Convenience, Older Women, No Returns and Martha Stewart

Jan 13, 2005

By George Anderson

Oh, no! It can’t be another ‘What will the retailing business look like in 2005?’ article.

Oh yes. It is. And this one’s from Emily Lambert on the Web site. Here’s what Ms. Lambert says we can expect over the next 352 days of the year.

Convenience is in the eye of the beholder.

Consumers want a more convenient life and that includes shopping. What convenience means to one person may not be true of another. Some, Ms. Lambert points out, see the customer service they get at Whole Foods as a convenience. Others see smaller stores with more tightly controlled selection such as Save-A-Lot as the essence of convenience.

Housewives are desperate for clothing.

Apparel retailers’ obsession with youth is causing most to miss a huge ($20 billion) market opportunity — older women. Chico’s FAS, with fashions for women with more life experience, saw its sales increase 13 percent over the first nine months last year. The Gap with its bright, young thing targeting grew store sales two percent over the same period.

No returns mean just that.

Retailers are looking to cut down on purchase fraud by refusing returns. While this may give unscrupulous types second thoughts about trying to use the return game for profit (switching UPC labels, etc.), it is just as likely to keep good customers from returning to the store themselves.

Orange doesn’t suit Martha.

As George Carlin has pointed out, people buy more stuff over the years so they need bigger places to put their stuff. This year, consumers won’t be buying stuff at quite the rate they have in the past. The combination of inflation, modest wage increases and high debt means many will be trying to cut back. For some, this may mean switching to store brands to save money. Still, reasons Ms. Lambert, a good brand always has its draw. Expect a new line of products from Martha Stewart after she’s finished serving her sentence. Just don’t look for a line of orange jumpsuits from the detained diva.

Moderator’s Comment: What do you think will have the biggest influence on retailing in the year ahead?

George Anderson – Moderator

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