Microsoft Surface a true threat to the iPad

A funny thing has happened of late. The Microsoft Surface has re-emerged as a serious threat to Apple’s iPad.

I realize this is all blasphemous on my end. With me being an Apple stockholder and top tier fanboy. I am maniacal about the Apple brand. I still have my first Apple 2E safely stored away at my house. In a protective case, mind you. I also store my first iPhone in the dash board of my car. I don’t even use it, but I have comfort knowing it’s there.

So, for me to even ponder this idea is crazy enough.

Microsoft Surface
The Microsoft Surface is only in need of a brand to beat Apple.

Just consider what Microsoft Surface has on the docket. The first of which is the Surface Studio — a cinema display that can be transformed into a desktop studio (this has to be an art director’s dream). Microsoft also sports a Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

All told, the Microsoft Surface products look as exquisitely designed as Apple’s, but with a greater dexterity (they are all both a computer and physical creative surface). What’s even greater than that is Microsoft’s decision to brand its devices to the creative professional. That, my friends, is how to steal market share.

Microsoft Surface just needs a brand.

This hasn’t always been the case. In fact, several years back I wrote about the Surface 2 and how its launch highlighted the unemotional. Back then, the Microsoft brand stood for over complexity (just the opposite of Apple). It was all about the gizmo, not the customer.

A year or so ago, I had brushed upon the idea that the Microsoft Surface was a wiser business choice over the iPad because it had greater functionality. But I still wasn’t committed to the idea, because even then, Microsoft hadn’t found it’s voice.

That isn’t the case any longer.

With the banality that surrounded the latest Apple event (where the reimagined MacBook was unveiled with the vigor of Eeyore), there is opportunity for the competition to make some noise. Apple still holds the throne because of its brand. But if Microsoft can take off its cloak of complexity and grab an emotional stance, it’s got the hardware to back it up.

Black Friday will not save retailers

The question of whether Black Friday is still a thing is moot at this point. There will always be shoppers who enjoy the experience of running through a department store door at 6 am because that’s what Black Friday is about. The experience.

Black Friday
Even Black Friday scenes like this won’t save retailers.

But any hang wringing on whether employees should work on Thanksgiving or how Black Friday’s sales results will be affected by early sales comes down to one thing. It’s still business.

Amazon has already started its Black Friday sales, and now comes word that JC Penney and Kohl’s are starting sales early too. Both retailers will open on Thanksgiving in an attempt to get a head start. They are just two of the multitudes of retailers who are hoping to make their years during this holiday season.

There are a couple of things to note here. Some are congratulating retailers for letting their employees have Thanksgiving off. That wasn’t done out of kindness. They’d be open too if Thanksgiving Day sales were successful for those retailers. It’s still business.

Black Friday is just a band-aid for retailers.

The early promotions will dilute Black Friday, but it doesn’t really matter. The revenue still goes into the same pot, so it doesn’t matter which day it falls on. Black Friday isn’t really about the sales. It’s about the experience for some shoppers.

Recently, I got into a minor Twitter spat with a retail organization over the importance of the holiday season to retailers. True, most retailers see 50% of their revenue from it so, as the organization reported, a good holiday season means a good year.

But it’s that kind of short-minded thinking that has put many retailers on the edge of irrelevancy and, in some cases, extinction. They are only looking ahead to the next quarter, not building any long-lasting preference that would keep them viable.

The retail industry has so many problems that it’s best for them to check out solutions here and here. As for starting Black Friday early, I say go ahead. You should gobble as much revenue as you can. Reality will set in once the holiday season is over and the lack of preference will continue to haunt.

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

Sporting Goods are not Immune

The outdoor and sporting goods segment has seen its share of shakeups over the past couple of years. Large big box chains like Sports Authority have closed stores or closed shop altogether. Recently, we have seen behemoths Bass Pro Shops LogoBass Pro Shops and Cabela’s consolidating. The trend in the outdoor and sporting goods segment is mirroring the trends in the rest of the retail market.

At least on the surface. Dig a little deeper and there are some major differences.

Big box retail has long suffered through a period of decreasing same store sales, as once loyal customers flock to other alternatives. While some of these alternatives are certainly other brick and mortar stores, many more are simply online retailers. Amazon has picked up the lion’s share of the fleeing customers.

In the outdoor and sporting goods segment, the defection from brick and mortar to online hasn’t occurred yet, at least not to the degree in other parts of retail. The outdoor and sporting goods segment is, at least for the moment, insulated from the migration to online platforms.

Sporting goods are kind of personal

A key reason for this is that, for the core outdoor and sporting goods consumer, purchases are very personal. Bow hunters need to feel how a bow handles. A fisherman needs to feel the flex in a rod and an avid hiker would likely not purchase a boot without knowing how it feels being worn. This has allowed many of the outdoor and sporting goods retailers further insulating themselves from online alternatives.

Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain and REI focus more on outdoor activities like fishing, hunting aDicks Sporting Goods Logond camping, respectively, while stores like Academy Sports and Modell’s focus more on traditional team and individual sports. Dick’s is much more of a generalist, calling itself the “largest omni-channel full-line sporting goods retailer in the US.” Dick’s also owns Field and Stream, Golf Galaxy and True Runner, which further demonstrate the industry’s move to specialization.

While many outdoor and sporting goods stores have been successful in carving out their niche, it is a niche carved out only by their product focus, not their brand focus. Closer examination reveals that there is little differentiation in this category beyond some of the pseudo-specialization of products that is occurring. While meaningful, the brands themselves do not differentiate one versus the other. That is, the brands do not provide a value to the consumer. Consumers generally go to these stores for a product they want to touch and feel before they make their purchasing decision – not because of the store’s brand.

This is not to say that a consumer might decide to go to a Bass Pro Shops, REI or Dick’s just to look around. But the products are what bring consumers to the store, not the store itself. These retailers recognize this too, with each of them is trying to create a better in-store experience. (You get the full treatment at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield Missouri.) More and more, stores like Field and Stream and REI are also trying to make their stores more of an experience, putting the focus on the store, not the brand.

At this point, it is difficult to imagine further consolidation in the outdoor and sporting goods category and the major players are surviving this nasty retail environment for the moment. However, they all must make investments in their continued viability. While creating a better shopping environment is critical, it can be easily be copied and improved upon. Investments must be made in brand differentiation that goes beyond outdoors, country, athlete or camper. These terms describe what their customers are but fail to describe who they aspire to be. Aligning with that will differentiate the outdoor and sporting goods stores from the others.

FS1 is making its pitch even if it’s hard to find

You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.

FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.

FS1
You can find Cubs-Dodgers on FS1.

I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.

FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.

FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.

We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.

What ESPN should be doing.

But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)

Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)

FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.

Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.

The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.