NRF’s ‘Really Big Show:’ Talk of Consolidations And More Discomfort

NEW YORK — After muddling through 2002, retailers have a lot to look forward to in 2003 — most of it not to be welcomed. There will be more...

When it comes to designing product, it’s not simply about creativity. Denise Seegal, ceo of Sweetface Fashion, hammered home that point during a session entitled "Retail Profitability is a Seven Letter Word: Product," when she discussed the importance of "intellectual designers" who understand the financial ramifications of what they design as opposed to just the creative ones. "They need to understand that everything they create has to be worth something," said Seegal.

And product design can’t just emanate from those who sit in a studio all day and sketch. "We’ve added stylists to our design teams, young girls who live the life to help us develop a product that is appropriate," Seegal said. Among the products where Sweetface is scoring with consumers: athletic pajama bottoms, french terry, athletic mesh, and velour bottoms.

Retailers have a lot of learning to do on how to capture more business and can learn from other industries, even casinos. Gary Loveman, ceo of Harrah’s Entertainment, said his firm is as much a retailer as an entertainer and has decided to build up its gaming business by building consumer loyalty, getting customers to return more often to Harrah’s, rather than relying on expansion.

Harrah’s has put together a marketing blitz involving television commercials highlighting the "feeling of anticipation" at the slot machines or crap tables, and has established tiered customer loyalty card systems, tagged as gold, platinum or diamond cards. The efforts have increased Harrah’s market share, measured by frequency of visits to a Harrah’s casino versus a competitor’s casino.

How much is a customer worth to Harrah’s? The answer, said Loveman, lies "not in terms of what they spend, but in what we think their potential to spend is."

Aside from being market challenged, retailers are challenged operationally, particularly by deflation. Deflation is a new phenomenon in modern retailing, and forces retailers to sell more units to maintain revenue levels, as Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research, said during his presentation. In a session entitled "Ideas Change the World: Managing Strategic Flexibility in a World of Retail Change," Steidtmann described a new consumer shopping mentality from "buy now to wait now." That means consumers are waiting longer to make the purchase, knowing the goods will go on sale. Deflationary cycles, he said, tend to be long-lasting.
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