Category Archives: Merchandise

Seasonal Retail Disorder

After what many have described as the worst winter ever, signs of spring have finally arrived. While that may not mean lasting sunshine and balmy temperatures for a few more weeks, it certainly means that we are finally moving beyond hearing the words “polar vortex.”

Just as seasonal temperatures can easily influence our moods, they can also easily sway our spending habits. Retailers including Walmart and Kohls have reported soft 2014 Q1 figures and many are attributing the decline to Mother Nature. Inclement conditions obviously affect consumers’ willingness to travel but also decrease the desire to shop as mostly all revenue channels are down for Q1.

Now that the worst (hopefully) is behind us, retail marketers must find ways to drive traffic again to accommodate the waning winter numbers.  Inventory levels are the highest concern specifically with seasonal merchandise.

It is essential to view short term merchandise strategies while keeping an eye on overall profitability.  Before retailers move to liquidation, there are strategic methods to better maintain margin. Product-driven messaging, offers and media mix will be vital in the upcoming weeks to generate revenue.

Below are strategic marketing initiatives that can be utilized to move excess merchandise without moving directly to liquidation:

  • Closely evaluate inventory trends and performance daily.  With the change in the weather, deep discounts and giveaways may not be necessary as performance may significantly increase with warmer days.
  • Add marketing events to provide additional exposure in early Q2.
    • Evaluate those media programs that are more flexible in flight times and spend to offset slower Q1 curves.
    • Utilize your customer data for high touch, customized messaging.
      • Personalized emails provide agility to feature product based messaging and to cross sell complementary items (“if you like pillows, you may also like our selection of throws”) as well as increase overall units.
      • Emphasize drive to web or drive to retail messaging to provide consumers quick and efficient ways to your store.
      • Utilize alternative promotions, such as BOGO, tiered offers, $ or % off specific product lines. There will be a hit to the overall margin but these promotions tend to yield stronger margin than liquidation or close out prices.
        • Create urgency to shop now (i.e. “Today Only”).
        • J. Crew recently utilized the urgency in their messaging  and applied discounts on selected merchandise as well.
  • Build incremental keyword campaigns with different budgetary thresholds for those product lines with high inventory levels.
  • Evaluate and test additional media that provides scale and agility like display, affiliates and remarketing where messaging and creative can be customized and product based.
  • And last but not least, utilize customized landing pages that directly are tied to the product pages with excess inventory.

These are a few tactics to aid with the declines that Mother Nature has generated for retailers this spring.  These short term solutions yield stronger margins than close outs or liquidation.  Let’s say farewell to winter and welcome spring new “short term” opportunities.


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Pop Goes the Retailer

Shopping today is not what it was even a year ago as consumers expect an interactive, round-the-clock experience with retailers.  A retailer’s challenge now is in creating a 3D environment where a consumer can shop as well as build a personal connection to the brand. Whether through Kindle’s Mayday button or the latest social media phenomenon, retailers are searching for ways to bring their brand to life with consumers.

One of the vehicles used to solve this problem is the use of the newly designed pop up shops.

Historically, pop up shops were a logical solution for brands featuring products with a short shelf life while gaining visibility at the right time and place.  Pop ups were used to create interest, exposure and engage customers in a unique way differing from traditional brick and mortar.

As with any life cycle, these temporary shopping locations went through a transformative period in the past few years and now serve many diverse purposes. No longer relegated to one-time use merchandise, brands are recognizing the inherent value in temporary locations and shoppers are responding. Pop ups provide an enriched playground to gain customer insights, reach new audiences, move inventory, enhance brand visibility, test new markets and improve market knowledge with minimal commitment and reduced risk. 

Pop-up shops today are capable of bridging the gap between traditional retail and digital etail, and communicate the brand story. Both brick and mortar and etailers are looking for a physical space to attract crowds, take advantage of existing foot traffic, expand brand presence and a build connection with consumers. Pop ups can be used to establish a brand story through interactive technology and one-to-one assistance, which also drives shoppers to share and explore products online and through social media after their visit.  

Even brands as authoritative as Google are using pop-up shops for testing before fully investing. While Google has refocused much of its attention around retail product development, it still lacks face-to-face interaction with consumers. While the brand could easily utilize any retail space in the world, it has recently chosen to experiment with the pop up concept while promoting the Nexus 7, Chromecast and Chromebooks before the 2013 holiday season. These temporary locations, dubbed Winter Wonderland Labs, offer experiential engagement. Google’s products do not necessarily need aggressive publicity but users are unaccustomed to engaging with the brand outside of their own homes, and these temporary retail experiences offer innovative engagement that not only has the potential of increasing product awareness, but also the potential of redefining consumer ideas about one of the biggest companies in the world.











As I mentioned in my previous post, Sweaty Betty is one brand who utilized pop ups to establish relationships with foreign customers as they embarked on a new market. Their pop-up experience resonated so well with shoppers that the UK brand was inspired to open a set of permanent doors in New York.

Kate Spade is another brand who utilizes pop-up shops to their full extent. The well-known brand boasts permanent retail locations throughout the world; however a temporary shop offers the brand the freedom to experiment with new formats while launching new collaborations and product lines.  Their recent interactive window with eBay helped ignite excitement around the company’s new endeavor, Kate Spade Saturday. This window, although novel to passersby on New York’s crowded streets this past summer, may have also presented the window into the future of pop-ups and retail as a whole.  Taking the form of a giant tablet, this window allowed interested shoppers to tap on products to read reviews, see outfit combinations and even order using their PayPal account for same day delivery all without the brand having to rack up the costs of maintaining on-site inventory and staff.











As evidenced by recent brand forays into the world of temporary shops, pop ups will continue to be an essential component to both on and offline retail as they allow brands the freedom to experiment with their product, sales plan and audience interactions.

In these changing times, shopping vehicles will improve to provide a comprehensive role that will only benefit the consumer by blurring the lines of offline and online through a different and more personal experience.





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Sightings: Valentine’s Day 2011

While traditional Valentine’s Day presents like gourmet chocolates, jewelry and roses remain ever popular, here are some marketers we’ve tracked promoting unique, and often customizable, gift options.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Assuring the gift giver that the recipient will “fall in love again and again,” an email from Apple promoted its iPad as a truly memorable gift this Valentine’s Day. Romantic images appear on three iPads, highlighting the wide selection of apps, games, movies, books and more available via the tablet. Free personalization for the iPad (“Write your own romance”) and free shipping were offered with online orders.  Options in the Apple Store’s Engraving Gallery include the upcoming holiday (e.g. “Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m all yours. And so is this.”) as well as other occasions like birthdays, congratulations and thanks.

Vitals: email, delivered 1/30/11

An email from modern decor retailer West Elm encouraged recipients to “Give from the heart” and shop for gifts “you’re sure to fall for.”  The email featured several products that all incorporate a Valentine’s Day sentiment, including frames (“Now 20% off”), eGift Cards and handmade papier-mâché heart ornaments.  The hearts for Haiti are designed in coordination with the Hand/Eye Fund which is the philanthropic outlet of Hand/Eye magazine supporting an artisans collaborative in Port au Prince, Haiti.

Vitals: email, delivered 2/2/11

Ralph Lauren took a unique approach for Valentine’s by featuring dog polos in an email with the subject: “Puppy Love & Perfect Gifts: Valentine’s Day 2011.”  Shoppers were encouraged to “Find something special for your Valentine” by clicking through to categories like Men, Women, Boys, Girls, Baby, Pup.  Deadlines were given for holiday delivery and the email offered free shipping with $195+ orders and $8 flat-rate shipping on orders under $195.

Vitals: email, delivered 2/2/11

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Sightings: Black Friday 2010 Promotions

Given all the press “Black Friday creep” has been getting, it’s not surprising how many Black Friday-themed promotions MarketRelevance has been seeing already this fall.  Originally reserved for the Friday following Thanksgiving, (and referring to when a retailer typically sees the accounting switch from red ink to black), “Black Friday” now clearly has been recast to refer broadly to sales and discount shopping. Beyond calling for “Black Friday Now,” most of the retailers we’ve rounded up below are also offering savings to consumers through membership clubs, layaway, in-house credit cards and discounted shipping. Notable MarketRelevance promotions covered below include Collections Etc., Woman Within, Tiger Direct, Sears and Kmart.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Collections Etc.
Collections Etc. asks “Why fight the crowds and long lines next month, when you can get in on the action Now and Save Up to 65% + $1 Shipping. No minimum order quantity required… Shop Now!” The discount gift, home and general merchandiser sells most products for $14.99 or less. The email also promotes the marketer’s Green & Gold Savings Club, which qualifies the member for 10% savings on every purchase for a year.

Vitals: email, delivered 10/27/10

Woman Within
Redcats’ plus size women’s apparel marketer Woman Within sent an email announcing “Black Friday Now! Extra 30% off all orders, 48 hrs only.” The festive red and green creative includes a woman dressed in Santa gear and the text: “Holiday shop preview from $9.99.” Several product categories like “little black dress shop,” “50% off shop” and “national bra brands from $14” are highlighted. The promotion also features a catalog request link and allows recipients to click through to apply for the marketer’s affinity credit card, teasing, “save up to $300 annually when you open a Woman Within credit card account.”

Vitals: email, delivered 11/5/10

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Sightings: Thanksgiving 2010 Email and Catalog Promotions

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, here’s a look at some promotions that cater to the Fall harvest tradition, and kick off the upcoming holiday season.  Noteworthy promotions tracked by MarketRelevance include efforts from Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, NapaStyle, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Harriet Carter.

Note: Click on any promotion graphic for a more complete view.

Pottery Barn Offers Thanks
The November 2010 print catalog from Williams-Sonoma’s home furnishings brand Pottery Barn reads “Give Thanks” and displays a festive turkey-themed table setting on the cover. Inside, all the items needed to outfit the Thanksgiving Day celebration are available, from the dining room table to napkins and decor. Specific products include the Toscana Dining Collection ($3,632), individual Windsor Dining Chairs ($159 – $199), and the Bellora Chandelier ($239). Looking ahead to upcoming holidays, Christmas decor is also offered, including an assortment of ornaments, stockings, and wreathes. A few versions of the November effort were tracked, with varying page counts and incentives, including 10% off all orders and a 10% affinity credit card reward.

Vitals: direct mail, delivered 10/9/10, 10/12/10, 10/13/10, 10½” x 8”

A Few Favorite Things from NapaStyle
NapaStyle also kicked off its annual holiday season with a print catalog featuring 75 new products for entertaining.  Founded by Food Network personality chef Michael Chiarello, NapaStyle specializes in food, furniture, home decor and kitchen items that embody Northern California. Copy (“Bright Cooper Tumblers and… Warm Golden Candles…”) plays on “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. A note from the founder lists some of Chiarello’s favorite products, including the Silverwood Bowls & Cheese Tray ($99 – $199), along with exclusives from the retailer like a Vintage Champagne Bucket ($249), and Vintage Bells by the Pound ($39 – $99).

Vitals: direct mail, delivered 10/5/10, 10½” x 8”

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Multichannel Snapshot: The Gardening Sector

Now that warmer weather is here, we decided to take a look at retailers that offer seeds, bulbs, plants and trees, along with gardening tools and gift items for those with a green thumb.  A quick review of both online and offline data shows that the sector has done well across channels — particularly in these more frugal, back-to-basics times.

Interest in vegetable gardens, for example, has increased in recent years, as many seek more control over their food sources and look for ways to save money in a lean economy.  Per a National Gardening Association survey, the reasons consumers give for growing their own food include better quality, better taste, food safety and money saved on food bills. The NGA survey reports a 19% increase in the number of U.S. households growing their own fruits, vegetables, berries, and herbs in 2009. Even First Lady Michelle Obama put in a vegetable garden at the White House in 2009, the first in over 50 years.

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Recent Trends in the Gifts Catalog Market

Last month I highlighted some of our MarketTrends findings for the Apparel catalog sector, noting that while list universes were down in 2009, things were looking up for the area in 2010.

On the flip side, one of our other recent studies covers the Gifts/Collectibles market, and while our findings show similar universe losses, signs of a speedy turnaround are not quite as obvious.  To be sure, the economy and unemployment have a significant impact on sales for non-essential gift items.  But equally important are changes within the category itself.  With the product expansion we’ve seen in larger gift titles, flat or discount pricing strategies, and the growth of smaller boutique books, the catalog gift market seems to be in the midst of its own unique transition.

For clarity, what we currently call the “Gifts/Collectibles” market is made up of marketers with a year-round product mix focused primarily on gift giving.  Mailers in this category include a variety of well-known titles like Potpourri, Red Envelope and Signals.  We do not include toy catalogers in this set.

To illustrate some of the challenges from the past two years, below is a look at the active 12 month buyer universe for over 100 gift catalogs.

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Retail Trends: The Unstoppable Search for Free Shipping

From years of tracking promotions, we know that free shipping incentives have risen steadily across all consumer retail sectors.  On the offline side, our MarketTrends studies show that 24% of apparel catalog campaigns included a free shipping incentive in 2009, up from 21% in 2008.  Similar growth was seen in non-apparel catalogs.  

For online, the story has been much the same, but the data is more telling. In addition to retail competitive activity, search data also helps us gauge consumer interest and intent with regard to free shipping.  And today’s shoppers are very interested in free delivery, and more so every year.  

Click here to continue reading on the PM Digital Blog.

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Black Friday Search Trends, Past and Present

“Black Friday” search data from Hitwise underscores how consumers are increasingly plugged-in to online retail research and deal hunting.

I sat in on a good session from Hitwise Research Director Heather Doughtery this week that looked back at Black Friday 2008 and offered some preliminary stats for Black Friday 2009. The findings are fairly predictable and mirror what we know from our own data:  consumers are researching earlier and looking for deals.  The bigger question for this season is to what degree the economy and unemployment will accelerate the thrifty, marketing-savvy behaviors already in play.  Below are a few takeaways:

Black Friday searches start earlier each year. Per Hitwise, early “Black Friday” searches in 2006 started the week ending 9/30; for 2009 those same searches started the week ending 8/8.  At this rate, “Christmas in July” may lose its oxymoron status by next year.  Of course we’re talking searches, not purchases.  But unless a retailer is sitting on headline-grabbing price reductions for late in the season, capturing mindshare early is crucial.  Consumers need to know where the good deals are coming from, and a retailer may have to expend more effort now if they haven’t laid the groundwork already.

Click here to continue reading on the PM Digital Blog.

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Catalog Buyer Files Continue to Reflect Tough Economy

Most catalog sectors have seen universe declines over the past two years, but individual successes remain — especially for those with a focus on price and practicality.

WilliamsSonoma-CarolWrightA recent Metrics graph in The New York Times called Shoppers’ Shifting Priorities draws a not-too-pretty picture of retail sales from 2003 through 2009.  Dramatic falloffs abound, and not just for automobiles, but also apparel, home furnishings and department stores.  Folks that work in these beleaguered industries probably won’t be surprised to learn that the “liquor store” category is doing quite nicely.

The NYT study pulled data directly from the U.S. Census Bureau Retail Trade Report, which is a great (and free) resource for anyone looking for sales trends.  For direct marketers, another critical and more impactful measure of sector health can be found in housefile universes, specifically 12-month buyer counts.

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