Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Wild Rumpus Edition

While The Retail Muse was glued to the tube watching the increasing bizarre saga of "Balloon Boy", a riot broke out at the Burlington Coat Factory, Wal-Mart starts a book price war, Kindle comes up spades, and, with all the pomp and circumstance of a visit to the Magic Kingdom, Disney might actually get their retail presence right this time.

All this, including ER Iphone apps, and of course, Maurice Sendak and the Wild Things Let the wild rumpus begin notions!

There's a Riot Going on.

Another one of those "you can't make this stuff up" articles, concerning one Columbus, Ohio Burlington Coat Factory, a stretch Hummer limo, a lottery winner, and a riot in the racks.

Showing up in a giant stretch Hummer Limo at the Burlington Coat Factory, Linda Brown walked into the store, telling the shoppers that she had just won 1.5 Million in the lottery. To celebrate, she was buying everyone in the store a coat - up to $500. Naturally, bedlam ensued with 500 customers lining up at the registers, cashiers ringing up sale after sale, and another 1000 customer waiting outside to get in and take part in the freebie winter wraps.

Brown, who it turns out had not won the lottery, had her limo driver take her to a bank machine, and then returned to the store empty handed. admitting she had no money to pay for all the merchandise.

Customers acted in the most sensible manner possible, grabbing merchandise, demanding their free stuff and throwing merchandise on the floor. Store employees called in 2 dozen police officers to handle the crowds and restore order. Too late. As one Detective commented, "it was like Hurricane Katrina had swept through the store"

Talk about crying wolf coat.

How low can you go?, drove new book prices down to $8.99 for upcoming hardcover releases. Amazon matched the price point, and an all out price war hasdeveloped, driving hardcover books down 50% to 70% off the publisher suggested list price.

Publishers and booksellers responded that this price dumping wasn't good for the industry, and puts some publishing houses and authors in peril. Other industry observers noted that this price discount model on new titles rarely works, and only further erodes a fragile industry.

Kindle on campus? The results are mixed.

Two hundred students, who received free Kindle book reading devices from Amazon this year, have less than stellar reviews for the device. Many mentioned that the traditional textbook still seems to work. While the Kindle was praised for being a light and handy device, many students found the highlighting and note taking features to be lacking, confusing and not necessarily a good format for learning information.

Still, one student pointed out that using Kindle to listen to her textbooks while sitting in a traffic jam was a great feature, raising the possibility that Kindle could play an important role for students with disabilities in accessing and understanding material from textbooks.

While the jury is still out on the effectiveness on Kindle in the classroom, Amazon plans to use the information culled from this trial for further enhancements and modifications, with an eye of making Kindle an essential part of the student learning experience.

Disney Does Retail (again)

Been to a Disney store lately? No we didn't think so. Once profitable and engaging, Disney stores have fallen on bad times. Poorly and cheaply merchandised, and lack of customer service, the chain has struggled to regain its footing in the malls of America.

Now, with a little help from their Apple friend, Steve Jobs, Disney has launched a new prototype store called "Imagination Park" Gone are rows of merchandise. Instead, a new entertainment theme has been developed. Children can now watch movie clips, chat with Disney stars live via satellite, and sing along to their favorite Disney song.

Microchips in products would unveil hidden entertainment within the stores, fiber optic trees would come alive through the space, and cashiers would be equipped with handheld wireless devices to ring up purchases on the sales floor.

A dramatic change? For Disney retail, definitely a new outlook. Inspired by Jobs comments to "think big", access to Jobs wildly successful Apple stores, and a desire to re emphasise entertainment within a traditional store setting, Disney is setting it's sighs high.

With each store costing a reported $1 million to create and overhaul, it's a big risk for Disney, but has been met with overall enthusiastic response from industry watchers.


Apple Store sales average a whopping $4,700 a square foot. By far the highest for a chain retailer. By comparison, Best Buy clocks in at $1000/sq foot. How does your store compare?

Doctor Doctor, Give me the news.

If you are driving down the freeways of Florida, and wondering how long it would take a doctor to see you at the local ER, well you are in luck! Hospital Corporation of America (East Florida Div) has installed large billboards which include an RSS feed showing the estimated wait times at your ER. (Hmmmm says the Muse.....Didn't we talk about this as a good idea recently?)

The company has developed an iphone and texting app (called itriage) that allows you to send a request, and receive information on the closet ER, access to a ER nurse and of course the estimated waiting time.

This is not going to work when you are having a heart attack! The company is quick to point out that 911 should be your first call in critical situations. Yet, it is an intriguing and smart use of technology. Dancing on the line between brilliant and gimmicky; which all great marketing campaigns are made of.

Wild make my heart sing.

Offer a children's literature course on campus? Then time to head to the textbook stacks and brush off your copies of "Where The Wild Things Are", Maurice Sendak's Caldicott award winning book. Considered one of the finest children's picture books ever, (although the Muse has a soft spot for Brown's Goodnight Moon"), Sendak's magnum opus is getting big press as the movie adaptation opened in theatres this weekend.

It's a curious amalgamation of the best in children's literature, one of the best directors in the country (Spike Jonze), and a script penned by McSweeny's founder and "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" author David Eggers.

Reviews have been lukewarm for the film, but displaying the book in your store along with a few plays of the Troggs hit "Wild Thing", and you are sure to attract attention and re-live those moments when you wanted to be just like Max.

Happy campus rumpus!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion - Halloween Horrors

Potato chips, candy, dressing as vampires! Has The Retail Muse gone all Halloween three weeks early? Seems like it, and as the muse gorges on salty snacks and tightens his cape, he checks out student bloggers, Vooks, silly walks and "who loves yeah baby". All this and more in the Muse's personal Zombieland.

The economic pillar of salt.
Presumably, an indication of how bad the economy is, can be measured by the quantity of potato chips consumed. Not an economic theory yet, but salty potato chip snack sales have risen 22% since the economy tanked. As the economy recovers, sales will rise a modest 4% per year.

Why? Experts say it's because salty snacks are a good value (which The Muse thinks means "filling"), and a growing trend to chop down on chips between meals. Although 2/3 of shoppers say they want healthier alternatives to chips, with over 300 new salty snacks hitting the market in the last year, it's clear that wants, and needs are not translating into increased sales.

Candy Land

If your idea of a good time at the store is slipping into a diabetic coma, then Dubai is the place for you. Candylicious is the name of the worlds largest candy store, recently opened in Dubai, UAE, spanning 10,000 square feet of sweet fun. Pillars embedded with candy and a candy airplane flying overhead are just two of the out of the world experiences at this candy haven.

The Twilight of True Blood

Even if consumers are going all frugal this Halloween season, Vampires are the #1 choice for adults as a costume. The success of True Blood, and excitement building for the new Twilight movie, have made vampires a must costume this season. Pirates, costume choices. Nurses and politicians have fallen down on the list of most popular.clowns and the Muses' favorite, - Wenches/tarts/vixens, round out the top five Health Care Fatigue?

Recruiting Student Bloggers

MIT has ramped up the blogging of students, encouraging enrolled students to blog on anything and everything about their campus experience. There must be a few good nuggets about campus retail in these blogs, one guesses, but recruiters are using these blogs to appeal to High School students, and prospective recruits to show the
human fun side of college life. MIT has grasped it in a big way, but Amherst, Yale and Vasser are all seeing these blogs as an effective recruitment tool for new students.

When panic sets in

Book publishers, checking out their financial statements, are developing multi media applications for popular ebooks. After years of trying this with college textbooks, publishers are embedding video, charts and music within popular fiction and non fiction titles to ride the Kindle craze. The moniker for all this multi media mania is "vooks" (Video Books), one of the most unpleasant product names of all time.

Silly Walks.

It"s been forty years since the first episode of Monty Pythons Flying Circus sketch show, but interest and enthusiasm still runs strong. New documentaries, a stage show with the 5 remaining cast members, and a host of products are hitting the bookshelves and theaters in the next month. Interest in Python has never waned, with 12 year old to college students still reciting the lines of "bookshop" and "dead Parrot" and "ministry of Silly Walks" to anyone that doesn't roll their eyes in tedium. Still, a great and fun product line to sell in many a campus store.

Who loves yeah?

According to Internet Retailer the most talked about companies online include Amazon, Target and Ikea. The new survey tracks references to the retailers name over 100 million blogs, including analyzing the tone of each reference. Other most talked about retailers, include discounters like Wal-mart, Costco and Kmart. Other top fifty references include tech retails like BestBuy, and fashion depots such as H&M.

Pop up in Airports.

Campus retailers can always look to airport retail as a good example of what might come their way some day. In Glasgow, Scotland, pop Up retail has taken on a new form with the company Planeshop. This company is setting up pop up retail sites throughout the airport with the intent of changing the brand and product selection on a regular basis. A carousel of ever changing products for consumers. Customers can vote for the brands they would like to see in the store for the future, and as each brand "pops" up, the outside graphics change to lure new shoppers in.

Walgreen's Basics

Rather than roll out more locations, Walgreen's is taking a new tack, renovating existing stores and reducing inventory. Many of the nations Walgreen's will be renovated to update the in store experience. Additionally, Walgreen's is reducing the amount of products they carry, reducing a typical 22,000 item Walgreen's by some 5000 items. The hope is to make products more visible, weed out slow selling products and make the shopping experience more worthwhile for the customer.

Now, when was the last time you thought a campus store could take a page from Walgreen's?