Carole Sloan -- Home Textiles Today, June 7, 2004
Looking over the retailing landscape, it appears that certain words are being used more and more frequently.
We've been through the "consumer-centric" phase, when many retailers realized they had been ignoring customers in a quest for internal corporate goals — to the point that business was suffering.
Today we seem to be full-bore into the "reinvent" mode. This is the period which has many of the retail giants of this country standing up and admitting that they hadn't been consumer-centric enough and now, as a result, they are in the position of reinventing themselves.
We're not talking about just a simple ongoing everyday appraisal of the shifts in the marketplace, that's basic retailing 101. This reinvention phase is virtually epidemic across all channels of retailing, from the top to the bottom in price.
We're talking about the lemming approach to retailing that resulted in aisles so crowded that everyone's target customer — the busy moms with kids and strollers — couldn't navigate them because they were packed with junk tables, fixtures and other obstacles.
An issue resulting from the rush to cover as much square footage with fixtures was the overstocking of the stores. Buyers bought to fill the fixtures rather than anticipate and edit for on-trend or trend-forward merchandise. It was an era when anything and everything was thrown at customers in the hope that something would sell.
Then there's the matter of timeliness — isn't that what retailing is supposed to be about? Senior executive after senior executive has admitted that one segment of its business or another was woefully behind competition, resulting in stale goods on the already crowded floors.
Then there was the marketing — if one could call coupon promotion marketing. No wonder senior marketing executives believed customers bought only by price. That's all they were being offered.
We're beginning to see the elimination of the overcrowding problem, which by its nature will eliminate much of the duplication of merchandise that has overwhelmed floors. Timeliness is still a challenge, more so because of offshore sourcing. Lots of efforts are being put into marketing, but whether these aesthetics will hold if business gets tough is a key question.
The subject of private bands versus national brands or no brands is an ongoing discussion for future columns.
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