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General guidelines

Less clutter. Shopping convenience. Easier shopping environments. Express checkouts, also known as central checkout counters and — gasp — shopping carts.

What radical concepts these are for general merchandise retailing. But finally some of the folks who used to lead the way are now beginning to follow the route of those who are eating their lunch — and breakfast and dinner too.

May and Federated are merely the most recent in a series of conventional department store retailers that emerged from their Rip Van Winkle sleeps to understand that retailing in the last two decades has changed — dramatically, and forever different from when they were king of the hill. Penney was the first to acknowledge this problem and Sears still is struggling with the challenge.

Let's talk about clutter for a minute. It has a lot to do with not letting a busy mother push the stroller through the aisles. It also has to do with more merchandise on the floors than many people could digest — and the difficulty that there is in making a purchase. In apparel, for example, the clutter and convenience issues also involves having to shop myriad departments to buy a pair of slacks or a blouse and not being able to try them all on at once.

What happened is that as humongous stores proliferated, they needed to be filled with stuff. And the stuff was added without real thought as to who needed what. Just fill the space according to the matrix.

Maybe we're now coming to a point where matrix buying is being infiltrated by the need for buyers to edit what is happening in the marketplace — to know what their customers need and want and to provide those products.

As for express checkouts — a.k.a. the way one leaves a Wal-Mart or Target or Kohl's — customers are generally making their selections on their own, and retailers have cut back dramatically on the number of qualified, knowledgeable sales people, so it's only logical to have this kind of exit from the store.

As for shopping carts, one can just imagine the logistical nightmare of having hundreds of carts vying for space in the miniscule elevators of a multi-level department store. The escalators certainly can't handle the traffic and where is the capital expenditure funding coming from for a conversion?

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