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Jennifer Marks

Is There a Merchandiser in the House?

After a full day of store work recently, I 'm distressed to report my overall impression: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Working our way from New Jersey's Newport Plaza up to Paramus, a colleague and I hit 17 stores: three Bed Bath & Beyonds, two LNTs, a JCPenney, Pier 1, Christmas Tree Shops, Target, Kohl's, Macy's, HomeGoods/Marshall's, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Costco, Restoration Hardware and Ruehl — an Abercrombie & Fitch concept store set up like a downtown club for the young and the hip.

No. 1 criticism: In most places, there's just too damn much stuff on the floor. If I were pushing a stroller I'd have trouble getting down the racetrack, not to mention navigating within departments. Speaking of which, I think the question of how much merchandise can be mashed onto a shelf has been answered already.

I don't know if it's an allocation problem, an inventory flow situation, or a matter of throwing too much of a good thing against the wall to see what sticks, but the over-assortment is overwhelming. If a retailer's job is to be — as Sam Walton asserted — the consumer's buying agent, the job ought to include editing as well.

Best merchandised store of the day: Macy's, followed by Target. Resto was also clean and well-merchandised, but honestly, if you've seen the catalog, you've seen the store. No surprises there. (I'm leaving out Ruehl because it's an apparel joint and a concept.)

At the boxes, assortments struck this shopper as too bland and too careful. Ditto the clubs, but they're not a destination for home textiles, so the prudence makes a bit of sense.

Busiest stores: Wal-Mart — though not so much in the home department — and Christmas Tree Shops. The latter is a true marvel, proof positive that the American appetite for cheap gewgaws is limitless. The home textiles are cheaper than cheap, but that seems to be the attraction.

Maybe in addition to being over-stored, we have too many of the big stores. A consumer who avidly seeks every possible sheet alternative can turn to the internet. (Google search on bed sheets = 3.2 million hits.) When she steps into a store, she just might prefer a point of view.

Does this create opportunity for the independent home retailer? Maybe, but it's hard to see how an operation of that sort that could profitably inhabit prime mall or strip-center real estate.

Still, the sameness surely opens a window for some bright person somewhere.

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