I am tired of all the talk and am exhausted from doing the talking myself. Retail is tough these days, everyone knows it. There is a shift in the customer’s shopping behaviour and perceptions to be sure. But let’s not keep beating a dead horse.
It may not be business as usual but it still is business. People are shopping – it’s a natural and necessary phenomenon and usually a huge part of a woman’s means of entertainment (this is not a sexist comment rather a sad commentary on the 21st century male who still is averse to shopping for anything other than a big screen TV from Best Buy, a winch from Home Depot or fishing lures from Bass Pro Shops and they would do it all online if they could to avoid browsing the stores themselves).
But we have been talking about the economy for over 8 months now. It is time to act as retailers:
1) I am tired of talking about Gap’s recovery and how much cash they have: Do something bold and creative and re-invent that company! Tinkering with the Old Navy format is nice and may drive some comps (although they have probably lost a total of 50% of their volume from their peak by now so 5-10 comps aren’t bold enough to my mind). With $1.7 billion in cash, they could acquire or create something to revolutionize the retail industry. Continuing to talk about how well they have managed their expenses and cash does not cut it with the consumer. Gap brand has been an issue for over 5 years now. Old Navy seems irrelevant in the market right now with H and M and Uniqlo set to continue to eat their lunch. Banana Republic is the most surprising disappointment to me. It occupied a unique niche in the market and in these times, the brand should be excelling at playing up their position as the fashion alternative to expensive designer offerings and the anti-Neiman Marcus, if you will.
2) I am tired of talking about the woes of the Canadian department store business and what the future holds for these large consolidated national players. The Canadian department store business has shrunk considerably in the past 5-10 years. With new ownership (yet again) at The Bay / Zellers parent company, it is time for bold action. I don’t think going “upscale” to compete with Holt Renfrew at this time is the reinvention The Bay needs. It needs creative thinking about what each floor in their portfolio represents, who each floor targets and how to create excitement, energy and impulse buying. The Bay can become anything it wants as the name is that strong. An upscale fashion resource may not be the right overall message to reinvent the brand.
As for Zellers, it has been an enigma for so many years. Rumour after rumour about Target and others looking and passing on purchasing the company because of the onerous real estate issues regarding size and numbers of non-performing locations have all created a stasis in the business. Who does Zellers appeal to? How can it knock the socks off that customer and compete against Wal Mart at the same time? I would like to see some bold action taken and for Zellers to come out and stand for something other than “The Lowest Price is the Law” and “Everyday Value”. Apparel offerings may be a place to successfully compete with Wal Mart as they cannot seem to get that right. Everyone knows about the Zellers value proposition, thecustomer can get value in many places right now. What other type of “value” are you going to offer your customers aside from price?
3) I am tired of talking about expense cuts and layoffs and “belt tightening” and having Wall Street applaud companies for that. Firstly, in every business cycle, these are natural occurrences. Maybe the company was too fat to begin with. Anyway, my point is that there is never enough credit given to or talk about creativity and unique merchandising in the industry. I realize the current economic conditions but that is when, I believe, fresh merchandise that emanates value to the customer from the standpoint of being style right, colourful and that makes people stop and say “Im Lovin’ It” and entices others to ask them “Where Did You Get That?” People want to feel good about themselves, especially in these tougher times and those retailers that can constantly figure out what merchandise and/or experience helps them achieve that goal, will thrive. Look at Tesco or Buckle or Aeropostale or Family Dollar. They have adjusted to the times or have gained market share by standing out in terms of value, experience and offering.
It’s time to stop talking and start taking action to lure more customers back to your stores. To quote Elvis Presley:
A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
That’s the recipe for sustained retail excellence and performance no matter what the climate!