August 04, 2013

2003: Stirrup Pants

Five popular songs from 2003:
  • "In da Club" - 50 Cent
  • "Ignition" - R. Kelly
  • "Get Busy" - Sean Paul
  • "Crazy In Love" - Beyonce featuring Jay-Z
  • "When I'm Gone" - 3 Doors Down
When channels go through a transition, odd things happen.

Recall the onset of e-commerce at Eddie Bauer ... a small number of orders, mostly for men's merchandise, while the catalog generated demand primarily for women's merchandise. In other words, the new channel served a niche market, while the incumbent channel served a mass market.

We learned at Nordstrom, back in 2003, that the same thing happens, in reverse, as a channel dies.

Back in 2003, the catalog was on the decline.  Younger catalog customers made the shift online, they were done with the catalog.  Store customers weren't terribly thrilled with the catalog either, buying as much from retail mailers as from the catalogs created by the Direct division.

Merchants noticed the change.  Catalog square inch analytics showed that the merchandise that "worked" was, increasingly, tailored to the needs of a 60+ year old customer.  And the best selling catalog item was a "stirrup pant".

Retail folks hated stirrup pants.  We knew this, because 60+ catalog customers would visit the store with stirrup pants in hand, ready to return them for a different size ... but the stores didn't carry stirrup pants.  Worse, the stores got dinged for the return.

Multichannel experts struggle with nuanced issues like the one we dealt with at Nordstrom in 2003.  Experts might ask stores to carry a style that didn't fit the retail assortment, to be fair to the catalog shopper.  Or they could ask the catalog to drop stirrup pants, and in the process, cause catalog customers consternation while hurting the productivity of the catalog.

What would you do?

By Holiday 2003, with all younger customers abandoning the catalog for the online experience, the creative in catalogs (and the merchandise) clearly appealed to a 60+ year old rural customer ... while the merchandise online and in stores clearly appealed to a 30-49 year old suburban/urban customer.

Customers noticed the disconnect.

Our Chief Marketing Officer (my new boss) noticed the disconnect.

And a whole lotta retail employees noticed the disconnect.

Something had to give.

What would you do?

By the way, this same issue is coming to e-commerce in the next five years.  As the mobile/social experience consumes customers age 18-39, e-commerce is going to be gutted from below, leaving an assortment that appeals to customers age 40-59.  This disconnect will be apparent, and dramatic, something that will challenge the e-commerce generation in unprecedented ways.  It's coming, folks.