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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Retail thoughts

I finally found an apartment so that I don't have to live out of a duffel bag anymore. I don't know what the deal is with real estate agents and apartment managers. You would think that calling you back was a favor they bestowed only on a few special people. I can't count the number of messages I left with no response.

When I did find a place, which I would charitably describe as funky I made the mistake of telling the landlord that I was on contract to hire and that there was the faint possibility of being terminated at the end of 6 months. He called back the following day to tell me that he had changed his mind and couldn't take the risk.

He did me a favor as the next day I made contact with an owner/landlord that had a nicer apartment for the same money and was genuinely happy to have me as a tenant. It's in an older neighborhood that's a block from the water. Boats tied to the docks and little shops and restaurants are nearby. Best of all I'm only 3 miles from my office so it will be perfect for the CT90. One more chore checked off as I exit the chaos and return to a sense of normalcy.

Here's an article I ran into at the Louis Boston site. I used to shop there when I was single and more style conscious. Like Brooks Brothers you pay more but you get so much more. I like clothes that will wear well and stand the test of time; button down shirts, blue blazers, khaki pants, penny loafers, and such. Call me Preppie but that's what I like and I always feel at ease no matter what the crowd or occasion.
The Big Box-ification of American Retail

A certain giant retailer (that I’ll call “W”) really understood the frugal nature of the American people. Many assume the company got traction in the midwest, because their values at first seem so midwestern, but frugality is a nationwide characteristic in America and it runs deep in rich and poor alike. “W” understood the psychology behind the thrill people get from saving money. They understood how to make the value of shopping in their stores about saving money and nothing more. That singular message “lowest price” was all they needed to convince all kinds of shoppers that their own worlds would be richer if they spent less.

But the catch was that the consumer had to eliminate any convenience they were used to experiencing in a traditional store. In fact, W counted on the fact that the customer thought they were the most frugal only if they suffered through the process of shopping. Think about the 4 A.M. “After Thanksgiving Sale” they instituted. Customers trampled and killed a security guard in one of their stores just to save money on a CD player – of which they already had twenty. The need for the consumer to suffer to feel like they are saving money is “key” to the perceived value.

But there was more to W’s strategy. They gave “BRANDING” a power that was once the sole purview of luxury designers. The marketers at W knew that if the consumer already recognized the product by its BRAND, the only thing the store needed to provide was the lowest price. Well it didn’t take long for other retailers to adopt this strategy. From W to luxury department stores, retailers are relying on the power of the BRAND to sell itself while the retailer only has to house and offer the product at the best possible price in order to succeed.

The biggest complaint consumers have today is “the sameness” they find at stores…all stores. The source of “the sameness” is that the same BRANDS are carried in all stores at every price level. When stores rely on BRANDS to create their identity, they give up any chance of actually having their own identity. Most BRANDS supply the stores with their own merchandise selections or merchandise that is in their BRAND advertising, on-line web sites or fashion shows. After a while the only chance for these stores to get ahead is to win with the lowest price. First we had “friends and family”, then “special discount nights and weekends” – and now the consumers have been taught to wait for the BRANDS to go on sale (i.e. W).

What this means is that consumers are self-servicing themselves out of choice, out of surprise, a chance to look distinctive and to benefit from the assistance of a consultant, to buy only what national brands decide will sell to the greatest number of people in their geography and demography. And on top of everything else, shopping just isn’t fun anymore. So what’s the real price of that?