Fast Five: Macy’s pens the next chapter in its Story

This week’s headlines almost wrote themselves. We saw big moves all around, especially from Macy’s, Walmart, and Amazon. Hell, for the first time ever, Chico’s and J.C. Penney even managed to crack our hallowed top five list (be sure to stay to the end too for my J.C. Penney diatribe — it is oh so well-deserved).

Without further ado, let’s get right to it. This week’s Fast Five starts with Macy’s.

Headline #1: Macy’s buys Story concept (Retail Dive)

I have been critical of Macy’s recently. Very critical. This move, however, I like.

A lot.

Story, the concept that rotates its “story” every four to eight weeks, has been the talk of retail for the past few years, and deservedly so. Story’s founder Rachel Shechtman has done a masterful job of answering the question — why should people still come to physical stores to shop? Rachel (because everyone in the industry seems to know her and only calls her by her first name) will become Macy’s “brand experience officer.”

Love it.

Macy’s stores are its products. That is the business Macy’s is in. I am glad to see Macy’s put a product management spin on its strategy.

But, I still am taking bets on how long it will be until Ms. Shechtman (because I am not on a first name basis with her) gets frustrated by Macy’s corporate bureaucracy.

I am setting the over/under at 18 months.

Headline #2: Amazon will increase the price of its annual Prime plan effective May 11 (CNBC)

This headline is a bit of a holdover from last week, but it was still making news this week, and, heck, Omni Talk was off last week too, so I just have to touch on it. I promise to make it quick.

Starting in May new Prime subscribers will pay $119 vs. $99 for their memberships. Existing Prime members have until June to renew at $99, or the cost of their memberships will go up as well.

Let’s do some fun math (for illustrative purposes only). Amazon says they have 100 million Prime members. Ask each member to pay $20 more per year, which we will do, because it is our heroin, and that works out to $2B of incremental cash flow for Amazon per year to spend on whatever the hell it wants to crush the competition.

Pyramid scheme much, Amazon?

Headline #3 — Chico’s to sell apparel via Amazon (Retail Dive)

From the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” list of headlines, Chico’s announced this week that they will begin to distribute their products on Amazon. Mark this down as a harbinger of things to come.

It’s a smart move. It’s surprising more retailers have not gone in this direction. Here’s why — a recent survey by Survata in 2017 found that 49% of all first product searches begin on Amazon. If a retailer is not on Amazon, at the point of search, then that retailer risks its potential customers never interacting with its brand and potentially choosing something else entirely from Amazon, when they may actually have been interested in the retailer’s product in the first place!

More retailers should look at leveraging Amazon’s marketplace. Amazon owns the digital sphere. What Amazon doesn’t own or know how to do (yet) though is how to put heart and soul into physical spaces.

Amazon is now our digital mall. But who owns our physical mall, where the majority of purchases are still made, is 100% still up for grabs.

Headline #4 — Walmart Just Took a Big Step Away from the Grocery Business (Fortune)

Walmart made a smart move this week, and shockingly it was a move not from the desk of Marc Lore (sorry, I just had to). Walmart has agreed to sell its U.K. grocery business, Asda, to Sainsbury’s in what appears to be in effort to sharpen Walmart’s focus and priorities.

You can read the headline to learn more, but what I find most interesting about this new release is that it was a move that Brittain Ladd recommended in his February 2018 article — Killing Kroger on LinkedIn.

If you don’t follow Brittain, you should. He blows my mind regularly. His takes are levels beyond the common LinkedIn post. If you remember, his take on Instacart rocked my world.

My new favorite recommendation of Brittain’s?

He thinks Starbucks should acquire Blue Apron. Blue Apron in mass merchants and grocery stores is silly. But, Blue Apron in Starbucks? That’s brilliant.

Headline #5 — J.C. Penney and Lionel Richie say ‘Hello’ (Retail Dive)

Hands down my favorite headline of the week — the Penny Lover crooner inked a deal with Penney’s. Just take a look at this photo. I don’t know my ass from my comedic elbow just looking at it.

The smooth sounds of the saxophone playing 80’s called and they want their home decor back.

lionel richie

Does anyone find it at all ironic too that, with this move, J.C. Penney appears to be throwing in the towel by actually asking Lionel Richie to design towels?

I sure as hell do.

While Lionel Richie gave me one of the single best motivational pieces of advice this past year — “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone” — this move just leaves me shaking my head.

What the hell happened, Penney’s? In 1999 I bought my first bachelor bedding set, complete with a jet black velour blanket (oh yeah, ladies). In 2005, as a towel buyer, I used to benchmark your assortment as the apple of everyone’s eye. Now, in 2018, you are paying Lionel Richie, what has to be a lot of money, to design Don Johnson’s Miami Vice bedroom set?

Someone call the keystone cops. It’s time they come bursting through the door.

Be careful out there,


P.S. Tomorrow we will email out our weekly podcast and video. Be sure to subscribe to Omni Talk so you don’t miss this and so much more exciting content each week.

P.P.S. I’m going to be in Seattle on May 10 at Microsoft. I’ll be sitting down with their Industry Leader Mariya Zorotovich at the Retail Tomorrow Immersion series to discuss the digital flywheel, leadership, and Microsofts’s investment in the omnichannel enablers of cloud, AI, and data. Please drop me a line if you want to connect.

P.P.P.S. Let’s let Lionel take us out . . .

Chris Walton is an accomplished Senior Executive with nearly 20 years of success within the retail and retail technology industries. He is well-versed in merchandising, store operations, inventory management, product design, forecasting, e-commerce, pricing and promotions, and tech product development.

Chris was most recently a Vice President with Target, where he led the retailer’s Store of the Future project and also ran the Target’s home furnishing division for e-commerce. He previously worked for GAP, Inc., as a Distribution Analyst and Manager.

Chris holds a BA in Economics and History from Stanford University, and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

He likes to dress as Darth Vader for Halloween, and his wife also frequently asks him to ask Alexa, "to turn off the music."

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