January 07, 2009

Merchandise

When you look across acres of 60% off signs, buy-one-get-one-free, $3 shirt clearance racks, and other assorted discounts at the mall, you realize we've lost our connection with merchandise.

The folks at Apple haven't lost that connection. Your average Apple store has customers waiting outside the door.

A walk through the mall today indicates that the average store has one employee, and few customers.

At Nordstrom, our Chief Accessories Merchant was Margaret Myers. This merchant had PASSION. She fully believed in her merchandise. I could bring her 37 pages of customer data indicating that customers wanted "x". She would spend ten minutes, passionately arguing her case. I'd walk out of her office happily executing the exact opposite plan I wished to implement.

A merchant with passion is a terrible thing to waste.

When you walk through one of the large "brands" occupying space in a mall, do you see love and passion for merchandise? You can't replicate love and passion by paying Ashley Judd to use her image next to a pile of sale merchandise with the quote "I Love This Stuff!" on her image.

You want to have a merchant who communicates the story, who conveys passion, who wills you to want to buy the item.


Marketing and the credit devils (employees aren't credit devils, by the way, they're just doing their job) fill the void when passion isn't present.

We see desperation, not passion, when we see 60% and 70% off signs on every rounder. I understand this measure is necessary to clear inventory that is ready to spoil. But every second those signs sit on the rounders, a message is conveyed that is contrary to what the customer needs to hear.

A walk through the Bellis Fair Mall indicates that an era is coming to an end. Since about 1980, the Baby Boomer generation fueled retail commerce. Stores illustrated innovation and magic. Competitors filled the mall, then saturated the landscape. We bowed down to the credit devils, borrowing in order to over-saturate, to "capture marketshare" and "increase shareholder value". Ultimately, the Baby Boomers aged, they moved out of the prime shopping demographic. Half of Boomers now live outside of the coveted 25-54 demographic.

And Gen-X, of which I am a charter member, is the generation of e-commerce. We created a sterile, drill-down, algorithmic environment fueled by the lowest price, one where Google indirectly skims pennies from all of us. The mall owned the retail merchant. Google owns the online merchant. If Baby Boomers perfected traditional brand advertising, we perfected e-mail marketing, paid search, affiliate marketing, and shopping comparison sites. Not one of those tools convey passion for merchandise, though e-mail marketing has a chance if it doesn't land in your junk mail folder.

Maybe the Millenials will save us. Maybe they will focus on merchandise, on the importance of creating something that somebody "has to have", something that doesn't come with a mandatory e-mail signup, or a 15% off offer if you sign up for credit. Maybe we'll learn that it is truly important for a brand to have 23,048 followers on Twitter.

Or maybe we'll pull out of this by having a few bold merchandisers who are willing take a stand. Maybe we need to give more authority to the Margaret Myers' of the world.

4 comments:

  1. "At Nordstrom, our Chief Accessories Merchant was Margaret Myers. This merchant had PASSION. She fully believed in her merchandise. I could bring her 37 pages of customer data indicating that customers wanted "x". She would spend ten minutes, passionately arguing her case. I'd walk out of her office happily executing the exact opposite plan I wished to implement. A merchant with passion is a terrible thing to waste."

    If I were Margaret Myers, I'd kindly ask you to copy and paste this into LinkedIn as a testimonial. This is a magnificent complement from a highly respected retail thought leader, and it would be crazy for her not to leverage it.

    Harry Joiner
    EcommerceRecruiter.com
    As seen in "Internet Retailer"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous4:04 AM

    Kevin,
    Amazing!!!! Best post of 2009!
    Seriously, I haved worked most of the last decade with various vendors, and this discussion is soemthing that comes up time and time again.
    There is a total lack of passion on part of many(not all) merchants who remain buried in sales data.
    Many of these start off as buyer associates right out of college in dept they know nothing about, and within 1-2 years are buyers in different departments. They are promoted on math skills, making margins, maintaining same price points as competitors and keeping in budget. And just when the chosen few start to feel a passion, they are downsized and leave to become designers or sellers for the vendors.
    If you go to the actual floor, you see horrible cluttered and uncoordinated displays that match simialr displays at other retailers. Visual planners tell you they are stuck with the planograms, and planograms are more based on numbercrunching and copying what other retailers are doing than trying to spark buyer impulse like department stores of old(Marshal Fields, Wanamakers, Gimbels).
    Sears, Penneys, Macys, Kohls---their departments are mirrored, and only the lackluster "private" brandnames give you an idea of what store you are in. Else same brands prevail with same styles, same colors.
    You NEED passion for the merchandise. As you showed, datamining work with merchant creativity--be the reality check.
    Retailers should hire designers to work with a department buying team, not see their best buyers go off to vendors as designers because their stifled muse doesn't agree with the excel data.
    One vendor I worked with had the lead designer appear on the tv shopping channels. We were shown data that our sales were 200-300% higher when she appeared on the show---they had their best veteran host do a show and still it didn't compare to when our designer did one. That is PASSION!

    Kevin, please HAMMER this point in 2009. Unfortunately with everyone focused on recession and bottom line, not many will take plunge to try to move beyond focus on margins and financials. Sears and Macy's have forgotten this and if they want to survive to 2020 they better re-learn it. Stores like Forever21 and Buckle have learned it and their sales numbers show it.

    And kudos to Margaret Myers--where is she now? You paid her the best compliment and she deserves a toast!

    K

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous11:02 AM

    Margaret Myers
    Executive VP/Other Corporate Officer
    Nordstrom, Inc.
    Seattle , WA
    Sector: SERVICES / Apparel Stores
    Officer since November 2005

    61 Years Old
    Margaret Myers was named Executive Vice President and General Merchandise Manager - Accessories and Women's Specialized Divisions, in November 2005. She previously served as Vice President and Corporate Merchandise Manager from 2001 to November 2005, as Product Market Leader from 2000 to 2001, and as Divisional Merchandise Manager from 1998 to 2000. Ms. Myers has been employed by the Company since 1984.

    From forbes

    K

    ReplyDelete
  4. That would be Ms. Myers!

    ReplyDelete

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