IT IS EASY TO KNOCK SOMEONE—or something—when they are down; but, then again, sometimes they may deserve it. Take mighty Macy’s, long viewed
as the crown jewel in the American department store business, and equally thought of
as a bellwether for much of the retail industry over the last three or four decades.
In early January, Macy’s created a lot of
noise on Wall Street
and Main Street when
it announced that due
to slow sales in the
fourth quarter it was
closing about 40 stores
and laying off more
than 4,000 employees.
The reason, its chief
executive said, was
that much warmer than
in the fourth quarter
put a severe hurt into the clothing sales that
have long powered the Macy’s engine.
Hey, I get it. December was a pretty warm
month in much of the country. In fact, I was
walking around suburban New York in a
T-shirt and shorts on Christmas Eve, and it
was even warmer on Christmas Day. I cer-
tainly was not in the mood to buy that extra
sweater or winter jacket this holiday season.
But if I was, I was not going to buy it at
Macy’s anyway. How do I put this nicely?
Okay, lets just let it flow. I think that Macy’s
has lost touch with its most important consumer group, those shoppers looking for
fashion and style, along with professional
assistance, without paying top dollar.
Instead, Macy’s took a left turn about a
decade ago into mass merchandising, trying to be “Walmart with an attitude,” offering everything to everyone and praying
that most people did not catch on. Well, we
did and a lot of us did not like it.
With so many other options—ranging
from high-end stores like Nordstrom and
Saks Fifth Avenue, to trendy boutiques scat-
tered around malls across the country—
Macy’s lost its edge. The result is store clos-
ings galore and thousands of people losing
their jobs, all because some top dog years
ago decided that the Macy’s tent was big
enough for all consumers.
So how does Macy’s get the momentum
back? One thing might be to focus on its
core consumers again. Service is important
to people who shop department stores and
it is the main reason they are willing to pay
higher prices for essentially the same prod-
uct at these types of outlets. The bottom line
is that Macy’s needs to improve its service.
Another thing may be to cut back on its
merchandise selection. Offering consumers
too many options has a way of turning many
shoppers off, especially when they are in a
hurry to buy something or are undecided
on what to get. Third might be an upgrade
in appearance. I know that times are tough,
but management needs to invest a lot of
money into fixing up the look at Macy’s,
maybe even bringing it into the 21st century
in terms of décor and design.
In the end, Macy’s troubles can be traced
to a desire to cash in on a trend. The problem is that trend faded away and along with
it, the magic.
There is a lesson to learn here.
FROM THE PUBLISHER
WHEN THE MAGIC FADES
Grocers can learn a lesson from Macy’s struggles.
By Seth Mendelson
Seth Mendelson is publisher
and editorial director of Grocery