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Retail Market Brand Study. A Failing Market

March 16, 2023

Retail market study. An in-depth look at retail brands

Retail Market Study Update
The retail market continues its nosedive. Data demonstrates that the consumer market is punishing the sector with reductions marketing retail marketing spending. The retail market decision-makers continue to hold on to the outdated model. Thinking that merchandising and SALES will change consumer behavior is not marketing beyond cliché.

The best positioned for change are privately held brands. They have more patient capital because they hold a long view. Public companies are the last to adapt. Yet, the management claims to serve the shareholder. Consumer behavior has changed permanently. And only those who adapt will survive. This is a leadership issue. No solutions arise with old tactics and strategies. Written by Tom Dougherty, CEO and Founder of Stealing Share and a frequent contributor to Retail Wire (a member of Retail Wire’s BrainTrust).


The Retail Market Study
This retail market study will look at the retail market as it stands today and the art of retail branding. We will look at the competitive positioning, brand promises, segmentation strategies, and the influx of online retailing. More importantly, we look at trends. Where is the marketing retail heading?

Let’s begin by looking back because we can learn from it.


History of Retail Branding
Today, retail is changing. The current competitive set is under fierce competition from new and emerging venues. Yesterday’s winners may be losers today as the brands seek importance and place in the shifting sands of retail expression.


The retail market space
This dynamic of change is not a new occurrence in retail. Like the ancient city of Pompeii and the modern city of Napoli, retailers live next to a snoozing volcano of transformation. This volcanic giant erupts at historical intervals, and its pyroclastic flow and unstoppable sea of lava change the landscape in the flash of the eye. It leaves former populations stranded, frozen in time, and builds new terrains for the lucky survivors.


Populations centered within metropolitan areas. People did not live in the suburbs, and rural residents made their way to nearby cities when they needed to make a purchase. Retail market. Marketing retail today. Back then, required clothing was unavailable in the general store. Those residents of cities and metropolitan areas shopped in retail districts, often defined by the type of product that was available.

There were streets and avenues that were known colloquially as the shoe district, milliner district, haberdashers, and others.

Marketing retail mirrored this.


The modern retail market
Like the advent of supermarkets in food retailing, where grocers brought the various storefronts together under one roof (i.e. greengrocer and butcher shop), convenience drove the birth of the department store. These eponymous mega-stores brought the shingles of merchants together in one place. Suddenly, it was possible to shop for hats, shoes, dresses, and outerwear all in one place. The lucky city shopper saved time as well. And sampled all the finest and utilitarian goods available.

This form of retail marketing was a global phenomenon. In Britain, Kendals, Harrods, Selfridge, Baimbridge, and others took hold. As the space moved towards this powerful market economy, department stores arrived all over the European continent. Le Bon Marché, Karstadt, Magasin, and countless others — each representing the needs of the local population. In the US, retail giants took root, and Gimbels, Macy’s, John Wanamaker, Lit Brothers, Strawbridge and Clothier, Lord & Taylor, Marshal Fields, Frederick, and Nelson began. Many never morphed into chain stores.

Marble Palace, in New York, was one of the first department stores.


Department stores move into every major city
As the population shifted to the suburbs in the 1940s and 50s, these large department stores opened chain stores in larger markets. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward were the equivalents of Amazon today. They allowed for home shopping from catalogs for the most rural customers because it was a department store in a book.

These not only brought all the departments under one roof, but their more efficient buying power also enabled them to offer pricing that put additional pressure on small specialty retailers.


The result?
As a result, cities all over the globe saw more independent specialty stores shutter their windows and close. The department store appeared to be an irresistible source. Eventually, it seemed that every major city had a string of independent department stores. Check out the listing for now-defunct department stores on Wikipedia, for example.

The brands’ number into the hundreds. About 20-30 years ago, there was a great consolidation of brands as holding companies like Mays and Federated swallowed up local stores. There was a consolidation of brand names. marketing retail changed. Eventually, great legacy stores like Hecht’s, Wannamaker’s, Strawbridge, Bamberger’s, and others went the way of the Studebaker and either closed or became branded as one of the winners — like Macy’s.


Introduction of the discount store
The first challenge in department store dominance was from the value institutions. Two Guys, EJ Korvettes, WT Grants, Kresge, Kress, Woolworths Kmart, Clover, Aimes, Bradlees, Jamesway, McCrory, and others appeared. They siphoned off the value shoppers from the major mainline department stores. Those stores today are still here.

They are Target, Walmart, and Kmart. (Well, Kmart is kinda alive.)


Shopping as entertainment
In the traditional department store model, retailers counted on the efficiency of a one-stop shopping experience. But they also quickly understood shopping as a recreational experience. Put simply; they accepted that shopping was for fun as well as utility. What these stores were doing was selling an experience. Retail marketing would never be the same.

Lavish first floors, escalators, elevators, balconies, and marble and imported features, raised the experience to the level of theatre.


Clearance items as a defense
From the siege of discount department stores mentioned earlier, the main line department stores learned the value of loss leaders and clearance sales.
Part of the entertainment value was certainly the thrill of the hunt. The department stores heads quickly learned that, at certain price points, even the most experienced shopper was willing to buy something they did not really need.

Why? Because the price was simply too good to pass up. Today, in the retail market world, new pressures have arrived. Specialty stores are on the rise again because shoppers are looking for the unique and unusual. And that’s not even taking into account the rising dominance of Amazon, which we’ll get to later.


Retail Market Expansion
Population centers have expanded, and almost every community can support a mall (that is, a centralized design predicated upon the idea that a city shopping experience could be brought to any community) and a discount retailer like Walmart, Kmart, and Target. But margins have eroded, discounting has become the norm, shoppers are savvier, and the availability of online purchasing can fulfill the needs of the shopper. Therefore, even malls are dying.


The thrill of the hunt can reside on your tablet or phone. When the shopper visits the department store, they are aware of pricing and compare it to an online venue or a competitor’s website live — even while in the store itself. It is within this cobbled environment that we begin our retail market study.

What does the future hold? How can any retail environment survive when most retailers are simply copying one another? At the end of the day, is price, discounting, and over-saturating the market the only game necessary to play? Are the department store websites eating their own young?
These are just some of the many questions we will be contemplating through the course of this study.


A snapshot of the retail market
As we’ve explained, the retail industry is amuck. Changes are afoot that retailers are having difficulty dealing with. We’ve seen Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, Office Depot, Sears, Staples, and Toys “R” Us close locations for a variety of reasons. The entire retail market is so vast; we are going to concentrate on the apparel market. But even the apparel market sees retailers close locations, with J.C. Penney closing 33 stores and Abercrombie & Fitch closing 180 stores recently.

Like their retail brethren, apparel retailers are in this pinch because they lack differentiation. And outdated business models.


To begin, let’s map out how the positions in the retail market itself. In the graphic below, you see the luxury retail markets (the Bergdorf Goodman and Von Maur’s of the world) existing on the top. This high-end section can blur into our middle-tiered players (department and specialty stores: Belk, Macy’s, and GAP, for instance).

The middle-tiered players blend into the value and discount retail providers (such as Walmart and TJ Maxx).


A detailed strategic chart of the retail market 
Are the shoppers different? The shoppers at Bergdorf Goodman would rarely go into Walmart, and vice versa. In this paradigm, and because of their polar positions, luxury retailers and discount stores already come with a built-in audience.

Those shoppers seeking exclusivity for the privileged and top designer fashion will frequent the high-end markets, while those seeking value will hit the discount shop.


Look closer

For example, Bergdorf Goodman offers a uniquely exquisite shopping experience. The store is uncluttered and displays recognizable products for the upper class. In this region, they readily define the shopper. Additionally, Bergdorf Goodman shoppers are willing to spend major bucks on the finest brands quite happily.

High-end stores represent a vision of either how they see themselves (elite) or how they aspire to see themselves.


The bottom feeders
The lowest sector of our retail market segment represents discount and value markets. It, like the luxury sector, also has a built-in set of loyal customers. Represented here are those seeking value, perhaps quantity, and locations close to home. (They, also like the high-end shopper, may see themselves as smarter than the rest.)


Walmart rules this portion of the market. The customer knows exactly what they will find at Walmart and approximately retail market how much they’ll spend. Because of that, they can plan accordingly with their wallets. (That’s why they see themselves as smart.) Same too with TJ Maxx, which offers fashionable brands at discounted prices, as well as Target and others positioned in this section. This then leaves the largest portion of the retail market in and around the middle.

Here we find department and specialty stores lurking about. But they lack any real defining factors that separate them from the other contenders – including those above and below them in this matrix.


The mess of what is happening in the retail market: Department Stores
In this realm, the department store aims to steal market share from both the luxury and discount category. The lunacy. The only way these stores can gain market share is by way of discounting merchandise and building store locations nearby. That’s all.


Belk just rebranded. In this case, it means just a different logo. That’s not true rebranding because it hasn’t become something new. They added a brand theme line. A good thing. But big deal. Belk’s main problem is differentiation. They are indeed in the SOUTH. But so are other department stores. Side-by-side in a mall is not different.

The store itself is the same as others. No difference in flow, product, or character. Belk has room to expand within the brand promise if it truly embrace that idea. What’s truly southern about Belk?


Let’s take Dillard’s, for instance. When this department store comes to mind, we might think: “a bit upscale.” Maybe something like a Bon-Ton, but a little bit nicer. While that’s the thought, the message it advertises is quite murky. Dillard’s is marketing retail with a preposterous mix of high fashion infused with heavy discounting and sales.

Basically, it is trying to be both luxury and discount. In that case, if you prefer luxury, you ignore Dillard’s because the luxury stores are right there next to it. If you prefer a discount, you ignore Dillard’s because the discount stores are right there too. When you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being for nobody. You are undefined.


What does this mean?
What this tells us is that Dillard’s (like any other department store that faces the same dilemma in the retail market) hasn’t found any singular means to identify itself, so it copies and hopes to steal a few customers from the high-end and low-end shops.


It offers high-end fashion to snag shoppers who may frequent the luxury stores, but are attracted to Macy’s blowout sales of the discount category.
That’s old retail tactics. Look at this Macy’s commercial from spring 2017. All it demonstrates is that Macy’s has no new ideas.


JC Penney
How about JC Penney as another example? Like Dillard’s, at JC’s, we find some major brand names. All are offered for the shopper seeking a big sale.
Our problem again is the need for the department store to pull from the luxury and value segment. When JC Penney hired Ron Johnson a few years, it sensed the terrible trap it found itself in.

Johnson, the former retail chief for Apple, decided JC Penney was no longer going to offer discounted items. He, based on his experience at Apple, wanted to build a brand that shoppers sought out – even if they could get those items cheaper elsewhere. With less than two years on the job, the JC Penney Board of Directors fired Johnson. The company lost $4.3 billion in sales and dropped 28.4% in holiday sales.


The JC Penney experiment failed
The problem JCPenney and Johnson faced is the same problem department stores are facing. They are playing in the middle of the retail market. As a result, marketing retail lacks any kind of credible, singular identity. To gain that identity, and steal share, these middle-tier retailers must become owners of a tangible concept. On a macro level, luxury and discount do this with experience and value. But on a micro level, nobody but Walmart really owns cheap.

To break away from the set and highlight yourself as being different and better, each player within each segment must become known for something that is uniquely it’s own. In simple terms, you must be known for something. Right now, the stores playing in the middle – trying to have a foot in one end and the other – are known for nothing.

The high-end and discount stores (not to mention online outlets like Amazon) are pulling customers from them. Therefore, JCPenney continues to struggle. It is playing a game in which other areas of the retail spectrum serve better. JC Penney and those like it need to change its brand and business model.


Discount Stores
Walmart and then everyone else.

When we consider the abyss of discount stores in the retail market, we can basically see one big winner and a whole lot of second-rate copycats.
Here’s the gist of the problem with the category.

Walmart has taken claim of a unique position and isn’t moving anywhere. It owns affordability and has become the destination for the shopper who wants it all under one roof — at a fraction of the cost. Brands like Target (Read why Target needs repositioning) try so hard to be like Walmart that they even sound like a low-cost retailer. Take Target’s theme, “Expect more. Pay less.” and Walmart’s, “Save money. Live Better.”

If we are to draw a line in the sand, the leader (Walmart) is always going to be the winner. It is the consumer’s default choice. How is Target going to beat the competition if it is just copying what the competition does? From the inside-out perspective of the stores themselves, the difference between Target and Walmart is simple.

Walmart brands for everyman, while Target attempts to pinpoint an audience a bit younger, more educated, hip, and affluent. We’re here to tell you it isn’t working.


Target is just doing what Walmart has done. There isn’t any mark of differentiation between the two. For example, you can find both products at Apple. Food, and clothing, too.

So, how will Target ever win if it is doing the exact same thing the market leader is doing? It won’t. In the race to attract the discount shopper, copying the market leader always leads to second place or worse. That’s because when the reasons to choose are the same, the default choice is always the market leader.

Meanwhile, way, way off in the distance from successful Walmart and semi-successful Target is Kmart.


In 2005, Sears Holding Company took on Kmart. Following that came a series of failures: losing the Martha Stewart Living line in 2009 following comments made by a Stewart Retail market study Kmartthat Kmart had “deteriorated” since merging with Sears (funny thing: she was right). Several years later, after dismal holiday sales, 100 Sears/Kmart stores closed.

Failure came to Kmart.

It is a result of the promising exclusivity of its product line. As an idea, that seemed right. But not when the market identifies the Kmart brand as downscale. In some ways, this is about brand permission. When Kmart had an exclusive with the Martha Stewart line, the Martha Stewart brand suffered – meaning the exclusivity of it became meaningless.

It is the Kmart brand itself that hampers sales, not what it offers. (Kmart has yet to learn that. Now it trots out the Adam Levine line.) No celebrity line will work until Kmart fixes its own brand. It is in need of brand repair.


TJ Maxx, Stein Mart, and their shortcomings
The T.J. Maxx and Marshalls brands, owned by the TJX Company, appeal to shoppers seeking to save big bucks on big-name brands. “If [it] says, ‘We like this $40 shirt you’re selling at Macy’s, but we want to retail for $22. We don’t need lining, and we could use cheaper buttons.’ [it] will get what it asks because it will place an order for two million,” shared Howard Davidowitz, chair of the retail-consulting firm Davidowitz & Associates.

TJX now sports over 3,000 retail stores nationwide (a total that also includes the furniture brand, HomeGoods). However, just because it has a lot of stores and sales are up doesn’t mean the prognosis is good. TJX’s game plan to oversaturate the market with stores might be good for short-term sales figures, but that doesn’t build preference.

Marketing retail asks for more. What does make the TJX companies different is their specialty products section. Unique to the smaller discount stores is the garage sale of goods in the back of every TJX store, where you can find name-brand kitchen and home goods.


A thought
Remember this: distinct sections like these drive people into a store because they provide an experience unlike any other. At TJ’s, you can get clothes for cheap, but you come for the cool stuff in the back. Stein Mart, meanwhile, brands itself as an upscale boutique. We’re not entirely sure they are that, however.

The theme of “More fashion, less price” is basically the mirror of T.J.’s, Marshalls, or Ross (“Dress for Less’), for that matter. Their website offers all sorts of after-holiday deals: “Save an extra 30% off” and “Red Dot Clearance” litter the site. Not exactly have the upscale boutique feel. Stein Mart still plays in the same area as its competitors – Brand clothes for less price.

So much for marketing retail in an innovative way. Playing in that area is not a problem. There is a tremendous market for that shopper. But no preference arises from being the same as the competition.


Thinking discount as a whole for the retail market
Let’s call the discount store category what it is — a sea of nondescript imitators. Right now, nobody stands for anything other than price. That’s it. The huge problem is that Walmart solely owns the position of being cheap. So, everyone else loses by playing the price game, too.

Even with the brand discounters, like Stein Mart, offering you a great 30%-off deal, it is basically telling you, “We have no identity worth sharing, but come buy our stuff anyhow because it’s cheap.”

When Target copies Walmart’s tagline, it is because it’s gasping for air too. It’s high time these brands grew up. Or, some of them are going to vanish.


Retailing beyond price
These stores must own something beyond price because Walmart already owns it. The idea is to own something emotionally that gives consumers a reason to prefer you, the same way a pickup driver may describe himself as a Ford man. Tactically, though, these retailers can be known. Retail market study for something that no one else has, such as gift giving. (And if you uncover the emotional reasons why gift-giving is important, then you really have something.)

What if Target (or someone) added a “Great Gifts for Everyone” section in its stores? This could be a place where you could always find interesting, Target-selected goods that are perfect as a present. Suddenly, Target now owns “Gift Giving,” which brings customers to the store. (Again, the emotional undercurrents of gift-giving are what will make the brand.)

This section wouldn’t simply be like all the other sections in the Target store (clothing, home, electronics, etc.), but an entity unto itself. Perhaps it’s a separate room, with different lighting and style, even music.


Target could hire specialists for this section — masters of giving great gifts, with a history of doing so. Give store demonstrations and talks. Forget playing the price war. Sell this concept. Change must happen soon in this category, or demise is afoot.


Specialty Shops
If you consider all the specialty shops stationed across the US, which sector would you say does this: Owns an event that happens more than two million times per year? Is part of a $40 billion industry.

It includes nearly 10,000 individual shops. What category would that be? It would be bridal salons, from the biggest (David’s Bridal, Bridal Warehouse) to the local shops to the luxury ones you see on reality TV. They have managed to own an event, get customers to pay for an expensive dress they will only use once (the bride’s hope), and hunt all over to find the perfect one. The shops are all in the considered set (within the realities of access). They all stand for something. And many of them even have preferences, most notably because of experience. Why can’t the rest of the specialty shop market follow suit?

At first glance, it looks like many are, segmenting the market to own something. Urban Outfitters, Gap, and Abercrombie & Fitch are for the young & hip. L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer are for those who treasure the outdoors. Men’s Warehouse and Jos. A. Bank are for the formal male (at a good price), and these two have merged. However, shoppers can find what they (and others) want elsewhere.

Let’s recap a few of the players in specialty, and then examine what strategies they can employ to take more important ownership as bridal shops do.


Urban Outfitters
Urban Outfitters aims to attract the young and hip of those among us. That’s fine as it goes. But, as we’ll see, Urban Outfitters is not alone in trying to attract this audience.

It has a cool, free-living Retail market Urban Outfittersfactor. Even its “Lighten Up” message suggests that. And it takes a stab at promoting what it deems is its unique fashion. As a holding company (Urban Outfitters also owns Anthropologie and Free People), it’s done well, but the Urban Outfitters stores are not growing as quickly as its other brands, with net sales dropping. Urban Outfitters, as a brand, is so dependent on “trendy” that its performance fluctuates.

Keep that in mind. If you are “trendy,” then you might hit the game-winner every now and then, but you will also shoot an airball. For long-term health, you need a consistent offense in marketing retail.


The first thing you notice here is that Gap is no longer The Gap. They eliminated “The”. Long the go-to place for young, hip fashion, Gap is facing more competition and, therefore, less market share. The recent holiday season was a mixed bag for Gap, as sales soared on Black Friday, but the retailer found customers less interested by December. Gap is doing better than the other two brands it owns (Banana Republic and Old Navy), but there are still problems.

Its retail marketing looks all the same as its competitors. If the Gap logo didn’t appear at the end, you wouldn’t be able to identify who the ad is for. They’re just so like what Urban Outfitters (and others) do.


Abercrombie & Fitch
Huffington Post recently released a list of nine brands that could be dead soon (its words), and, lo and behold, there was Abercrombie & Fitch.
It cited a lack of variety in its clothes and high prices. Those may well be among the reasons, but it’s more than that. You might remember A&F CEO Mike Jeffries’ comments last year that drew some Internet outrage. He said A&F was only for the “cool kids” and “only interested in people with washboard stomachs.” There’s more, but you get the drift.

Now, customers aren’t ignoring Abercrombie & Fitch simply out of protest to what Jeffries said. No, the reason is that, as a brand, A&F absolutely does think that way. As we’ve seen, there’s simply nothing special about that kind of approach. It’s what everyone else is doing, and there’s something irritating about the A&F approach. It is over the top in the washboard category. And, it’s a brand that’s trying too hard, and it shows. Not to belabor the point, let’s point out that there are others holding in a similar pattern, whether you’re talking about J.

Crew or even Banana Republic, and move on.


The others
There are other ways to segment the market. Many shops do speak to a specific lifestyle, but only one seems to do something other than the blatantly obvious. That would be Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant took some heat for its sexy TV spot, which is silly. In an era in which Victoria’s Secret is splashed all over the airways and Miley Cyrus is twerking, this approach isn’t so taboo. In fact, it delves into a deep, emotional belief that Mr. Jeffries of A&F has misconstrued: If I don’t have washboard abs, am I still sexy? retail market Lane BryantLane Bryant is saying that you can be – and it’s working.
Owned by Ascena Retail Group, Lane Bryant’s year-to-year, comparable sales in November and December increased by 13%.

That’s impressive, given that holiday sales were generally down for retailers. (Check out this blog with our comments on a Lane Bryant advertising campaign) Meanwhile, the outdoor enthusiasts of L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer have certainly found a stake in the ground, but they execute it in the most obvious way. Therefore, it’s not all that emotional or important. One of the more interesting corners of the specialty retail market is men’s wear – specifically, the situations surrounding Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank.

The two retailers have been battling each other for years, and it was nastiest before the merger.


Men’s Wearhouse
In fact, Men’s Wearhouse purchased Jos. A. Bank ending a bloody feud. It even took out a founder. The board of Men’s Wearhouse fired George Zimmer – and you all should know him.

He’s the one with the gravelly voice and beard that says, “You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.”

The board believed the brand was too much about him and not about the products. That’s true, but the new direction is blending into what other retailers are doing. You could say Men’s Wearhouse is becoming for those men who are young and hip. Sound familiar? (And You’re gonna like the way you look” is now back).


How to Win in the Retail Market
Before we look at what specialty shops can learn from the bridal salons, let’s take a step back and look at the apparel retail market. As explained earlier in this study, retailers have mapped out a matrix in which consumers can decide where to go.

There is the men-women line, intersected with the luxury-discount one. Consumers retail marketplace themselves in the retail market as defined by the retailers. The specialty shops sit over by the side. In general, they are more toward women and straddle the middle of luxury-discount. That is, they are in competition with the department stores.

Department stores are in a predicament. They are so undifferentiated that there is no self-identification. They’re not luxury and not discount. Not specifically for men and not specifically for women. Within the specialty shop space of the retail market, there is the same matrix, and you’d find most in the middle, with a slight edge to the female side because most of the fashion resides over there. Now, most specialty shops define themselves by style. A consumer chooses, theoretically, by that style.


Change the specialty store paradigm
But what happens when that style is available at many locations? The solution: Be known for something that no one is known for. For that reason, it might behoove specialty shops to first consider where they stand on the luxury-discount scale. That’s because most are in the middle, but there’s a certain advantage to being one or another.

If you are high-end luxury (like, say, Saks Fifth Avenue), you know your customers are rarely, if ever, going to dip into the low-end discount pool of Walmart for clothes. For the same reason, those who primarily shop at Walmart would not go online and look for clothes at Bergdorf Goodman. Much of that is economics, of course, but there are also two completely different emotional drivers for each segment.

The luxury shoppers see themselves as always wanting the best; the clothes and accessories are representations of being elite. The discount shoppers, meanwhile, see themselves as smart. They believe those luxury shoppers are being railroaded. Railroaded into thinking it’s more important to have the most expensive dress compared to discount shoppers.

They believe they could better spend their money elsewhere.


It is a two-step process
Therefore, the first step the specialty stores need to take is to position themselves on the luxury-discount line. If they stay in the middle, then they will continue to find declining sales as department stores play there, as does online shopping. (You can always find what you want for a good price online, the thinking goes.) Look outside the category for solutions. The next step, and the most important one, is to own something.

Right now, retailers are trying to own men’s clothes, young and hip, or outdoors. Young and hip, while having a relationship to fashion, is a cliché and, by itself, not that meaningful. Other demographics, like male or female, are simply reflections of what you offer. Instead, you should own the reasons why your customers want to be young and hip; you would own an emotion.


Quantitative research would also determine what else you could own that is different – and more meaningful – than what the rest of the market is retail market attempting to own. That’s where you look at the bridal shops.

They absolutely own something. An event. A season. A milestone.

This sounds like more segmenting, but it’s about positioning yourself against the competition so that you are different and better. For the men’s stores, for example, why couldn’t they own when you get that first professional job? The retailers would fear that that tactic would shrink their audience, but not really. Highlight the emotional (you’ve made it).

Then your approach reaches deeper. And, across more of the market. Specialty shops are simply not that special anymore. They are lost. Lost in a quagmire of choices where everything blends into another. When that happens, Stores close. Sales fall short of expectations. Irrelevancy sets in.


The Marketing Retail Summary
The current players in the retail market are in trouble. Sales are down, consolidation is the name of the game, and competition lurks everywhere.
Retailers aren’t helping themselves by producing the same, worn-out messages that depend on sales and clichés. Retail numbers reflect that.

While consumer spending rose by .4% in January, the apparel retailers didn’t do so well. The industry is reporting weak sales in January, coming off a lackluster return during the holiday season as sales fell 14.6% on same-store sales industry-wide. The retail market and the retailers themselves are in a full spin mode in discussing these two periods, saying the holiday season was shorter than in past years and that bad weather (especially on the population-heavy East Coast) kept buyers home.

Sure, those are factors, but individual brands are suffering. Kohl’s reported a 2% drop in same-store sales, while Stein Mart had a .7% drop. Where are all the shoppers going?


To the Internet. Specifically, Amazon.
The Internet giants reported annual revenue had spiked each year. What Amazon is doing – and what investors are counting on – is gobbling up more market share. To Amazon, the potential size of its market share is limitless. And who is Amazon stealing market share from? Retailers, of course.

The ones with brick-and-mortar stores, and their own e-commerce sites that can’t even begin to compete with the vastness of Amazon.


Online shopping
The retail market is changing, although at a far slower pace than how the customer is changing. Retail stores are not the destinations they once were, as none of them can compete with the size of inventory the Internet offers. The Internet, especially Amazon, has other advantages. It owns ease of use, and even bargain shoppers can hunt down a sale through it. It can handle orders from across – and to – the world. Amazon is rewriting the retail market space. Online Shopping.

This is the truth. There’s simply no logical reason to go to a retail outlet in today’s technological world. If retailers continue down their current path, here’s what will happen. The pace of closing stores will increase. We’ve already seen recently that Staples is closing 225 stores, RadioShack is shutting down 1,100, and so many others are bleeding money. To turn a profit, retailers will close so many stores they will become irrelevant and become simply suppliers to large retail sites (Amazon, Walmart).

Or they will become the equivalent of a local specialty shop.


Retail Market Wayfair logoWayfair is a new entry. But a HUGE success story. They have spent a mint on TV advertising. It’s old-school USP advertising, and it is working. You know the jingle “Wayfair has everything I need.” They are operating at a loss. But, that has not made them timid. They understand better than Macy’s and all other traditional retailers that taking a loss to build online preference is a smart move. Everyone else is trying to defend the old failed model.

They have clawed out a space in the coveted online market. Claude Hopkins would be proud of their singularity of purpose. They ring the same bell. “Everything ships free” (pay no attention to the fine print).


Amazon wins
Amazon will continue to grow, and retail brands will market their offerings as “available at Amazon.” Firings of CEOs will escalate. Companies will downsize, and consumers will become even less interested in the brands themselves. It comes down to price, look, and fit; not a good place for the traditional retailer.

There will be further consolation as companies look to share redundancies, cut costs and increase their market space. Wearing something from Gap (or any other retailer, for that matter) will mean nothing. The department stores will have these huge retail spaces that are empty of customers, especially customers buying products. Basically, the doomsday scenario. If you don’t believe it, the evidence is all around you. EBAY is an established online retailer


Make hard decisions
That means retailers must make some hard decisions. They must be known for something that goes beyond what they sell and how much they sell it for. In this retail market study, we have recommended that the department stores become known as a department.

We have recommended specialty stores remember that their specialty is not about a style, a brand of clothing, or a price. But their specialty is an event, which could be a season, a type of activity, or a point in someone’s life. Most of all, none of the retailers can continue to blur the lines of definition by spouting the same messages as the rest of the field. They must be truly different and better.


Don’t listen to them
Retail MarketDespite what the retailers say, they are not. The major learning while Stealing Share strategists were looking at the retail market was how much it was full of blaring noise. Everything – from style to messaging to operations – ran together to form a ceaseless blob that consumers are increasingly tuning out. The differences between retailers are as thin as blades of grass. It may be the most undifferentiated market we have ever seen. That is why the doomsday scenario is in play for many retail outlets.

Think about this. Only 10 years ago, Gap was the 18th largest retailer in the nation. Last year, it was 33rd. We could go on and on. Make changes because the future is coming. Take heed. If you don’t, you will lose.