STEVE’S BLOGS

Wayfair, StitchFix And Pure-Play E-commerce’s Scaling Problem

Wayfair, StitchFix And Pure-Play E-commerce’s Scaling Problem

Late last month, Wayfair, the leading online-only furniture brand, reported dramatic sales growth and yet year-over-year profits fell significantly. Unsurprisingly the stock took a steep hit. In its most recent earnings announcement, Stitch Fix, the online styling...

read more

Physical stores: Assets or liabilities?

Physical stores: Assets or liabilities?

Of course the obvious answer is “well, that depends.” As the intersection of economic feasibility and consumers’ willingness to adopt new technology hit a tipping point, for retailers that had invested big bucks in the brick-and-mortar distribution of music, books and...

read more

The Ticking Time Bomb Of E-commerce Returns

The Ticking Time Bomb Of E-commerce Returns

Returns have long been the nemesis of many retail brands. When a product is returned or exchanged, not only does the retailer experience incremental supply chain costs, but often the item cannot be resold at the original price owing to damage, wear and tear, or...

read more

E-Commerce May Be ‘Only’ 10% Of Retail, But That Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story

E-Commerce May Be ‘Only’ 10% Of Retail, But That Doesn’t Tell The Whole Story

It seems as if those who spend a lot of time worrying about the future of retail have fallen into one of two camps. There are the “retail apocalypse” proselytizers who would have us believe that virtually all shopping will eventually be done online, that most...

read more

Ulta and Sephora keep defying the ‘retail apocalypse’

Ulta and Sephora keep defying the ‘retail apocalypse’

It seems like more and more brands didn’t get the ‘retail apocalypse’ memo. As many in the media shout “bring out your dead,” it turns out quite a few major retailers keep cruising along despite being heavily invested in  physical stores. Sephora, which already has...

read more

Gap, J. Crew, Hudson’s Bay and the Unrelenting Collapse of the Middle

Gap, J. Crew, Hudson’s Bay and the Unrelenting Collapse of the Middle

It finally seems that most people have caught up to the fact that reports of retail’s death are greatly exaggerated. There is no retail apocalypse. Software is not eating retail. Brick-and-mortar stores are not going away. Traditional retailers are not all doomed. And...

read more

The 3 big problems with omnichannel retail

The 3 big problems with omnichannel retail

In early 1999, as a fairly recently minted VP, I found myself at a posh Arizona resort attending Sears annual “strategic leadership team” meeting. At the final session of our retreat then CEO Arthur Martinez made a bold–and as it turns out rather prophetic–statement...

read more

Another store bites the dust: Why retailers like Shopko fail

Another store bites the dust: Why retailers like Shopko fail

Last week, Shopko, the long-beleaguered department store chain, announced it would begin a complete liquidation. It now joins a growing list of once-prominent retail brands (Payless Shoes, Toys “R” Us, Gymboree) that first tried to shrink to prosperity, only to...

read more

Watering dead flowers

Watering dead flowers

Many of us seem to be praying to a god of unending, unrelenting perseverance. If your social media experience is anything like mine, it’s not long before some form of never-give-up-ism hits your timeline. Then, most often, that person’s followers pile on with a hearty...

read more

The toys are back in town: A reimagined Toys ‘R’ Us returns

The toys are back in town: A reimagined Toys ‘R’ Us returns

As it turns out, reports of Toys ‘R’ Us’ death may have been greatly exaggerated. The iconic toy retailer—which filed for bankruptcy in 2017 after piling up more than $5 billion in debt—closed its more than 800 U.S. doors and seemed destined for the retail graveyard....

read more

Retail apocalypse? Maybe it’s time to worry about a disruptor meltdown?

Retail apocalypse? Maybe it’s time to worry about a disruptor meltdown?

As much as “retail apocalypse” continues to show up in the headlines, by now most people that take the time to look at the facts know it’s nonsense. The truth is while much of retail is definitely different–in some cases radically–it’s far from dead. Physical retail...

read more

Pier 1 Imports: From bad to worse to dire

Pier 1 Imports: From bad to worse to dire

Pier 1 Imports reported quarterly results last week and—there’s just no nice way to say this—they were awful. The company, which only last week completed a 1-for-20 reverse stock split to avoid its shares being delisted, delivered an abysmal 15.5% drop in sales and...

read more

Retail’s new rush to rent

Retail’s new rush to rent

While the overwhelming majority of retail involves a transfer of ownership from seller to consumer, renting products is hardly a new concept. The so-called rent-to-own industry is large and well-established, led by companies like Rent-A-Center. This market sector...

read more

Has Amazon hit a wall?

Has Amazon hit a wall?

At first glance, it might seem like a preposterous question: Has Amazon hit a wall? Even after what most considered a disappointing quarterly earnings report, Amazon’s growth and competitive position are the envy of just about every retailer on the planet. But three...

read more

With the RealReal’s blockbuster IPO is ‘recommerce’ retail’s next big thing?

With the RealReal’s blockbuster IPO is ‘recommerce’ retail’s next big thing?

It’s hard not to be impressed with The RealReal’s stock market debut. The luxury reseller raised $300MM in its initial public offering and saw its shares soar nearly 45% before settling in at at a market capitalization of $2.4 billion. Not too shabby. Until very...

read more

So now retail is all about the experience? Just what the heck does that mean?

So now retail is all about the experience? Just what the heck does that mean?

L’Occitane new experiential retail concept store in New York I keep reading that success in retail today is all about the experience. Some retail influencers whom I cross paths with on the conference circuit often anchor their talks on some variation of customer...

read more

Discordant notes

Discordant notes

Earlier this week, after my youngest daughter’s college graduation, I had to fly back from Portland. Upon arriving at PDX, as an Executive Platinum member, I was able to check-in quickly and I practically glided through security. When I got to the gate I learned that...

read more

Out on a limb: 14 predictions for retail in 2019

Out on a limb: 14 predictions for retail in 2019

Last year I started making annual retail predictions–some more provocative than others. For a first-timer I must say I think I did pretty well. Undaunted, I’m now back with my 2019 list of (mostly) bold predictions. Here goes… Apocalypse? No. Yes 2018 was yet another...

read more

The stores strike back

The stores strike back

Amidst all the retail apocalypse nonsense it turns out that physical retail isn’t dead after all.  Last year some 3,000 new stores were opened and physical retail continued to have positive growth in most major global markets. One of my 14 predictions for retail in...

read more

Retail reality: It’s death in the middle

Retail reality: It’s death in the middle

I first pointed to what I called “retail’s great bifurcation”literally two years ago today. Though it wasn’t the first time that I had observed what I saw as the impending collapse of the middle. I began writing and speaking about that during 2011. As we emerged from...

read more

Kohl’s, JC Penney and the relentless collapse of retail’s boring middle

Kohl’s, JC Penney and the relentless collapse of retail’s boring middle

  Kohl’s and JC Penney both reported sales and earnings this past week. And while there is always plenty of discussion about how they did relative to Wall Street’s expectations, that’s all rather beside the point. Whether Kohl’s deepening partnership with Amazon...

read more

Omnichannel is dead. The future is harmonized retail.

Omnichannel is dead. The future is harmonized retail.

I’m calling it. “Omnichannel” is dead. And in my mind it’s long overdue. Nearly 16 years since its apparent coining, I think most of us can agree that if “omni-channel” ever had any real usefulness as a concept (debatable), it is now well past its expiration date. And...

read more

The blended channel is the only channel

The blended channel is the only channel

For quite some time, various executives and so-called gurus have been going on and on about “multi-channel” this and “multi-channel” that. In fact, it’s hard to get through a discussion–or speech or consulting report or white paper or blog posting–on multi-channel...

read more

Physical retail is not dead. Boring retail is.

Physical retail is not dead. Boring retail is.

It may make for intriguing headlines, but physical retail is clearly not dead. Far from it, in fact. But, to be sure, boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely dead, dying or moving perilously close to the edge of the precipice....

read more

Retail’s new fork in the road: Understanding ‘buying’ vs. ‘shopping’

Retail’s new fork in the road: Understanding ‘buying’ vs. ‘shopping’

As I pointed out in my last piece, it is all too easy to be misled by high-level statistics and narratives that paint an incomplete picture of the retail landscape. Similarly, many fail to appreciate the underlying dynamics that (increasingly) separate industry...

read more

Macy’s acquires Story: Game changer or much ado about nothing?

Macy’s acquires Story: Game changer or much ado about nothing?

Last week Macy’s announced it had acquired Story, a New York-based concept store, and appointed founder Rachel Shechtman to be its new “brand experience officer.” And, for the most part, enthusiastic gushing ensued. Let’s simmer down, people. As I regularly write...

read more

The store closing panacea

The store closing panacea

There has been a strong and growing narrative that the single smartest thing a struggling retailer can do is to close stores and, in some cases, a lot of them. I first touched on this nearly three years ago in my post “Shrinking to prosperity: The store closing...

read more

Shrinking to prosperity: The store closing delusion

Shrinking to prosperity: The store closing delusion

Yesterday Radio Shack announced it’s closing 1,100 stores, nearly 20% of their total. Earlier this year, JC Penney took the axe to 33 units, amidst a rising call of analysts pushing for more aggressive real estate pruning. Sears has closed some 300 units across the...

read more

The end of “same store sales”

The end of “same store sales”

For many years corporate leaders and industry analysts have made “comp” or “same store sales” their go to metric for the health of a retailer. It’s time for a re-think. For any retailer that is building out robust omni-channel capabilities, the lines between digital...

read more

Different, not dead: The future of brick & mortar retail

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  – Mark Twain* Media reports highlight the dramatic shift of spending from traditional stores to e-commerce. Industry analysts and pundits predict the demise of brands with substantial investments in retail real...

read more

Sears: The World’s Slowest Liquidation Sale (Redux)

Sears: The World’s Slowest Liquidation Sale (Redux)

Today Sears Holdings reported comparable store sales decreases of 10.9% and its twelfth straight quarterly operating loss. And when we are reminded that despite a decade of Eddie Lampert’s leadership there is still no articulated–much less viable–strategy to turn the...

read more

“In God We Trust. All Others Must Bring Data.”

“In God We Trust. All Others Must Bring Data.”

The title of this post is a famous quotation from noted business consultant Dr. W. Edwards Deming.   And I agree with the sentiment.  Mostly. Retailers in particular are notorious for having lots of data that they fail to turn into actionable insight.  The majority of...

read more

A bunch of little kids running toward a soccer ball

A bunch of little kids running toward a soccer ball

I was the coach of my first-born daughter’s soccer team when she was 5 years old. The coaching requirements, apparently, were lack of competing hobbies and near infinite patience. As it turns out–and through good fortune–lack of knowledge of the game and no...

read more

8 things that are wrong with your omni-channel strategy

8 things that are wrong with your omni-channel strategy

Read anything about retail, attend a conference, get pitched by a consultant, evaluate a new software product, and chances are you hear “omni-channel” mentioned early and often. So with geniuses like me throwing the term around ad nauseam, let’s get specific about...

read more

I see dead marketers

I see dead marketers

I see dead marketers. Walking around like regular people. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead. Marketers who behave as if customers care about channels. Marketers who continue to push average products for average people. Marketers who...

read more

The struggles of the flying trapeze artist

The struggles of the flying trapeze artist

If only growth–profound, meaningful growth–personal, business or otherwise, could happen without confronting our fears and was devoid of any risk, absent any real struggle or pain. Wouldn’t it be great if the journey from a challenging present set of circumstances to...

read more

The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed

The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed

While many brands were slow to drink the omni-channel Kool-Aid, failing to recognize a fundamental shift in consumer behavior that began over a decade ago, most are now throwing gobs of money at various cross-channel marketing and “seamless integration” initiatives....

read more

Retail’s Single Biggest Disruptor. Spoiler Alert: It’s Not E-commerce

Retail’s Single Biggest Disruptor. Spoiler Alert: It’s Not E-commerce

There is no question that the retail industry is under-going a tremendous amount of change. Record numbers of store closings. Legacy brands going out of business–or teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Venture capital funded start-ups wreaking havoc upon traditional...

read more

5 reasons Sears should liquidate ASAP

5 reasons Sears should liquidate ASAP

As a former Sears senior executive I’ve followed the once mighty brand’s journey from mediocrity to bad to just plain sad. What a long strange trip it’s been. When I left in late 2003 we were gaining traction in our core full-line department store business and...

read more

Sears Holdings to convert most stores to indoor waterparks

Sears Holdings to convert most stores to indoor waterparks

After years of fighting declining sales and anemic profits, Sears Holdings (the parent company of Sears and Kmart) announced today that it would convert all of its more than 800 mall-based Sears department stores to indoor water parks. The new parks–reportedly to be...

read more

Omni-channel’s migration dilemma

Omni-channel’s migration dilemma

The shift in retail to a more omni-channel world is dramatic and profound. And since the term “omni-channel” gets thrown around a lot–often vaguely or carelessly–let me be clear about what I mean: more and more customers are becoming engaged in utilizing multiple...

read more

Gradually, then suddenly

Gradually, then suddenly

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. There was a time when marketing plans were built on an annual cycle, when potential tactics to counter-act an emerging competitor could be...

read more

The end of e-commerce

The end of e-commerce

We’ve gotten pretty used to talking about e-commerce and brick & mortar retail as if they were two entirely separate things operating in parallel universes. In fact, industry commentators often treat the “on-line shopper” as some sort of new species. Yet more and...

read more

Stop blaming Amazon for department store woes

Stop blaming Amazon for department store woes

Given Amazon’s staggering growth and willingness to lose money to grab market share it’s easy to blame them for everything that is ailing “traditional” retail overall–and the  department store sector in particular. In fact, with announcements last week from Macy’s to...

read more

Fail Better

Fail Better

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” –  Samuel Beckett It seems for many businesses it’s really “feel better.” Don’t rock the boat.  Don’t make waves.  Don’t call attention to yourself.  And certainly don’t put yourself in a...

read more

“Channel Agnostic”: The Pathway To Customer-Centricity

“Channel Agnostic”: The Pathway To Customer-Centricity

Having spent the past ten years or so driving customer-centric growth and marketing strategies at places like Neiman Marcus, Sears and Lands’ End, I used to say there were two types of retailers: those that embraced an integrated multi-channel model and those that...

read more

The world’s best loyalty program

The world’s best loyalty program

The world’s best loyalty program is no program at all. If your value proposition is engineered to deliver a truly remarkable experience for your target consumers–and you’ve chosen to focus on segments that will allow you to make a profit–the result should be both...

read more

Bleak Friday

Bleak Friday

Get ready. The stories about Black Friday will start ramping up today. And by the time you awaken from a tryptophan induced haze on Friday morning,  you can expect your TV to be chock-a-block with shots of reporters standing outside Walmarts and Best Buys and Apple...

read more

Every Single Retail Store in the US To Close Permanently By Month’s End

Every Single Retail Store in the US To Close Permanently By Month’s End

In a surprise move that underscores the sweeping changes faced by the retail industry, the National Retail Federation, speaking on behalf of all of its members, announced today that every brick & mortar location of every retailer in the United States would close...

read more

$20billsfor$15.com seeks first $1 trillion IPO valuation

$20billsfor$15.com seeks first $1 trillion IPO valuation

On the heels of Lyft’s $24 billion initial public offering–and what could be $100+ billion valuations later this year when Uber and WeWork go public–$20billsfor$15.com filed its S-1 on Friday. In its filing the 2 year old company–which bills itself as the first...

read more

Just because you killed Jesse James…

Just because you killed Jesse James…

“Just because you killed Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.” – Mike Ehrmantraut to Walter White, Episode 3, Season 5 of Breaking Bad. Just because you’ve shot down my idea doesn’t mean yours is better. Defending the status quo can be necessary, but mostly it’s...

read more

The tranquilizing drug of gradualism

The tranquilizing drug of gradualism

In his “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged a slow and steady pathway to civil rights reform. Those in favor of an incremental approach feared that making waves–that being too confrontational–would backfire. It was seen as too risky a strategy....

read more

I am the captain now

I am the captain now

For a long time brands had the upper hand. The purchase funnel was relatively straight-forward. Media channels were few and generally well controlled. The consumer’s access to product and pricing information was limited. Distribution channels were highly disciplined....

read more

Sears: The one thing that could have saved them

Sears: The one thing that could have saved them

As much fun as it is to call out Eddie Lampert on his misguided, selfish and seemingly delusional decade-plus leadership of Sears Holdings, when the world’s slowest liquidation sale is ultimately complete–I’m guessing, for all intents and purposes, by this time next...

read more

Sears: The world’s slowest liquidation sale

Sears: The world’s slowest liquidation sale

“I see dead people…they only see what they want to see.  They don’t know they’re dead.” – Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense There probably was a time when Eddie Lampert honestly believed that Sears and Kmart could be resurrected as competitive retailers. But the concept of...

read more

Plot twist: Amazon’s future may soon be tied to physical stores

Plot twist: Amazon’s future may soon be tied to physical stores

It’s hard to underestimate the success and increasing power of Amazon. Their market cap hovers just under $1 trillion. Their growth rates have been astounding. By most estimates Amazon now accounts for nearly 50% of all US e-commerce revenues, roughly 5% of all retail...

read more

Defying the Sea of Sameness

Defying the Sea of Sameness

Any business school course on strategy will devote significant time to the importance of competitive differentiation.  We attend marketing conferences where speakers pontificate on the need to have a unique value proposition.  Excellent books like Seth Godin’s Purple...

read more

Dead brand walking

Dead brand walking

The business graveyard is filled with brands that have gone from the lofty heights of recognition, stature and profitability to flagging relevance and, ultimately, complete extinction. For every long-standing, legacy brand that continues to thrive (think Kraft or...

read more

Out of Barneys’ rubble: What’s next for luxury fashion’s biggest boutique

Out of Barneys’ rubble: What’s next for luxury fashion’s biggest boutique

Yesterday Barneys New York averted yet another trip to bankruptcy court through a major restructuring deal that converted most of their debt to equity (http://bloom.bg/IUyHir). Unless you work at Istithmar–the PE firm that paid more than $940MM for Barneys in 2007...

read more

The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed

The future of omni-channel will not be evenly distributed

While many brands were slow to drink the omni-channel Kool-Aid, failing to recognize a fundamental shift in consumer behavior that began over a decade ago, most are now throwing gobs of money at various cross-channel marketing and “seamless integration” initiatives....

read more

Squeeze Play: The Luxury Off-Price Market Hits the Wall During the past 18 months luxury retail consumers have come to enjoy wide-scale deep discounts.  Many of the deals came from established players such as Neiman Marcus, Saks, Barneys, who–stuck with inventory they...

read more

E-commerce’s pesky little profitability problem

E-commerce’s pesky little profitability problem

Online-only retailers have attracted huge amounts of investment capital during the past decade. Flash-sales sites such as Gilt and RueLaLa have collectively raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Rather small, but rapidly growing, specialty players like Bonobo’s,...

read more

Death in the middle

Death in the middle

In politics, finding the middle ground is often challenging, but typically it’s what is needed to make societal progress. In conducting our own affairs, behaving moderately–what the Buddhists call “the Middle Path”–is usually the best way to find happiness and...

read more

Retail’s great bifurcation

Retail’s great bifurcation

It’s not that malls are dying. In fact, many malls are not only surviving, quite a few are thriving. Despite all the doomsayers, physical retail is not facing extinction. Not only are many retailers opening significant numbers of profitable locations, many of the most...

read more

Retail’s great deleveraging

Retail’s great deleveraging

Over the past several quarters an awful lot of retail brands have reported disappointing earnings. Expect that to continue. Some of this is because of tepid overall consumer demand in certain categories. Apparel comes to mind. But it goes far beyond simple...

read more

%d bloggers like this: