, a B8ta focused on more than consumer electronics;  and Macerich’s existing BrandExp, a short-term service available in many of their locations that you could describe as a physical Shopify.

Do these concepts work?

The rules that apply to all retailers apply here as well.  To succeed, these locations must deliver:

  • An attractive collection of brands and products
  • A well-merchandised store
  • A trained sales staff
  • A location that has the right type of traffic
  • An ongoing source of newness

In other words, these locations require the same skills that retailers must implement effectively everywhere.  Whether or not property managers can develop these skills will determine their success in the future.

By David Weiss


Insights from the Retail Robotics and AI Conference and the Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Summit. (Part 1)

“Data is the new oil” will be the “retail apocalypse” storyline of 2018. We will hear it – over, and over, and over again.

But unlike the apocalypse storyline – a shoulder-shrugging, sky-is-falling, backward glance at the past, data as oil is a forward-looking call to action.

In April, McMillanDoolittle sponsored Northwestern University’s and the Platt Retail Institute’s 2018 Retail Robotics and AI Conference. We followed that up by attending the 2018 Retail and Consumer Goods Analytics Summit. Combined with our strategic work in consumer insights, the internet of things, and immersive retail experiences, the conferences helped us coalesce some of our thoughts.

Our takeaway:

Retailers need a data strategy – how to capture it, how to use it, how to embed it within the culture of their organization. But more importantly, they need a retail strategy.

Clive Humby first coined “Data is the new oil” in 2006, after introducing retail to loyalty programs and data gathering with the Tesco Clubcard in 1993. A decade after data first became oil, Jack Ma described “New Retail” – including the linking of data from the digital to the physical world. Since then, Chinese companies have led the way in capturing and learning from data. After these companies, Amazon struggles to catch up (yes, we said struggles). And trailing Amazon, the remainder of US retailers wonder where to invest in data strategies.

The truth is that until there are massive disruptions that create access to and the interpretation of more and more data, “winning” on data alone is impossible if you aren’t an Alibaba or Amazon. That’s why data isn’t a strategy.

The winners in retail are, and will be, those that find the positioning that elevates them to the top of the consideration set. Today, data can refine that positioning to a level it never has before – this is the “quick-win” data opportunity. The “quick-win” incorporates new methods of capturing consumer insights, such as machine learning. It is an achievable and inexpensive step to fine tune your retail positioning utilizing new access to data. In turn, refining your positioning is the first step to developing your data strategy. More on that tomorrow.

By David Weiss


Brandless Pops Up in L.A.

I stopped into the Brandless Pop-Up store, which is open for two weeks on Melrose Avenue in Santa Monica, California. Brandless has been on my radar for some time now, and our office has even ordered some of the products.

Yet, I was strangely moved by my experience in the store (and not just because Brandless loaded me up with free snacks-well, maybe a little because of the free snacks).  Brandless is a San Francisco based start-up that has a web-based product offering built around the premise of offering high quality products without a “brand” mark-up. Every product on the web site is sold for $3 and brand “tax” is always calculated—what you would have paid had you ordered the brand product.

So, why was I so impressed by this effort?

  • Even though I knew the brand, I really didn’t know the brand. The store did a spectacular job of educating customers on why their products were different. Brandless emphasizes value and values, making the point that this is not generic product. In fact, Brandless has a very strong brand ethos.
  • Brandless carried a much more extensive line of products than I was aware of. The store featured a full table, as an example, of Vegan products, and another of Gluten Free and yet another of organics. The range was impressive and Brandless has broadened their reach into beauty products. Again, at a $3 price point.
  • There was some great educational signage in the store, Brandles explained FSC certification in paper, what EPA safer choice means and how they define Clean Beauty. While I’m sure that the website covers all of this in great detail, there is nothing quite like great displays and signage to underscore a point.
  • It had all the requisite features of a high energy pop-up. There was a workshop (streamed of course) on Vegan products. there was also a sample station, selfie area and a product taste testing zone. The store had energy and enthusiasm.

Why was all this so remarkable? Brandless is selling packaged goods, the boring stuff that generally gets no attention. If they can create this much energy around “commodity” products, imagine what they can do as they expand their lines further.

Don’t be fooled by the Brandless name. In fact, Brandless is well on their way to building a next generation brand.

The Sharper Image: Everything Old is New Again?

Children of the 80s and 90s will remember Sharper Image as that decade’s cutting-edge leader of gadgets. They may remember testing out high-end massage chairs in one of the 200 or so Sharper Image stores sprinkled at malls across America or owning one of the many iterations of their famous air purifier. And, they did this through catalogs as well, a pre-cursor to the omni channel retailers of today. Sharper Image closed all physical stores in 2008, but the brand is making a temporary physical comeback this holiday season with a pop up store at 4 Times Square and of course, as well as living on as a digital e-commerce site and wholesale products provider.

The mention of Sharper Image brings back a strong sense of nostalgia – the post-2008 generation will never experience killing time lounging in the store’s massage chairs or trying to smother their younger sibling with a memory foam pillow.

And, while a massage chair is indeed present at Sharper Image’s current-day pop-up, visitors are more likely to remember attempting to fly camera drones and racing the latest remote-control cars – or accidentally tripping a store employee with a robot dinosaur in “Attack” mode. The space has a warehouse feel, with the basement level devoted to a mini race-car track and high ceilings for visitors to attempt drone racing. Instead of devoting retail square footage to showcasing inventory and merchandise, Sharper Image’s Times Square pop-up is mostly an experiential space for visitors to test out products.

With the continued rise of alternative channels to browse and purchase holiday gifts, brands are turning to “experiential” and “showrooming” strategies to drive brand awareness and sales. Other casualties of the e-commerce and digital age, such as Toys R Us, have also flocked to Times Square for the holiday season, leveraging their brands to open temporary store fronts.

As traditional marketing strategies become less effective and as digital channels have filled with noise, sometimes the best solution can be as simple as creating a free space for people to play.

Sharper Image’s pop up store at 4 Times Square will be open through the middle of January.

Neil Stern for Forbes


The Second City Gets Its Big Apple

On Friday, Apple opened “the first in a new generation of Apple’s most significant worldwide retail locations” (Angela Ahrendts) on Chicago’s Riverwalk. Designed by London-based Foster & Partners, the exterior features a thin Macbook inspired roof, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that blur the line between inside and outside. This physical space—impressive even by Apple standards—connects North Michigan Avenue, Pioneer Court and the Chicago River. 

Apple’s latest in Chicago is a testament to the brand’s ability to re-think retail and remain adept at evolving the in-store experience to exceed the consumer’s fickle expectations. While many brick and mortar retailers struggle to move from points of commodity in favor of points of engagement, Apple makes it look easy. Registers, service desks and any other traditional store cues are replaced by spaces for people to gather and collaborate.

Although, the new space deemphasizes the point of transaction, it does not undervalue it. The store strategically merchandises both devices and accessories untethered, unboxed and with an implied invitation to touch. This clever approach gets their products in the hands of the consumer without an uncomfortable pressure to purchase.

And the company is placing a big bet that this strategy will pay off. at the opening of its first (now shuttered) location on Michigan Avenue. This team will offer the same white glove service that consumers have come to expect at other Apple stores, but it’ll go a step further by offering a limited run of courses through its first city-specific educational venture, “The Chicago Series,” developed in partnership with local creative organizations and non-profits.

Metaphysically, the store will serve as a community fixture. From a forum for hungry Apple aficionados to consume the latest tips & tricks to a meeting spot for a day on the town, this Apple store offers something for everyone…down on the river.