Monday, August 31, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Aug 31, 2009

The lazy, hazy, last days of summer. The retail muse relaxing in a deck chair, watching the sun set, and musing on the future. Will the fashionista tween boys of 2009 be the college students of 2018? Will guerrilla McDonalds marketing campaigns take over the hallowed halls of academia? How will customers respond to more soap box marketing? All these  are on the Muse's mind as he sleeps single in an Ikea bed and reads, that no matter what is happening in the economy, the class of 2013 is heading to school with full wallets and optimism. 

Happy back to school notions! 

Sometimes a great notion - Week of August 31, 2009 

FASHION (turn to the left) FASHION (turn to the right) 

Every fashion manufacture and retailer worth their due has been chasing the tween girl market for a few years now. But what about those 11-14 year old boys? Is Mom still dressing them? According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, the answer is a resounding no. Tween boys, saturated by skater culture and videos, are breaking out in record numbers, looking for branded, trendy clothes to wear this back to school season. Citing Lacoste, TNT, and Diesel, these boys are looking to stand out and dress well, even at 11. It's an interesting trend to stay on top of. No sweatpants and grubby Ts for this group. Rather, upscale, branded, cutting edge fashion. 

They think about their wardrobes, plan their outfits, and want to represent a social strata. Still, they are not completely without words of wisdom. One tween says that the one thing he would NOT wear is a thong. Words of fashion wisdom for any age. 

When Marketing hits the classroom. 

Students at a recent Boston University marketing lecture, experienced a bit of real world marketing, when their class was interrupted by perky McDonalds reps, handing out free coffee drinks to the class. But the students, happy to get a free mcLatte were the unknowing stars of a new national commercial that McDonalds plans to air nationally in the next two weeks. Hidden cameras recorded the event, editing it into a full blown commercial with the surprised students. Marketing students later did have the opportunity to spend time with the advertising agency, learning how commercials are developed, implemented and edited, but it raises a big question. If this something that campuses will embrace to solve budget shortfalls? You can see the rough cut video here: 

Stand on the soap box. 

Retailers, have for many years, embraced social and charitable issues as a way to resonate with customers. This has not always been successful, when you consider the "green washing" and now "pink washing" comments directed at some retailers and manufacturers. Now, The Body Shop, has launched a campaign to raise awareness and halt global sex trafficking. It's an important issue to be sure, but will customers want to hear about sex trafficking while shopping for aloe? According to Simon Houpt the jury is still out, and Body Shop is taking a fairly soft touch with their awareness campaign. 

Sleeping Single in an Ikea Bed. 

If you ever have rolled your eyes at students sitting around and sleeping on your furniture, then this article is for you! The LA Times recently wrote an article about how much Beijing, China likes Ikea. But, not in the way you think. Instead of sales, Ikea in China (there are 7 stores), has encountered most of their customers visiting the store to hang out and sleep. Customers arrive with a plan to spend 5 hours or more in the store. Snacking at the restaurants, bringing books and stuffed toys for their kids, napping in the beds and generally using Ikea as a vacation site for a Saturday afternoon. Ikea hopes eventually that all these napping  customers will translate into sales, but until then they are letting the sleeping experience continue. 

Confident Class of 2o13 

A recently released Alloy College Explorer survey found that the class of 2013 was heading back to school more concerned, and conservative, than ever before. But, more positive about their personal impact and the future of the economy. 

The survey goes on to mention that while their may be an economic downturn, the 2013 class still has to have it, has the money to pay for it, and wants "it" to evoke "happy" and "trusted" feelings. They see Apple, Target, Sony, and Wrigley as meeting their "happy" needs, while they trust brands like Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, and Dell. 

Are they happy with your store? do they trust your store? 

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - August 24

With Fall 2009 back to school rush hitting campuses right about now, The Retail Muse stands in some lineups, reads the NYT, wonders about those new discounts at Abercrombie, thinks about the campus tour, and pauses to consider voice recognition for finding textbooks. 

Shuffling through the long line, The Retail Muse practices some shadow puppets, to lighten the mood and keep all amused. 

Happy lineup notions! 

The waiting is the hardest part. 

You don't have to tell a campus retailer that the biggest challenge during rush, is managing the lineup and wait times. Still, according to the Wall Street Journal, the biggest, ongoing checkout lineups  continue to be with your local grocery store. And it's driving customers nuts. The biggest complaint mentioned by customers, outside of waiting time,  is fairness. No matter what line you take at the checkout, you will end up in  the slowest one. 

Now retailers are moving from individual checkout lines, to one large line. Just like banks, airlines, and College Stores! 

Buffing the price. 

After insisting that they would stand firm on  their pricing strategy, no matter what the economy was doing, retailer Abercrombie and Fitch has finally blinked. After a recent quarterly loss, Abercrombie is revisiting it's retail prices, and looking for ways to add value, and appeal to cost conscience buyers. Not sure if this is too little, too late, but desperate times calls for desperate measures, even in the buff world of A and F. 

Backwards, forwards. 

Colleges are looking at ways to improve the college tours says the New York Times. Besides focusing on more dialogue with the attendees, the biggest change for college tour guides is to walk forwards! That's right, auditors of college tours noted that being a tour guide, walking backwards all the time, resulted in a rather challenging conversation, and the risk of hitting trees. 

Sensible markdowns. 

BusinessWeek has an interesting article on the perils of discounting, focusing on the top three rules of sensible markdowns. Discount briefly, discount credibly, discount creatively. An excellent article for all buyers, merchandisers and managers to consult before slashing prices. 

The death of the textbook. 

It must be August, when the media goes to print with the latest and greatest ideas to avoid purchasing textbooks. The New York Times has an exhaustive article on publisher direct textbook rentals, while a recent article from canwest news service voices enthusiasm over the virtual textbooks as convenient as a students' iPhone. 

Speak to me. 

If customers are getting lost in your store, searching out the required titles for this fall, then this might be for you. Ace Hardware is rolling out a pilot program to tell customers where in the store items are located, via their cell phone, and voice recognition software. The customer says the name of the product, and then, the system tells the customer where the product is located in the specific store. Presumably this will make shopping for nuts and bolts that much easier, but imagine if this worked for your textbooks! 


Only the cold hearted dislike bunnies and shadow puppets. US Cellular has just launched a new ad that has nothing to do with cell phones, but everything to do with charm. you can check out the video below, which should put a smile on anyone's face. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Frugal Notions

 Sometimes a Great Notion             Week of Aug 10 , 2009                                                

Ah the discount days of summer! With overall retail sales slumping in July, the trend to follow right now appears to be frugal shopping. Back to school season is all about savings, discounts, and cutting back on the BTS budget. Cheap is the new black.

Amongst all the doom and gloom, THERETAILMUSE checks out at the latest in restaurant trends, orders a coffee from McDonald's, tries to use the laptop in NYC, and hangs out with Sears (Sears?!), to choose some new dorm room accouterments.

Happy frugal notions!

Getting Chopped

A Tuscon, Arizona couple have opened a new restaurant concept called “chopped” . With two locations in Arizona, the couple hope to take their concept nationwide through franchising. The concept is pretty simple. Fresh, big, made to order salads, with fresh soup and sandwiches. Customers can choose from created salads or create their own by filling out a card, and ticking off their favorite ingredients. Salads range from 6.99 to 9.99. It’s a healthy, leafy version of 31 flavours ice cream. A perfect fit for campus food services.

A Cup of McJoe

McDonald's Corp should be happy these days. While all their competitors try to ride out the recession, McDonald's global sales have increased 4.3% in July. Most of this increase comes on the back of McDonald's coffee sales, including the espresso and latte’s, under the new McCafe banner. This low price, coffee alternative, is pulling people away from Starbucks and other premium brands, making a simple inexpensive cup of coffee a consumer delight.

Not always welcome.

Coffeehouses in New York City have had enough of people using their restaurants to dwell in, and use the free wireless service. Stating that customers take up tables that are needed for lunch rushes, one coffee shop owner has stopped offering wifi service in the café, and others are following suit. Although this appears to be happening only in NYC, it is likely to spread as owners and operators look for ways to maximize their investment. It reminds me of the trend to put chairs in Bookstores, then take them out, then now bring them back again. Keeps customers guessing I guess!

Radio Waves.

Presumably Radio Shack is still in business! To celebrate this fact, and to remind customers that they are still around, Radio Shack is re-branding as “the Shack”. Well, sort of. Word from Radio Shack CEO is that “the Shack” moniker will be used in marketing and branding statements, but the stores will remain as “Radio Shack” for the time being. Will this change confuse people, or just seem be ignored?

Old School Marketing

Since all the marketing money these days seems to be spent on E pursuits, a new study suggests that old school newspaper insert marketing may be just the way to go. According to MORI research, 59% of adults use newspaper inserts to review, analyze, and make purchasing decisions on products. Certainly bucks the conventional wisdom. Wonder if this holds true for the 18 to 25 year old crowd on campus?

Booksellers Unite.

Barnes and Noble has purchased B and N College Inc for 596 Million. The college division was separated from B and N in 1986. Interestingly, while B and N store sales are down 3% this year, the college division have seen sales increase averages of 6.2% over the past three years.

Powell’s City of Books is revamping its website to stay competitive, and remain a force within the online book purchasing world. Although significantly smaller than Amazon and Barnes and Noble, Powell’s attributes 25% of their yearly 45.2 million revenue through their online site. Plans to revamp the site include adding new product categories, and have resulted in new store positions, including an e-commerce store manager, an e-commerce marketing manager and technology specialist.

Dorm Room Chic

Sears has entered the dorm room business in a big way with a facebook application called “campus ready”. It  includes, among many things, an interactive dorm room design tool  that allows users to drag and drop furnishing into the space, getting a chance to see what their selections will look like in their new dorm. Of course, they can then choose color combinations, order online, and pick up from the Sears store nearest their campus. Smart idea, if somewhat utilitarian.

If Sears is not for your customers, check out an interesting article from the Hartford Courant: Dorm Décor on a Dime. The article describes a number of strategies students are using to ensure frugality (there is that word again), is not frumpy. Students are loading carts at dollar stores, checking out discounts on facebook and twitter, and browsing








Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Blink or miss it Notions

Remember last week when tales of retailers gearing up for BTS was all the rage? This week the mass merchants are price slashing deeper than ever before. Seems pretty difficult to compete on pricing right now, so The Retail Muse” searched out some weird and wonderful products, which might distinguish your store from all the rest. In the process, we found a few interesting tidbits on pop up retail, and how to keep up with changing trends.

 Blink or you’ll miss it notions!

 Sometimes a Great Notion                         Week of Aug 3, 2009                                                

  The $300 laptop 

Both Wal-Mart and Best Buy have launched major back to school laptop promotions, breaking the $300 retail price point. Best Buy is offering an entry level laptop at $299. Not to be outdone, Wal-Mart started offering its laptop this weekend, at a price of $298. Both companies are offering national branded product, although the laptops are definitely entry level, with low levels of RAM and Hard Drive size. At $300 though, customers will be giving some serious thought to these offers, and might have some trouble understanding the large price difference between these models, and laptops needed by college students.

 Weird and Wonderful 

Looking for products and services that make you stand out? Here are a few weird and wonderful ideas for the upcoming sales season: 

  • Web sites promoting handmade and unique items are gaining in popularity., Etsy, and Silkfare, are three web portals linking local artisans with interested buyers. As customers search out new and different products to buy, these sites have gained rapidly in popularity. Etsy, saw sales rise from $166,000 in their first year of business, to now over 87 million. Opportunities for retailers to hook up with these sites are growing. This allows stores the chance to stock, and sell items that customers can’t find elsewhere.
  • Harry Potter is so July 2009. This fall it is all about Twilight, as the second movie of the wildly popular book series hit the theatres this October. There are many opportunities for selling Twilight merchandise, including of course, the books! Nordstrom has just launched a new fashion line in their stores inspired by the movie, called Twilight: New Moon collection. Except every other retailer to ride the Twilight bandwagon in the fall.

  • Mosquito repellent as the big seller? How weird is that! The new Proctor and Gamble clip-on mosquito repellent has become the must have item this summer. According to P and G, sales for the plastic clip-on mosquito repellent fan, sold under the “off” brand name, have exceeded sales projects by 400%
  • Stores are sold out, customers are searching far and wide for one, and P and G can’t keep up to the orders flooding in for this $9 geek clip on fan. Sometimes you got to wonder what grabs the attention of people.

 Pop goes the Store 

Pop up retail is back. The action of setting up stores in un-used spaces for a few days or weeks has had some success in the past. Now retailers are back to experimenting this summer, opening in old museums, abandoned store fronts and other, unused buildings. The key is to create excitement for the customer and emphasise scarcity. Buy it today or we are gone tomorrow.

 No word on retailers considering college campuses, like they did in some places last year. But, worth keeping an eye out on your campus in case the big Target bulls-eye is suddenly draped across your campus commons.

 Track it all 

Now you can track everything in the world of trends through it’s a free service that bills itself as a real time social and digital media tracking service. You can track up to ten trends from all the top social networking sites, and track twitter searches to see what is hot, and not,  every hour of every day. It’s an interesting site, proving again that mass culture trends come and go in the blink of an eye.