A case study in exclusivity & more: Costco

Costco might be my favorite place to shop, ever.

Sure, I’ve rattled on about Ikea, have praised the store concepts of Verizon and I believe retailers can copy the atmosphere of the Apple Store. But none of them hold a candle to Costco.

Please, tell me if I am alone with this. But I think not.

There is a rush with Costco like none other. The excitement comes with pulling out your membership card to be clicked into the warehouse, for instance. That rush, if you’re like me, is a little like the anticipation I had as a child Christmas morning. There is always something new (albeit, a lot of items I don’t really need) to pique my interest – and that thill of discovery is indeed just like getting a gift from Santa.

Costco and its model.

Costco
Costco membership has its advantages, both rational and emotional.

It begins with the membership. Actually, we should look at it differently than a membership. What we are really paying for is a kind of exclusivity. Membership can be a hurdle in some cases (like credit unions, but that’s because of other factors). Mostly, however, an emotional driver is being part of an exclusive club.

In this case, Costco promises lower prices (especially in bulk) but members have found that it offers loss leaders that give it some pizzaz.

Consider this from investopida.com:

“The biggest Costco loss leaders in America right now are rotisserie chicken, the hot dog & soda combo and gas. A Bloomberg article has calculated that Costco earns only $14 million in profit a year on its sale of 70 million chickens…These chickens, placed deep into the store along with the cheap fruits and vegetables, mean that customers have to walk through lots of merchandise to pick one up – and hopefully, along the way, they’ll grab some other products to make their trip to Costco worthwhile.”

It’s true. Every time I venture to Costco I normally have one product in mind that I need to pick-up. To find that in the warehouse takes time. In that time, there is much space to cover; space filled with unique goods and samples and odds and ends. Consequentially, by the time I hit the checkout line, I have a full cart. I’m also considering grabbing a slice of pizza or a hot dog on the way out.

Of course I go with the hot dog. I mean, who can beat a large soda and hot dog for a buck fifty?

Department Store Rebranding: Mandatory

Department Store Rebranding
Merchandise is too crowded

Why talk about department store rebranding? Because the department store market and the retail industry needs a complete reset (read a detailed market study of the entire retail category here). Department store chains are closing stores.

Malls are empty, traffic is down 5.8% from last year nationwide. Consumers spend their money on experiences (hold that thought), such as dining or travel rather than shopping. And too many retailers count on bountiful holiday sales to save their year.

Department Store Rebranding What the retail industry truly needs is clear: Department store rebranding— a complete rethinking of the model.

Department store rebranding is the highest priority. Change is needed. Without change, retailers that depend on sales from their brick and mortar locations are irrelevant.

It is worse and more desperate for major department stores. They will become extinct. This is especially the case for the legacy department stores. In a nutshell this is the entire argument for department store rebranding. Change now or die.

Amazon in particular and the web in general is the new normal for shoppers, dominating the retail industry. Amazon dominates by being an online portal for items ranging from electronics to toys to apparel. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not purchased through the online giant.

Department stores. What’s next?

Department Store Rebranding So what are retailers to do? More specifically, what are department stores to do? There are all sorts of tactics they can employ to stem the plunge of market share. But they will fail.

Department store rebranding from the ground-up is a needed strategic decision and not just a tactical one. Without this complete overhaul of department store rebranding initiatives and the total repositioning this means the vaunted old brands are finished.  And finished soon.

We’ve dissected many retailers, including a report written for the Retail Customer Experience which encourages retailers to merge their in-store and online personalities.

We’ve also said “stop trying to be everything to everybody”. But tactical changes won’t save department stores. They need strategic change. They must redefine the value proposition for the target shoppers and convince them that their brands are relevant.

Department store rebranding restores relevancy.

Department Store Rebranding One way you recapture relevancy in a market — and even succeed — is rebranding. Department store rebranding pulls them out of the ditch because, done properly, they are meaningful to target audiences. And the store is more important than simply restating product or category benefits.

Without that preference, no tactic or strategy can ensure the brands future success. If you are a department store, rebranding is the only way you can survive.

Rethinking is more than just rebranding department stores and their messages.

Department Store Rebranding Rebranding department stores is more than just a new name, logo and tag line. It is fundamental change— real changes in operations and structure. Changes implemented to magnify and support the new brand strategy.

Even traditional rebranding does not go far enough. Retailers must rethink everything.

The market, especially those large department stores like Macy’s, Belk’s, JC Penney, Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, Debenhams, Meijer, Von Maur, Boscov’s, The Bon-Ton, and the like, are sliding into irrelevancy and, in many ways, are already irrelevant to the new shopper.

Department Store Rebranding Shoppers vote with their dollars. And the department stores feel like they have passed their own time limit on this earth.

Right?

Probably right. Department stores: Be something different than what you are today. That’s how you survive. The ongoing sales promotions and specials that you rely on don’t do the trick. Black Friday won’t save you.

Their stores are overcrowded with product, there are no sight-lines, crowded shelves does not say variety rather it creates a feeling of being hurried. As a result shopping for apparel is boring at best and harried at its worst.

Department store rebranding for experience.

Department Store Rebranding Remember, earlier on when we spoke about consumers spending money on experiences? Shopping in department stores is mundane and it does not get the pulse rising. Part of department store rebranding is to revitalize the experience and make it deeply personal.

It’s especially problematic for women. There is more selection and yet more difficulty in finding clothes that both fit and are appealing.

Men walk into a store, know their inseam, waist, arm and neck sizes and, voila, there is a suit. As a result, men are free to purchase based on the look, style, price and brand. They find what is available in their size and they buy it. Minor alterations are acceptable and easy to accomplish. Many times, off the rack is a real phenomenon.

Department Store Rebranding
The problems at Macy’s are systematic of the retail space.

Women shop on size and department, which varies by store and by brand. Go into a Macy’s, for instance, and find a size 4 that’s a size 2 at another department store. It’s even worse than that. Shoppers shop in that same Macy’s, find a size 2 that fits and another size 2 that doesn’t.

That variation in experience is confusing and…dull. Women look at overcrowded and jammed racks in poorly set up departments. And all this to find a garment that appeals to them aesthetically.

As a result they are forced to search the jammed racks for that design or style in their size – even though they know that label size is no guarantee of proper fitting. This means they try on everything and sort through all sorts of retail disappointment. This is not an experience. It is a nightmare.

That’s not shopping, either. It does not translate into purchases. That’s solving the Pythagorean theorem.

An example of rethinking everything at department stores.

Department Store Rebranding Large department stores must rethink everything, from their brand to their operations to really rebrand effectively. Rethink the in-store experience. Attract more women shoppers. REAL preference is job number one.

Ladies apparel is a $225 billion business; so preference, not just dropping in, is immensely profitable and increases relevancy in a dying industry. It is optimal to make the department store the destination. And not just for Christmas.

Is the solution transitioning to on-line?

That still raises important business facts. Department stores own large amounts of real estate. They have expensive long-term leases. What does it do to profitability if the great department store chains are forced to retreat and rely on web sales only?
Can they survive that sort of apocalypse? There is another answer. There has to be.

Department Store Rebranding and AmazonIf the Amazon model IS the future then bankruptcy and chapter 11 is the interim step to treading water and waiting for the merciful euthanasia. Any numbskull can suggest the move to on-line sales.

The problem is it won’t work with the current structures. Department stores desperately need an answer that lets them protect the brick and mortar investments that revitalizes shoppers today and in the future.

Success leaves clues. Shoe department retailing.

Department Store Rebranding
Shoe departments hold the clues to success

So back to the problem of finding the right fit. That is not a problem when shoppers shop for shoes or handbags. Consumers easily see what’s offered without the clutter, find the style they like in the right size and are off with it.

Shoe sizes are universal. The shopping experience is positive. Shoes are displayed on roomy racks and displays and the shopper scans all the shoes (including style, color and form) and then the shoe salesperson bring the shopper the shoes in their size.

Funny how simple it is. How civilized the experience, despite being in the morass of other crowded and jammed departments of clothing.

Department Store Rebranding Why can’t women’s apparel be like that? Department stores rebranding is possible building on that successful model.

Rebranding requires retailers to rethink their stores operations and how technology is utilized. Sadly, the highest level of technology in retail today is a copy of Amazon’s model. Order online and pick up.

But apparel is a different animal, especially in women’s apparel. The sizing of women’s garments is useless. A standard that unifies sizing everywhere sounds like the big answer. Is it?

Yes, absolutely. The sheer amount of returns because clothing does not fit is an issue for Amazon too. There is no regulatory agency to govern sizing so that changes takes real effort from the industry.

Use digital tailoring software. Make the experience personal.

Department Store Rebranding Instead, we recommend retailers of women’s apparel adopt the sizing structure that works in the shoe department model. That is, just use measurements. Display style samples and have sizes in the back warehouse.

Even that is unmanageable because women, unlike men, don’t share a basic shape.

However, the playing field changes as shoppers provide a profile of their exact measurements. Can high-end apparel stores  digitally measure the consumer and privately store those measurements in a private file? Of course they can.

Is it then possible to alter custom fit clothes to their specifications? Yes, but that is not the best model. Executing that on a mass scale so a Macy’s or Dillard’s use it is a challenge.

Department stores can afford to automate it. Do it digitally.

As a customer visits your store for the first time, direct them to a private dressing room and digitally scan their measurements. Their exact measurements are stored in their personal and branded app.

Department Store Rebranding
Use technology to customize customer service

As customers shop in the newly designed departments with newly redefined department titles based upon lifestyle rather than the traditional Juniors, Petite etc., departments.  Shoppers can look at every offering, all displayed in a size 4. They now shop by cut, fabric, color, brand and style. Not size because only one size needs to be on display (just like the shoe department model we discussed earlier).

The convenience of their smart phone is utilized, They scan the code of the item of interest and the app stores the choice. The store is no longer jammed with every offering in every size. The result? The branded experience of shopping is civilized.

The racks are not crowded and the styles themselves are highlighted. The retailers use their merchandising skills to highlight offering. Suddenly, there are sight lines in the department store and an opportunity for the retailer to practice their skill at displaying wares and merchandising.

How it benefits you.

Department Store Rebranding
High-End stores have the right merchandising model

Here’s how this complete department store rebranding works. Simplify the offerings on the store floor much like high-end retailers. Customers actually see the garments in lengthy and leisurely glance. Consumers develop a digital profile on their measurements that is part of the retailers database. Because you know them and they now know you, a relationship is established.

When they return to the department store, consumers open the app to say they are in the store and what, in general, they are looking for.

Department Store Rebranding If the garments are bar coded by actual measurements, then a warehouse employee gathers those garments in real time from the back warehouse (remember the shoe model) that actually fit that customer.

When shopping is done, the shopper tells the app and are assigned a dressing room. The promise is that, in 10 minutes, everything they scanned will be in their dressing room and in their size.

Better yet, customers could use the app to say they are coming to the store and to get their personal rack ready and pre-placed in a dressing room.

Think about this. If implemented, it creates a preference for the department store brand (which reflects the change in the retail experience) and a database is established to enable more effective buys from designers and better PERSONALIZED service (read how affinity programs fail here). The customer chooses if they want the clothing in the dressing room or if they require human assistance.

The newly branded department store experience.

Department Store Rebranding
It is about the experience of shopping

The new experience reconfigures the department store experience and decreases the display space and increases the warehousing. It requires an investment in logistics and warehouse systems.

But the new department store is now an adventure in experience and we know that customers covet that. The department store rebranding process combined with new thinking provides new preference.

Think it’s not possible? Amazon can do it, and Amazon is the retailer that terrifies the rest of the industry. The online retail giant, who just announced plans to open brick and mortar stores, is threatening to take over the entire industry while its players stand still and watch.

Amazon transports product anywhere in the world overnight. Is a tight logistics system that creates in-store logistics providing results in 15 minutes impossible? Believe that and you are doomed.

The future in department store rebranding is in personalized automation.

Department Store Rebranding All it takes is an automated, software system that makes it easy to find the right clothes at the right time from your warehouse space. It, therefore, allows the shopper to buy and shop based on taste, style and color, just like they do with shoes and handbags. It means sales improve because shoppers see the entire inventory.

Plus, in the spirit of discovery, the store adds a few surprises— a few alternatives for that shopper based upon the customer profile and design preference. All of this accomplished by an algorithm.

Department stores, don’t get caught up in — “That can’t be done.”

Department Store Rebranding Change or die. That’s the simple truth. This is just one idea. The point is that department store retailers, whether they are in apparel or not— let go of age-old habits. Dead brands are full of leaders who once said, “That can’t be done.”

Department store retailers must do two things. 1) Consider a total rebrand because few retailers position the brands against the competition and as a result are not meaningful enough to target audiences. (Here’s how we rebrand for our clients.)

2) Rethink everything. Ask the right questions in brand research that goes beyond simple usage and attitudes. The current model is a rapidly dying one. And given the current trajectory, there will only be room for one of the major department stores.

There is a third strategy retailers can adopt (and many are). Do nothing and watch Amazon destroy your business. But, as in most things, victory belongs to the first mover.

 

Read more about the retail market and department stores here:

Amazon and Black Friday

Macy’s loses importance

Another retail casualty the CEO of Stein Mart

Macy’s National Hiring Day

Macy’s should have known better

Which retailers will survive?

Retail in a nutshell

The blinding of Sears and JC Penny

Brookstone needs rebranding

Staples is not fixed

Promotions and Millennials

Bad experiences at Best Buy

Why Sports Authority Died

What about Black Friday?

Amazon Prime Day 

Here are some articles and blogs on REBRANDING

Rebranding GlenGuard

Grocery Rebranding and Amazon

Rebranding of Mastercard

Rebranding Electrolux

Rebranding is all about mindset

Rebranding Steven Colbert

Rebranding Constantly

Stealing Share. Rebranding Experts.

Choosing a rebranding company. The rules.

Rebranding Newspapers. Finding new importance

Analyzing a brand for rebranding opportunities

Promotions won’t make millennials loyal

The holy grail of brands and advertisers is reaching millennials, that misunderstood demographic that represents the future of every brand. This is the group everyone from retailers to TV networks is trying to reach in order to gain lifetime brand loyalty.

With college students returning to school this month, retailers are trotting out specials to attract that young generation. Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Best Buy allow students to sign up for a kind of wedding registry so family can contribute. Amazon is offering college students six-month free trials of its Prime membership and DirecTV allows students to access its NFL Sunday Ticket coverage without a satellite subscription.

Millennials
Promotions won’t make millennials brand loyal.

I give those brands credit for at least thinking tactically. Industry experts estimate that the average family spends about $900 getting a child back to college, so the pot is big once you consider how many college students there are.

In addition, I’ve always maintained that brands should find opportunity at the point of a life event. So few do, thinking that cost and convenience will do the trick without considering when consumers are most likely to buy.

Sure, brands promote products seasonally. However, when retailers talk to consumers in a language that speaks to the current situation of the consumer, they have placed themselves within the consumer’s decision tree.

Millennials respond to brand meaning

But if those brands believe they are making life-long consumers this way, they are delusional. That is, they are delusional if they don’t have a brand that speaks directly to millennials at an emotional level. Life-long preference is not built on promotions. It’s built on the consumer’s self-identification within that brand.

Of the retailers mentioned above, I’d say only Amazon has a brand with appeal. The three retailers mentioned – Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy – are struggling to hold onto market share so any promotional fix will only be temporary. (DirecTV and NFL Sunday Ticket is a different animal. The brand carrying the meaning is the NFL.)

So, I give a nice pat on the back to those retailers for thinking about a life moment for potential consumers. To reach them earlier in the decision tree, where true preference lies, you need a brand millennials want to spend their lives with.

The rebrand of MasterCard isn’t a rebrand

Doing a re-launch of a brand is hard work to get it right. You have problems to overcome, not just with your outward face like a your current logo, but also what you do operationally. You have to do hard quantitative research, examine the competition (so you are positioned against it) and slay any sacred cows within the company.

MasterCard
MasterCard introduces MasterPass but not much else.

The re-launch of an updated MasterCard brand gets it only half right, but in a weird way. The credit card company now has an app that you use to pay, ala the Apple Store app. This is the wave of the future where physical cards become extinct. (A purchasing app is also something retailers should do more often.)

MasterCard with its MasterPass app has taken the first step forward and I expect its competition, such as Visa and Capital One, to follow suit. In fact, because MasterCard has always had an old feel to me, I’m a little surprised that MasterCard was the first to step forward.

Why MasterCard did not truly rebrand.

MasterCard got the operational part of the brand re-launch right, but the new logo is actually just a refresh of its old one. It won’t affect target audiences much. It might help it get rid of that old feel a bit. But it doesn’t have a new promise or anything new to say. And it’s not connected with anything new MasterCard is doing, such as MasterPass.

Companies are loath to completely rebrand, which is why I’m using the word re-launch. That seems to soothe companies because a rebrand sounds scary.

To steal market share, all options must be on the table. That’s why the slaying sacred cows edict is so important. Companies are wary that a complete rebrand will scare away current customers, but that’s not true. They are already ambassadors of the brand. The target audiences you want to reach are the customers of your competition.

MasterCardThe old adage goes that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s what MasterCard has done here. It has, I’m sure, poured money and time into this re-launch and it will have negligible effect. It will be left wondering why the re-launch didn’t move the needle and its leaders will believe that any kind of future rebrand would fail.

But that’s because MasterCard did not rebrand.

JetBlue paying for TSA PreCheck is not enough

For any of you who traveled through the air over the July 4th weekend, you know how cumbersome going through security has become. We live in a world in which security is among our most important issues and TSA have responded by having one of the least efficient ways to get passengers through.

TSA PreCheck
The best way to avoid these lines is through TSA PreCheck.

The best way to avoid the large crowds and clogged lines that can stretch for yards is to sign up for TSA PreCheck. As many of you have probably seen, it’s a special entrance that moves much faster because you don’t have to take off your shoes and other duties that slow down the line. By going through the pre-check process, you have already been noted as someone safe to enter.

That is why I wonder why more airlines aren’t doing what JetBlue announced it was doing today. Footing the $85 bill for TSA PreCheck for its most frequent fliers.

Now, this kind of thing does happen at other airlines. You can often negotiate with your airline to pick up the fee, especially if you are switching loyalty programs as I did when leaving United to join American.

But no one has promoted such a response as JetBlue, which said it will pick up the fee for anyone who has flown 30 one-way JetBlue flights and earned 12,000 base flight points within a year.

Picking up the tab for TSA PreCheck isn’t a game changer.

A note of caution, however. This isn’t going to change the industry landscape much. For one thing, JetBlue doesn’t have nearly the number of routes that the big three of United, American and Delta have. But as air travel picks up and the security lines increasingly frustrate passengers, it makes sense for the bigger airlines to institute such a loyalty reward.

Airlines are currently basking in increased travel but they still have the same problem they had when things weren’t so rosy for them: How to create preference. For the most part, when it comes to the most frequent fliers, preference comes through loyalty programs and location of hubs.

It is artificial preference that can change by new loyalty rules (that’s what happened to me) or new or less routes. The airlines might think they have you trapped, but you can switch anytime.

Even paying for TSA PreCheck, while a strong move for any airline, won’t guarantee preference. The airlines have still failed to find any kind of emotional reason for why you would prefer one airline over another. It’s the reason why you have seen so much consolation in the industry because it’s the only way they can grow.

TSA PreCheck is a great thing. But the main problems still exist.