February 22, 2018

LinkedIn, J. Crew and WeWork – Unlocking Personal & Professional Brand Potential

It’s a fascinating time to be alive. As a society, our connected experience is no longer straddling the line between “the real-world” and online — it’s distributed through both and fully interwoven.

Anchoring this point, a new alliance has caught our eye. Linked In x WeWork x J Crew have joined together in a very interesting partnership. Each partner has a different reason for existing, but all three merge elements of the other’s primary customer experience.

The fashion brand J Crew, is searching for a radical shift in strategy to succeed in modern retail world. Partnering with LinkedIn and WeWork, they benefit from direct access to entrepreneurial customers who already understand the value of looking clean and stylish.

WeWork and LinkedIn view this opportunity as another way for their brand to serve their customer’s professional image and meet the needs of their mutual audience segment.

Whether this experiment takes off or not, we expect to see more of this kind of corporate teamwork, as brands strive to unlock their experiential potential.

More on the story over at Retail Dive.

Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

November 8, 2017

2017 Holiday Shopping Forecast — Black Friday is No Big Deal?

Black Friday is here again! Well not here, yet. But that’s how it's worked for years, it’s here even before it’s here, right? It’s the big event before the big event. Retailers and the advertising industry create news and events around announcing that it's almost here. Getting the engines primed, right? In the meantime, Amazon is dominating the early deals game, announcing Black Friday action, 50 days early! So yeah, it’s here.
Black Friday is still the single biggest day of spending and shopping on the calendar. But while online opportunities expand, popular attitudes around friday-focused brick-and-mortar feeding frenzies have cooled a bit. Two years ago REI made noise with their OptOutside campaign, staying closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday in a sort of sacredly secular celebration of the outdoors and non-consumerism — and generated a lot of conversation in the process. They stuck to it last year and just announced they will continue the tradition moving forward.
Then last year we saw more stores choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving.
Even the Mall of America closed on Thanksgiving last year, opening at a tasteful 5am on Friday morning. Malls are feeling the pinch as much as any individual retailer as spending continues to rise, but primarily in newer transaction channels. Malls are generally claiming a desire to spare the employees and the shoppers all that stress but reducing overhead in the face of stiff competition is also pretty fundamental.
So what does that mean for expectations this year?
According to a study from Field Agent, both Black Friday and Cyber Monday are polling at just over 50% of respondents saying they are “very likely” to shop on those days. The question now is not so much about When or, which days will get the most sales activity — but rather Where and How will customers choose to shop this year? Over half of respondents said they plan to buy “most” of their holiday gifts online. This is the first year this expectation has hit a majority percentage.
With shifting behaviors we also see shifting values. “Affordability” and “quality” are top values this year, while “traditions,” and “brand names” are falling to the bottom of the pile. Amazon is loving it, Macy’s not so much. Macy’s and Nordstrom are forecast to see outright declining sales through holiday season as malls struggle to draw shoppers.
Amazon, WalMart and Target lead the field for retailers overall. Amazon.com soundly dominates the website category with 62% of shoppers expecting to use it. WalMart.com is #2 at 11%. Amazon and WalMart also lead with customers in the mobile app category.
With online and mobile shopping sliding into the forefront of all shopping experiences this year it only makes sense that the in-store frenzy of Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shopping may be a thing of the past. The same study cites a lot of frustration from a majority of shoppers around overcrowded stores with under-trained agents and fickle availability of in-demand inventory. These realities may accelerate the trend toward better shopping experiences that hinge on more convenient technology.
Make no mistake that physical stores are an asset to the brands that use them well and staff them well. But the familiar narrative around Black Friday highlights some very apparent pain points for customers. And in turn, smart technology and savvy shoppers have deemed all that FOMO and frenzy to be an easy trade off for a happier holiday experience.
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

October 26, 2017

The Spirit of Halloween Spending

As Halloween approaches this year’s spooky spirit is at an all time high.
According to the National Retail Federation's Annual Halloween Survey on eMarketer, Halloween spending will increase by 8.3% from last year with record spending at 9.1 billion. Now that’s a lot of candy!
The excitement for creepy lawn decor, trick-or-treating and late night costume parties is nothing new, but our path to purchase is evolving and becoming more complex. Luckily, more sources of inspiration have become available with the increased use of social media platforms. But the real heavy lifting of idea generation can be attributed to Halloween enthusiasts and creative people alike, who are sharing them on social platforms for all to snag.
Interestingly enough, for planned Halloween purchasing channels, the survey shows online ranked as number five; behind discount, Halloween, grocery, and department stores.
The NRF reported that 35.2% of respondents conducted online searches for Halloween celebration inspiration with Facebook and Pinterest as top choices, but stats show that those searches are not converting to ecommerce. This means that over a third of the American population is using online sources for costume, decor and treat ideas before they plan to step foot in brick and mortar stores.
Retail is reminded of how important it is to be aware of influencers in the customer journey. But it’s exciting to see holiday spirit grow as it can only mean good things for the industry and hopefully some pretty sweet costumes!
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

October 20, 2017

Contemporary Coupons — More Than Old Fashioned Value

I was the kid that thought it was fun to cut the coupons out of the Sunday paper then sort and organize them for the proper category placement in my mom’s coupon organizer. Sure, you could call that OCD, but it instilled in me a habit that still holds true today.
No longer am I waiting for the Sunday paper, but rather, going to my grocery store’s website and loading the coupons straight to my loyalty card. Why, because, well who doesn’t like to stumble upon a good deal and save a little money. Free pint of Haagen Dazs, yes please!
This trend doesn’t end with the grocery store. Within minutes of searching, customers can find a discount or online coupon within a variety of retail categories.
And these savings aren’t just targeted to those of us that grew up with physical coupons, they have also transcended generations. Millennials are savvy and fickle shoppers. They aren’t as brand loyal and their willingness to buy private-label brands and try lower price brands has kept retailers on their toes. It’s their desire for a good value that will lead to choosing the brand that offers a discount.
And with the availability to find savings online and load them to a loyalty card or combine multiple coupons through an app, these fickle shoppers have become frequent online couponing users.
Now the question is, how to keep your brand top of mind for these millennial shoppers. Maybe it’s following the Bed Bath and Beyond method. Their coupon for 20% off shows up at my house and in my inbox regularly. Sure, I rarely use it, but when I need something and I don’t have the physical coupon, the first place I go is online. Just having it available when I need it is a definite perk.
Now, if only there was a digital coupon organizer. Good thing there is an app for that: Krazy Coupon Lady. Might have to give that a try!

Christie Hach

Account Director

October 11, 2017

The New Retail Ecosystem Needs Traditional Chains

Twenty years ago, I watched the movie You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and hated the fictional big chain Fox Books (owned by Hanks) for driving Ryan’s small, independent book store out of business. After the closing is inevitable, Ryan writes in one of their AOL Messenger exchanges, “My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you? It’s a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing. Like a Baby Gap.”
For years, the traditional retail chain has been the villain. Retail chains so big that small, independent stores can’t compete. They get squashed by the 600-pound gorilla who sits wherever he wants. But the fallout from the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy suddenly casts this movie in a new light. The big chain retailers are still 600 pound gorillas, able to drive the independent stores out of business. But now they are equally endangered, and the success of entire industries rests on their survival.
The mighty Amazons and Wal-Marts of the world have left the single category chains vulnerable.  However, it is imperative that these big chains do not die. Much like how the 600-pound gorilla is an apex predator in its ecosystem, single category chains are apex stores in the retail ecosystem. Traditional retail chains now anchor the brick and mortar shops by giving suppliers a place to sell goods at full price, year-round. They provide the manufactures with a place of resistance against the price wars indicative of the online and big box retailers. This explains the unwavering vendor support Toys “R” Us has been getting since its bankruptcy announcement last week. Toys “R” Us is the last remaining single toy chain standing. If they fail, suppliers will lose their last leverage point.
Isaac Larian, founder and chief executive office of the toy manufacturer MGA Entertainment, Inc. described the importance of the relationship, “Oh my God, they are very important, and people don’t understand. I’ve always said that is there is no Toys “R” Us, there is no toy business.” Larian said he has already shipped his holiday goods to Toys ‘R’ Us and will continue to do so, and he is one of many toy vendors saying the same. Why? Suppliers know that without Toys ‘R’ Us, the toy industry will topple.
The toy industry’s dependency on Toys ‘R’ Us as a single category chain is not unique. Best Buy holds up the electronic industry after the closings of Circuit City and HHGregg. Home Depot and Lowes share the responsibility in the DIY home improvement industry. And Barnes and Nobles now bears the cross after Borders’ liquidation. Without these single category, traditional retail chains there would be no single electronics industry; no single DIY industry; and no single book industry. In today’s world, it is a symbiotic relationship between small independent stores and big retail chains, rather than the competitive world of twenty years ago. The success of the small shop owner is directly tied to the success of the chain store. They need the chain retailers to survive, because without them there are no single category industries. Traditional single category chain retailers serve as apex stores in the retail ecosystem, supplier leverage points. Without them, entire industries would fall.
It turns out the big, bad Fox Books might just be the hero after all.
Jane Broadbent
Senior Strategist

September 19, 2017

Will Kohl’s Harness Amazon's Foot Traffic?

Kohl’s is bringing Amazon’s brand and customer service into their floor space. The apparel giant will now allow Amazon returns to be serviced through Kohl's store locations. The move is controversial, but without much analysis the first thing I considered is that “inventory" is not enough of a motivator at brick and mortar anymore. The key is driving foot traffic into the store. Give the customer a prioritized reason to come in that is either experientially valuable or need-serving. Once they are there, inventory can do more to win purchase.

Amazon is so engrained in the broader fabric of customer behaviors with a leg up through volume of inventory, ease of experience and convenience of transaction that this move by Kohl’s does not seem that crazy to me. The convenience of brick and mortar returns for online purchases is a huge factor for higher register sales at brick and mortar.

Shopping behaviors are in flux and retail relationships have to figure out new ways to break down the literal walls of retail. If this gambit is not Kohl’s solution to that, they seem well poised for selling to Amazon. Historically speaking, groceries and apparel have been two of Amazon’s low-points. In that light, Kohl’s position looks an awful lot like Whole Foods’ prior to that acquisition. This development may well be another first-down in Amazon's game plan to expand its real estate.

Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

September 15, 2017

It's a New Day for Dollar Stores

In the past “dollar stores” have been seen as the misfits of mainstream retail. Over the past few years, they’ve evolved. They are now tough competition in the retail landscape. Why? And how has this industry made its transformation?

Random to useful
What used to represent a mishmash of random party supplies, cheap toys and low priority items has turned into a more practical assortment of products.
“Companies like Dollar General and Family Dollar capitalized by tightening up their operations and increasing their assortment of groceries, household goods, and other consumables” (Dollar Disrupters: How discount stores are shaking up the grocery world, Retail Dive). They have realized that food sells.
A focus on brick and mortar
While most companies are making efforts to improve the digital experience, Dollar General has confirmed a remarkable plan to build 1,000 new stores in 2017 (Why Dollar General will keep its promise to build 1K stores this year, Retail Dive).
At last count Dollar General’s numbers were at 13,205 stores across the country, more than any other retail brand. Family Dollar and Dollar Tree together have 14,284 stores. The brick and mortar presence of these brands significantly outweighs even the biggest dogs in retail (Wal-Mart at 5,229 and Target at 1,803).
Store volume and placement are strategically used to interrupt the customer's journey to the local Walmart or convenience store.
New and old customer development
“Many affluent millennials are choosing to save money on consumable products and splurging on experiences and big ticket items” (Dollar Disrupters: How discount stores are shaking up the grocery world, Retail Dive). These customers are starting to show themselves more and more at Dollar stores recently.
But unlike affluent millennials, the core customer sometimes may not have any other choice but to shop at the Dollar store price point. Many of these customers don’t own credit cards, they pay with cash Dollar Stores' Growth Opportunities- and Challenges, eMarketer), which continues to lend itself to the strong brick and mortar presence of this industry.
So what does all of this mean? If Dollar stores continue to assert themselves as the closest and most convenient, price sensible option, then we could potentially start to see a blurred line between c-stores and Dollar stores, as well as a shift in strategy amongst other larger retailers.
The good news is that you can now fulfill immediate needs at your local Dollar store such as milk, eggs, or that appetizer you promised to bring to happy hour. But good luck finding your noisemakers, plastic champagne flutes, and paper tiaras for New Year's Eve this coming year!
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

June 6, 2017

A Fashion Plus for Retail

As retail continuously adjusts to customer demographics and behavioristics, the apparel category is still in the early stages of properly serving the plus sized consumer. This consumer is ready to be more than an afterthought in the fashion industry and companies are starting to respond with dedicated design attention, broader size ranges, and more options in the plus sized category.
According to an article in eMarketer called, “A Bright Spot for Fashion? Plus Size” data from market research firm The NPD Group shows US sales of plus size apparel including those for teens rose 6% in 2016. Also, the research shows size 16 as the most common size in women’s apparel today. This means more women in America right now are considered plus sized than not; But the apparel industry has yet to meet these customers where they already exist. Smaller sizes are still emphasized by most brands in retail who choose not  to stock sizes 14+ in store. They continue to feature smaller women in their marketing materials who, according the statistics, are less  relatable to a majority segment of potential  customers.

The research shows size 16 as the most common size in women’s apparel today. This means more women in America right now are considered plus sized than not.

However, forward thinking brands like Nike and JC Penney see the apparent business opportunity within these facts. They have tapped into this market by expanding their offerings with new plus sized collections. There are also brands that dedicate themselves solely to plus sized women like Eloquii and Ashley Stewart, who are currently winning as trendy, go-to choices.
Plus sized customers have the potential to be extremely loyal customers of brands who make them feel stylish and current, the market has undeserved them for too long.
An article from the National Retail Foundation features Ashley Stewart, a company who has “been the retail destination for curvy, trend-seeking shoppers for 20 years.” Well, CEO Celia Clancy discusses how the company filed for bankruptcy in 2010, but has made a huge comeback in recent years. Ashley Stewart is now dedicated to understanding its customer more than ever and is successfully fulfilling their needs as the demand increases. And even customers who are out of the size range at Ashley Stewart are known for buying accessories there. Clancy says, “Our customer wants fast fashion for real women, we know she doesn't want yesterday's news when it comes to fashion.”
In the past, plus sized women have struggled to find self-expressive clothing in stores on a regular basis. The apparel market has not represented the truth. Women want to feel good and fashionable, and there is a business opportunity for brands to step into that space and deliver on it. Smart companies are realizing this now.
At Barber Martin one of our core tenets is “let the customer lead.” Better serving the customer benefits the brand, and creates a greater opportunity to sell.
Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

May 23, 2017

Location, Location, Location-Based Marketing in Retail

The “Location-Based Marketing in Retail Roundup” was published by eMarketer in April. You can request a copy of it here. If you are not already a subscriber you'll have to provide some contact info.
The research in this “roundup" marks a continuation of the industry trends we’ve seen over the past couple of years and validates a lot of the forecasts we’ve been tracking as well.

What are the major components of mobile and location-based marketing in 2017?

A Mobile-First Customer Strategy:
This goes far beyond a mobile-friendly design of websites and email. Those things must be taken for granted at this point. We are seeing a mobile majority online.
Understand the Customer’s In-Store Needs:
These can be tied to the mobile device in the form of personalization, mobile pay, order ahead, in-store pickup and location-based offers.
Relevant and Useful Public Information:
Location-based marketing in the form of current and clear public information in maps, listings, reviews, search and social can put your brand in a prominent position while the customer is researching away from your store or your people. You have to convince them you are able to address their need before you ever have an opportunity to actually address that need.
Some Early Trends to Watch:
Retailers that have ironed out their mobile customer culture are looking to new ideas and finding opportunity with beacons for store perimeter marketing. At this phase, they are still “marginally valuable to the customer.” So if the rest of the mobile marketing house is not in order, they are not a practical focus of attention.
In-store augmented reality falls into this bucket as well. The roundup describes how Bloomingdale’s invented a SnapChat treasure hunt following the Pokémon Go craze that was an unbridled success. When you’re doing so much else correctly, you are free to be brilliant. But these trends should not be an operational focus if there are more systemic issues to be addressed.

Barber Martin’s POV

The major conclusion is that physical stores are important and can be a significant competitive advantage at retail, despite what we’re seeing with struggling brick-and-mortar brands and the fading “indoor mall” location strategy. It seems logical that a variety of stores all right next to each other would simplify shopping and facilitate fairly quick comparison buying. But the physical store is totally optional for the research-shopping experience today. And relative to online research, it’s inefficient. This phase of purchase consideration has largely been extricated from the physical world.
However, people are still going to stores and prefer them across a variety of categories when it comes time to make the purchase.
This means that when customers show up at the store, they’re much more ready to convert and they’ve already made a lot of decisions, narrowing their consideration to a very limited set of options. A customer that walks in the door is a much better informed consumer and a much more intentional shopper. Sales staff is not likely to add significant value beyond a point of view to the in-store offerings and locating the items.
One survey in the eMarketer roundup said that by 2020 most shoppers will say they want to be totally left alone to do their own thing while in the store.
In-store purchasing dominates by large margins for high dollar items like cars, appliances and jewelry. The preference for in-store transaction still beats digital purchasing across all categories except books, toys and games and entertainment. This is surprising given how apparent the rise of ecommerce and mobile marketing has become.
The clear variance comes when the same questions are asked to customers segmented by age. Only those over 60 said they preferred in-store shopping. All other age groups prefer the shopping experience online, just short of buying. Only those in the youngest segment, ages 18-29, said they prefer to do the majority of their shopping online, and of that set, only those age 21-29 said they preferred shopping on a mobile device.
Keeping an eye on these industry trends over the past many years allows us to distill a few clear observations:
1. It is apparent that location is still crucial to the purchase experience across all channels – even with the most digitally inclined consumers.
2. The trends that favor new behaviors and emerging technology accelerate younger, and what younger people do today informs what older people are more likely to do tomorrow.
So if location strategy can be a significant advantage at retail and almost all of the pre-transaction homework is done on a whim across a variety of connected devices, we can safely conclude that we should no longer speak of “brick and mortar vs. ecommerce” but will more reasonably see things in terms of the reorganization and total integration of online and offline into one consumer experience.
This realization points to the rise of mobile payment and shopping lists as well as store location floor maps to allow the customer to manage the shopping experience via mobile device, preserving total customer control of the whole process.
Brands may have fewer locations or more minimized real estate, but the sales per square foot will be a leading metric and the locations must perform. We’re likely seeing the sun set on terms like “mobile customer” and “digital marketing.” It’s just customers and marketing because these things are embedded into the total experience.
If all of these elements are well designed, the purchase process matures before the customer visits the store. They may order ahead, knowing they can pick up at the counter and in turn use the time they are saving to browse or try new things in store. The store visit is now a lower funnel process with opportunity to upsell or increase cart size, only after winning the right to transact in the first place!
This means that the impulse shopping and the consideration mindset is back, but only if the store has earned it by meeting the prioritized need and supporting the easy purchase. By providing that value, the store has drawn the customer’s casual interest and increased the likelihood of a larger cart by saving or even creating time for the customer to “shop” in the more traditional sense.
By delivering a good mobile strategy for an integrated experience in store, the retailer is now driving traffic again, because more customers will come to that store for a better experience while the competition suffers and wonders why. There will always be niche exceptions, but retail brands with strong brick and mortar will have to earn consideration and capture purchase intention online to succeed.
Jeff Smack
Director of Interactive Media

March 27, 2017

Creating New Routines in Retail

As the difficult trend of declining brick-and-mortar retail sales continues, lately, the big question seems to be “how can brick-and-mortar brands compete against prominent online shopping platforms?” Making the experience easier for customers is the answer.

New and better strategies are being implemented to meet customers at their mobile devices. Front-running brands like Nordstrom have partnered with companies like “like2bu.y” to allow customers to browse and purchase items from the company's Instagram account.

Text-to-buy software is also a fairly new tactic that brands are using to insert themselves in front of a heavy mobile user customer base. Again, Nordstrom has been ahead of the game and are using an app called “Textstyle”. They have implemented Textstyle with their store employees as concierge.

In store, the customer agrees to use Textstyle with the sales associate. The customer can then use that number along with their Nordstrom account to text the employee at any hour of the day, anytime, with ideas or a name or picture of an item they would like to purchase. The employee then uses the app to search for the item and sends a buying code to the customer who then responds back texting “buy.” That item is then delivered to them within no more than 3 days. There is even room for fashion advice and personal interaction. The employee is also required to check back in with the customer about the delivery of their order.

If an informed purchase process doesn’t require much effort from the customer, Nordstrom makes the sale. They have figured out a way to sell without requiring a trip to the store or even an online shopping cart process.

An eMarketer poll states “66% of US Retail Executives see digital channel modernization (replatforming/platform upgrade, responsive design) as leading strategic priorities.” We can see that smarter digital reach is on the radar across the landscape now. Despite declining brick-and-mortar retail sales trends, competitive brands aren't settling for a loss. As newer creative ideas for reaching customers digitally continue to emerge, customers will begin to raise expectations, and big brick-and-mortar brands will have a hard time boosting sales without meeting those expected measures.

Emily Mondloch
Market Research & Insights

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