Forget about all of the holiday projections soon to be bandied about by the legions of economists, analysts, pundits, experts and faux experts. This is the one you can take to the bank, and it comes from none other than Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren. Crisply, clearly and without hesitation, he nailed it at his presentation at the Goldman Sachs Annual Retail Conference.
"The rebound that we were all expecting in this year hasn't happened. The consumer has not bounced back with the confidence that we were all looking for. And so the performance I think we had in the second quarter, and we expect to have in the second half, is going to be a continuation of what we've been able to do over the last several years -- and that is to capture market share and get the most out of the consumers that are in our stores."
In other words, folks, there will be no overall market growth this holiday season; only share wars in which the great retailers will steal share from the not-so-great, resulting in a zero-sum game. So, here you have it, my official holiday projection: Zero Percent Growth.
Share wars indeed. While the wars have defined the retail battlefield for the last quarter century, the sector has never been as severely embattled as it is today, particularly with the full-on, asymmetrical weaponry of the new digital combatants, who are exponentially adding to the already over-stored, over-stuffed industry.
But the strategy for winning has never changed. In share wars, to win share you must steal a customer away from a competitor, or get your customer to buy more, and/or more often from you. And to achieve either, you must give the consumer something that's either newer, better, and/or cheaper.
Unfortunately, most major retailers seem to have focused primarily on the "cheaper" option, luring customers into the store where 50% off seems to be the new 30% off on most items, and creeping up. Retailers have failed to figure out how to give customers the other two options of newer and better. They are so panicked about the declines in traffic and prices that they've all but given up on how to provide an irresistible customer experience.
However, since it costs twice as much to steal a new customer from a competitor than it does to increase your own loyal customer's spend, and since your current loyal customer is two to three times more profitable, it's a no-brainer to focus on your best customers in a share war environment.
And by now retailers have hopefully mastered some kind of big data analytics that profile those loyalists in minute detail. If not, that train is leaving the station, so they'd better hop on while they still can.
Therefore, since the strategy for winning share is to give priority to loyal customers; and since retailers should know precisely who they are and what they are dreaming for, the tactics are pretty obvious. Focus all your marketing on each and every one of these core customers; engage them through virtual and real world advertising and communications; provide new, better and differentiated products; personalize the in-store service, presentation and experience, including exclusive events. And encourage them to include their friends and spread the word through social media.
And by the way, this strategy will also work to cross the street and steal customers away from competitors because these shoppers will also want what loyalists love a given retailer for.
My final point, of course, is that if retailers implement this integrated strategy it will make discounting-as-a-weapon-of-necessity into a weapon-of-choice ... and may do away with discounting altogether. And not soon enough.
I know I'm preaching to the choir for many retailers and brands who have, and continue to operate with this strategy for their loyalty programs etc. However, it's not only a good reminder, it's good to never be happy with what you might consider "best" when you can always do better.
As for Terry's comments about the consumer, I think the projection for flat spending is more about opportunism than a lack of confidence. With coupons, discounts, loyalty points and gifts-with-purchase more the rule than the exception today, consumers are spending less because they can. Retailers are giving them such incredible deals to win market share that consumers could not spend more if they wanted to. And Macy's, as many of my shopping experts tell me, is one of the most promotional retailers out there.
So, ladies and gentlemen, be ready for retailers to load their weapons and prepare for war.
About Robin Lewis
Robin Lewis has over forty years of strategic operating and consulting experience in the retail and related consumer products industries. He has held executive positions at DuPont, VF Corporation, Women's Wear Daily (WWD), and Goldman Sachs, among others, and has consulted for dozens of retail, consumer products and other companies. He is co-author of the recently published second edition of The New Rules of Retail (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). In addition to his role as CEO and Editorial Director of The Robin Report, he is a professor at the Graduate School of Professional Studies at The Fashion Institute of Technology.