Why aren’t shoppers paying full price for Macy’s merchandise?

Discussion
Nov 13, 2015
George Anderson

Macy’s, lauded for many years for its ability to use consumer insights to tailor local assortments and grow its business when other department stores struggled, has a really big inventory problem on its hands. The retailer has way too much inventory because consumers are no longer buying enough of what it is selling.

The chain has seen same-store sales fall for three consecutive quarters and it has announced plans to close up to 40 of its full-line stores.

"We are disappointed that the pace of sales did not improve in the third quarter, as we had expected. Spending by domestic customers remained tepid, especially in key apparel and accessory categories," said Terry Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s, Inc., in a statement. "Simultaneously, the slowdown in buying by international visitors continued to significantly impact Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores in tourist centers, which are some of our company’s largest-volume and most profitable locations."

Macy’s has begun looking at its off-price Backstage concept as a means to renew growth. The chain currently has five stores in the New York Metro area offering discounts of up to 80 percent off prices in its flagship stores with plans to build 50 standalone units in the next two years. The company also plans to add Backstage sections to 10 existing locations to create a new hybrid store.

Macy's Backstage

Photo: Macy’s

"We believe that these stores within our stores can help bring new vendors and new categories, which will appeal to existing customers, but also attract new customers to the full-line store," Mr. Lundgren told analysts on Macy’s third quarter earnings call. "We are finding that Backstage is definitely attracting a younger consumer. And assuming these pilots work, we’ll be ready to roll this concept out as a hybrid model quickly."

With the critical holiday selling season technically underway, Macy’s has also said it will increase discounting to drive store traffic and sales. That could, in turn, have an impact on competitors such as Gap, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s, Paul Lejuez, a retail analyst at Citigroup, told The New York Times.

According to Mr. Lejuez, American consumers are spending their money in places other than Macy’s, such as on meals away from home and on tech and entertainment services.

"The consumer is fine," Mr. Lejeuz told the Times, "but retailers are not."

What do you think is ailing Macy’s? What would you advise Macy’s management to do to reverse its same-store sales slide?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Perhaps the biggest problem facing Macy’s and its main competition is the merchandise content in women’s apparel. Kohl’s has openly acknowledged this issue and J.C. Penney tacitly admitted the same thing by restructuring its merchant team."
"Macy’s has long been on the slippery slope of being an overly-promotional department store. While perhaps not quite as bad as JoS. A. Bank has been in its promotion of giving away three suits to sell one, customers are smart enough to know when not to pay full price."
"I appreciate the other BrainTrusters’ observations, but I think it’s a case of the new black, i.e. old places, new faces, that is, the trend to opening off-price shopping places (Macy’s Offstage) by almost every department store."

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18 Comments on "Why aren’t shoppers paying full price for Macy’s merchandise?"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
4 years 11 months ago
As I wrote on my blog yesterday Bed Bath and Beyond’s Coupon Marketing Problems Are Yours Too Retailers, many retailers have created a physical and online culture that basically makes a customer feel stupid if they don’t find a way to get a coupon. What is it about getting a deal that makes marketers think it is the only lever? Oh right, they don’t have to pay the price for those deals — their stock market investors do. It’s like their only way to approach a customer is with a discount coupon. GAP already routinely is selling at 40 percent off. How much more pressure could they take? Unless and until there is fortitude to scale back the addiction to coupons, we’ll see once great retail brands desperately trying to add low-cost versions of themselves, additional lines and apps to no avail. Using coupons trains your customers to wait. Like an Uber driver, there’ll be another along shortly. Bed Bath and Beyond, Macy’s and other shoppers have been trained to wait. And you know what? They… Read more »
Dick Seesel
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Macy’s and its main competition is the merchandise content in women’s apparel. Kohl’s has openly acknowledged this issue and J.C. Penney tacitly admitted the same thing by restructuring its merchant team.

Walk Macy’s today: Too many brands, too little brand clarity, too much private label proliferation, too much duplication of assortment. For all of Macy’s advances in omnichannel, they need to get this right. There are simply too many strong competitors on the fast fashion and off-price front to ignore this.

Gib Bassett
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

It’s some combination of consumers spending in other ways, and the increasing specialization that appears to be required to succeed in retail today. Macy’s may just be too general a merchandiser amid a retail market that increasingly separates into discount and more specialized or higher-end items. It sounds like they see this and are trying to adapt.

Tom Redd
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Macy’s is actually in better shape than the news world/analysts’ world thinks. They have a bump in inventory and a slight drop in shoppers due to the tourist issues and visitor focus areas. What they have that many retailers do not is a huge and loyal customer base and the holidays. Their extra inventory will be a blessing as they step into this holiday season and the Backstage stores will also boom.

Macy’s is also in a transition in technology and in their store-in-a-store models. As their changes roll into place the outcome will be a high performance hybrid department store that will shine. Give them a little room, grab shares while they are low and watch the parade on Bird Day!

Tony Orlando
Guest
4 years 11 months ago
Consumers are unwilling to pay full price for anything and, with a ton of stores offering discounts, no one is safe from the discount mentality of shoppers today. Every type of retail store is struggling with finding ways to turn a nice profit, and clothing outlets are growing whereas traditional department stores are struggling. Why would anyone pay $70 for a nice golf shirt, knowing that if they wait a month it will be $45 or less, and if they shop smart like many do, it will be 75 percent off when the season is over, and they can stock up for around $15 each? This is how it is going to be from now on, and I certainly don’t have any answer for the discount shopper, as in my business we get beat up every day. I would scale back the line of goods carried and stay aggressive on the promotions, both in-store and online. High-end merchandise needs to be promoted by the store’s very best associates (who know how to sell) and I… Read more »
Phil Rubin
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Macy’s has long been on the slippery slope of being an overly-promotional department store. While perhaps not quite as bad as JoS. A. Bank has been in its promotion of giving away three suits to sell one, customers are smart enough to know when not to pay full price. If you’re promotional every day, full price is promotional. This might work when the economy is strong but with any weakness, it’s problematic in terms of earnings.

With over 750 stores and a growing e-commerce business, they are clearly over-stored. The closings will help but like Sears, it’s only one part of a strategy to turn the business around.

Having started my career straight from undergrad in the Macy’s Executive Training program, when Macy’s was Macy’s, it’s painful but not surprising to see these results.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Let’s see … they have spent two decades or more convincing shoppers that they are stupid if they purchase anything at “full price,” and now their answer is Backstage?

Here is the fix! Do realistic forecasting. Forget full price. There is no such thing. But the biggest problem is just touched on in the article. I just read that retail foot traffic is down 10.7 percent. To me that is the most serious issue for brick-and-mortar retailers. In the end, the price is the price. But if you don’t have the shoppers, nothing else matters.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Guest
Patricia Vekich Waldron
4 years 11 months ago

50 percent off is the new black! Retailers have trained consumers to expect sales, discounts and promotions. And often the assortment in off-price concepts is not desirable — lower quality or the same tired stuff you find in stores.

Macy’s needs to do a much better job of merchandising their stores. They have racks of clothing packed together and shoppers don’t have the time or inclination to sort through it in hopes of finding an interesting piece of apparel.

So I advise: improve your assortment (differentiate for off-price content), curate your floor and establish realistic pricing.

Brian Kelly
Guest
4 years 11 months ago
First, the consumer isn’t fine. Any doubt, watch the Republican “debates.” Or read Charles Murray or even liberal economists. The middle class hasn’t seen a pay increase in eight years. The bottom minimum wage jobs are being touted as replacements for the lost low-skill manufacturing jobs. U.S. cars are now American cars as they are made in Mexico/Canada as per NAFTA. Second, retrained shoppers. Since Lehman folded, a generation of shoppers were trained to find the better deal. Simultaneously, OL pureplays lured shoppers with deals that put plenty specialty stores out of business. As Woody Allen might say, “who pays retail?” Third, price is the only message that drives traffic. There is no “new new” that is relevant in this age of mass personalization. Closet replenishment is over. JIT only at a great price rules. That’s why couponing is the norm. It is also why retailers are being sued by the FTC on promotional frequency claims. Ever hear of Ron Johnson? AND she is buying tech/entertainment/food in lieu of center core, Apple vs. Spade/Coach/Tumi/Kors. This… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
4 years 11 months ago

What is ailing Macy’s is that they are attempting still to develop a market identity and a true customer base years after they arrogantly tried to become a retail empire involving too many places and too many cities/regions that they did not understand. At this point and in this economy it is not fixable. I am genuinely surprised that Terry Lundgren remains at the helm, but it’s hard to imagine that even new leadership can stop the slide at this late date.

Kim Barrington
Guest
Kim Barrington
4 years 11 months ago

I like the sounds of the Backstage stores, they fit with the mass mindset of finding bargains vs. purchasing at retail.

Also, haven’t you heard? The 99 percent really are still hurting. Until the 99 percent are doing better ain’t no one gonna be better (unless its the 1 percent still stroking the 1 percent’s back).

All that said, the quality of Macy’s products has gone downhill steadily over the past five years. Their clothing isn’t worth the sale prices. I recently purchased a pair of “booties” from an online sale for $39.99 and once I received them I thought they weren’t even worth that. The style was there but these shoes won’t last a season in cold weather.

I’d rather spend more dollars, sparingly, somewhere else than buy on sale from Macy’s. Besides, except for shoes, their merchandise really isn’t that great in style anymore. Pretty humdrum.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Wow, 11 people seem to have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! Anyway, the quick answer, for those who studied Macy’s latest conference call, is decreased tourist spending — presumably due to a stronger dollar — and a warm fall (delaying buying of seasonal merchandise).

The longer answer? Personally, I don’t share the opinion of many that Macy’s has been a great performer this past decade. It has simply performed less poorly than primary competitors (Sears and JCP), increasing share in what is still a declining market (full service/price department stores). Now that Sears has Lamperted itself into irrelevancy, and Penney’s has begun to turn itself around — albeit slowly — the free ride has ended.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
4 years 11 months ago

Too much confusion in purchasing at Macy’s. Difficult to determine pre-coupon prices without a price scanner. The price scanner is also needed to determine if an item is coupon eligible or not.

Macy’s, Kohl’s, and many other struggling department store chains have fallen into a trap of too high of regular prices, too many promotions, cluttered stores that are difficult to shop, and are in a slow death cycle as more and more customers are tired of this shopping experience. Add in slow checkout, hassles over credit cards, loyalty cards and the number of poorly made items that quickly fall apart and the bad taste for these stores continues in consumer’s mouths long after they leave.

I also think consumers simply prefer smaller stores … sometimes having too many choices overwhelms.

richard freund
Guest
richard freund
4 years 11 months ago

Retail needs to apply POP technology that enables the savvy shopper to use their smartphone as a shopping tool to make the purchase on the spot.

Lee Kent
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

The demise of the suit in the workplace, especially women’s. Let me explain. Macy’s used to be a go-to place for a nice quality business suit at a reasonable price. Customers were willing to pay full price for staple pieces and fill in with more trendy pieces that may only make it one season.

Today, business people are allowed to dress more casually and they tend to opt for fast casual, trendy pieces that they can buy more of for fewer dollars.

Macy’s has their work cut out for them to sell the concept of a wardrobe needing quality staple pieces again.

For my 2 cents.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Guest
Naomi K. Shapiro
4 years 11 months ago

I appreciate the other BrainTrusters’ observations, but I think it’s a case of the new black, i.e. old places, new faces, that is, the trend to opening off-price shopping places (Macy’s Offstage) by almost every department store.

As we wrote in a recent BrainTrust question, it seems like everyone is going in this direction, so soon it will be all the same, only under different names — off price selling all the time — and the beat goes on….

Cathy Hotka
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

As long as middle-class purchasing power continues to decline, comp sales will be challenged. People just don’t have the money and that makes fast fashion like Forever 21 very attractive.

Ricardo Belmar
Guest
Ricardo Belmar
4 years 11 months ago
I think we are underestimating the impact of a few key things. One is weather. I’ve had so many New York City retailers tell me the same thing — it’s been too warm for consumers to want to buy winter clothes, and stores simply have the wrong assortment for these conditions. Second, we’re missing the value of a well-trained store associate and the impact they have on basket size. While we see department stores like Macy’s suffering, not all luxury specialty brands are seeing the same pain. Why? Because shoppers at these stores feel they are receiving a better, more personalized experience that earns their dollars. People buy from people. We know consumer dollars are still limited, and most consumers currently prefer to spend on something that delivers a memorable experience rather than a material product. Can we say, “Millennials”? Third, others here have already said it — the merchandise assortment just isn’t appealing to consumers. Let’s face it — if a consumer likes a product, they’ll find a way to buy it, and if the experience is… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Perhaps the biggest problem facing Macy’s and its main competition is the merchandise content in women’s apparel. Kohl’s has openly acknowledged this issue and J.C. Penney tacitly admitted the same thing by restructuring its merchant team."
"Macy’s has long been on the slippery slope of being an overly-promotional department store. While perhaps not quite as bad as JoS. A. Bank has been in its promotion of giving away three suits to sell one, customers are smart enough to know when not to pay full price."
"I appreciate the other BrainTrusters’ observations, but I think it’s a case of the new black, i.e. old places, new faces, that is, the trend to opening off-price shopping places (Macy’s Offstage) by almost every department store."

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