Retailers see smaller outlets as the next big thing.

Bigger is not always better. Just ask the biggest retailers in the country — and their customers.

Neng Yang, left, purchases a new phone at the Best Buy Mobile mini-store at Independence, Mo., with her brothers Cheng Yang and John Yang, right.

 Neng Yang, left, purchases a new phone at the Best Buy Mobile mini-store at Independence, Mo., with her brothers Cheng Yang and John Yang, right.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To Neng Yang, the Best Buy store in Independence, Mo., is just too overwhelming — so much so that she only shops there once a year, at the holidays.

So when she needed a new cellphone, she bypassed the 55,000-square-foot store with its many departments — appliances, big-screen TVs, computers, cameras, car audio, video and music. Instead, she stopped across the street at the Best Buy Mobile store.

The slimmed-down 850-square-foot sister store concentrates only on mobile devices.

“I ask about a thousand questions, and this is more personalized, more one-on-one attention,” said Yang of Blue Springs, Mo.

Yang bought a white Droid Razr, and her brother John Yang picked up a black one.

Bigger is not always better. Just ask the biggest retailers in the country — and their customers.

The recession and the growth of online shopping have conspired to cut chains down to size. One strategy they’ve employed has been to close underperforming stores. But Best Buy and an increasing number of companies are trying another strategy too — going smaller.

Among the retailers testing smaller concepts are Blockbuster, Ann Taylor, Gap, Kohl’s, Lowe’s and Sports Authority. RadioShack even is trying a “store-within-a-store” format in several OfficeMax stores in California.

Lower square footage makes for lower construction and remodeling costs, and that also tends to make them easier to finance. The smaller locations have less overhead costs and can be manned by fewer employees.

The small size also gives the chains more flexibility in locations, allowing them to squeeze into heavily developed urban centers, and compact spaces in airports, college campuses and strip centers. If the location isn’t successful, the chains can close the sites with less financial fallout.

“For a decade it was ‘build it and they will come,’ ” said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail in New York.

“It’s definitely a correction for retailers as well as restaurants, a direct result of consumers not having as much to spend on the extras. The strategy has to be to reduce your costs to offset less traffic. Usually that means less rent, shrinking retail and restaurants,” Corlett said.

Jeff Green, president of Jeff Green Partners, Phoenix-based real-estate consultants, has long criticized the “bigger is better” movement.

“They think the bigger they are the more exciting they are and that’s not necessarily the case, as Apple has proven,” Green said.

“Consumers like the smaller stores, like to be part of a ‘happening,’ and smaller stores have that feel.”

When retailers like Ann Taylor, Chico’s and the Gap opened larger stores, they didn’t necessarily see an equivalent rise in sales, if any rise at all, that would justify the added expense, Green said.

“Any retailer that is opening larger and larger stores, I question their long-term viability,” Green said. “Costco and Sam’s Club defy that theory. That’s because consumers really perceive them as great values and value trumps the inconvenience of size.”

One of the latest retailers to embrace small stores is Cabela’s. On Feb. 16, the outdoor-equipment and sporting-goods retailer said it would open its first Cabela’s Outpost Store this fall in Union Gap, just south of Yakima; up to three more are planned for next year.

The Outpost stores will be significantly smaller than traditional Cabela’s: about 40,000 square feet compared with, say, the 185,000-square-foot Cabela’s in Lacey, Thurston County.

Cabela’s also has plans to open an 110,000-square-foot store this year at Quil Ceda Village on the Tulalip Tribes Indian reservation. And it will target smaller markets — 250,000 people or less with a high concentration of them already Cabela’s customers.

Best Buy introduced its mobile locations in 2007 and there are about 260 nationwide, including the Independence Best Buy Mobile store, which opened in August. Best Buy has about 1,100 full-size stores.

“The customer wants a different shopping experience. We don’t work on commission, and we carry everybody,” said Kyle Cochran, manager of the Independence store, which is tucked between two specialty stores on the lower level of the Independence Center mall.

Still, consumers who have come to know a brand as a “category killer” might be confused by the new concept.

The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Stores are designed to provide shoppers with a quick, convenient stop for fresh produce, dairy items, and pharmacy products at low prices. The grocery stores are about 29,000 square feet compared with a 142,000-square-foot supercenter.

But some grocery store shoppers still expect to see the large selections of products Wal-Mart is known for.

Carolyn Shaw of Shawnee, Kan., was disappointed in the holiday selection at a Wal-Mart Neighborhood store earlier this month during a morning stop in a snowstorm.

“They didn’t have many Valentine’s items,” Shaw said. “Now I’ll have to go back out this afternoon to a bigger Wal-Mart.”

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Black Friday Sales Hits Record, Retail traffic and Foot-falls up.

Preliminary reports for Black Friday indicate that retailers may have seen their strongest sales ever during the all-important kick-off to the holiday shopping season.

black friday sales

Retail sales on Black Friday climbed 6.6% this year to an estimated $11.4 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks foot traffic at malls and stores. Last year, sales climbed just 0.3% to $10.7 billion, which was a record one-day sales amount at the time, according to the company.

“This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3 percent increase we saw between 2007 and 2006,” said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. “Still, it’s just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behavior through the holiday shopping season.”

However, sales have been strong throughout the entire month of November with retailers rolling out holiday deals earlier than ever. In the two weeks leading up to the week of Black Friday, retail sales were up 3.6% and 3.8%, respectively, ShopperTrak reported.

“Retailers continue to stretch out Black Friday weekend by enticing shoppers with doorbuster deals weeks in advance,” said Martin.

Online sales have also proven to be strong, with many big-box retailers and department stores offering deals online earlier this year.

Black Friday online sales surge 24%

Online sales were up 39.3% on Thanksgiving Day and 24.3% on Black Friday compared to the same days last year, according to IBM’s (IBM,Fortune 500) Coremetrics, which tracks real-time data from 500 retailers in the apparel, department store, health and beauty and home goods categories.

“This year marked Thanksgiving’s emergence as the first big spending day of the 2011 holiday season with a record number of consumers shifting their focus from turkey to tablets and the search for the best deals,” said John Squire, chief strategy officer at IBM’s Smarter Commerce division.

Consumers also spent slightly more than they did last year, although they spent most of that money on themselves. According to NPD Group consumers spent about 3% more on purchases during Black Friday. However, about 44% were self purchases up from 33% last year, the research group said.

Retail traffic on Black Friday up 2%

Total US visits to the top 500 Retail websites increased 2% on Black Friday as compared to 2010 and received more than 173 million US visits. Traffic has increased each day leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday and the total visits dipped slightly (-1%) on Black Friday compared Thanksgiving Day 2011. Early Black Friday sales resulted in a shift of online traffic, which climbed prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, however, continued heavy promotional activity helped to drive significant online traffic on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. While Black Friday has been the top day for online retail traffic over the past two years, warm weather and early store openings encouraged shoppers to go online sooner this season.
DMS Retail 500 11-25-2011.png

Among the categories driving the growth in traffic on Black Friday were Department Stores (e.g. Amazon and Wal-Mart) Apparel & Accessories, Appliances & Electronics (e.g. Best Buy) and Video & Games (e.g. Game Stop).
DMS Retail Categories 11-25-2011.png

Below is a list of the top visited retail sites on Black Friday:
DMS Retail 500 Sites 11-25-2011.png

Many of the major retail websites experienced growth on Black Friday, including Amazon, Best Buy, JC Penney, Sears and Kohl’s. Amazon.com was the most visited website on Black Friday for the 7th year in a row.

New Tune: Nokia rings in retail-distribution model

NOKIA India, betting big on its bouquet of mobile services to win back lost market share, has forayed into a retail distribution model. The Finnish giant has set up 350 shop-inshops inside mobile phone retail stores in top 16 cities from where it plans to distribute and sell services such as applications, music, navigation and email solutions, a senior official at Nokia India said.

This is the first time the world’s largest mobile phone company has initiated a retail distribution model for its services venture. Nokia has plans to scale this up in a big way, especially in the rural areas, once the pilot phase is over in another six months.

“Since PC and broadband penetration is low in India, it is important to build a retail distribution model to take services to the masses,” said Nokia India head (OPM & devices) Jasmeet Gandhi. “This will be a platform which will have immense possibilities and the potential to transform the services business as we can tap our huge dealer network,” he said.

Nokia India is also soon coming with a local billing model for its mobile applications store, Ovi Store. At present, there are around 50,000 applications in the store. “We will also make available the applications store in our services retail point so that consumers can conveniently buy mobile applications there,” said Mr Gandhi.

The retail distribution from Nokia comes at a time when the company has already made a few of its services free in India. It has already made navigation service free and has recently announced free unlimited download of music with select handsets. Nokia feels such a strategy will be vital as more than 80% of Indian consumers already access or download free digital content.

“While free music is currently available in five handsets, we plan to take this to handsets across price bands or at least the top 15 models. This even includes the mass market range which runs on the S40 operating system,” said Mr Gandhi.

Even though its early days for Nokia in the mobile services space, India has already emerged as one of the top markets. India ranks amongst the top three market for music downloads with around one million registered users, next to UK and Italy.

In terms of total downloads from the Ovi Store, India ranks amongst the top three markets and in navigation services, it figures amongst the top ten countries. For push email service, Nokia is clocking more than one lakh activation per month in India, making it amongst the top five markets globally.

LG catching up fast in GSM market

SOUTH Korean mobile phone manufacturer, LG Mobile’s assessment is that India can overtake China and become its largest market in terms of size and demand for handsets in the near future. In the background of a sharp economic slowdown in the US and Europe, the company has identified India as a strategic market for investment for its GSM and IT verticals, its managing director Moon B Shin said during an interaction with ET.
How important is India for LG, especially with demand in developed countries such as the US slowing down? What are your plans for India in the current fiscal?

India is an important market for us due to the opportunities it presents. We have plans to launch more than 32 new models here, of which six will be touch phones, while many other models will be 3G-enabled and some of these will also be entry level phones. At present, we have about three touch phones and six 3G-enabled handsets already in the market and we plan to have about 10 models each in both these segments by the year-end. We are betting big on the touch screen segment and we are targeting sales of up to six lakh units  and a 10% market share in this space alone within the next six months.

What will be your investments in India this fiscal?

We will double our investment this year and the company as a whole will spend about Rs 400 crore on advertising this year. Additionally, we will invest Rs 200 crore in R&D to study market dynamics and consumer behaviour here. We are looking at increasing our headcount in our sales vertical to enhance our presence.

How many of the products you sell here are made here? How have your sales been so far?

Currently, we manufacture mobile phones at two units located in Pune and Greater Noida and these plants have a production capacity of three million units per year. About 70% of the production is exported while the rest is for domestic consumption. We sold about 2.4 million GSM handsets in India last year and we expect a 50% increase in sales this year.

Our institutional sales account for just 10% our total mobile sales.
Currently the Indian mobile handset market is dominated by some of your competitors.

How are you looking at improving your brand visibility here?

LG is rapidly gaining market share in the GSM market, despite being a late entrant. We are already the fifth-largest player in the segment. I believe our distribution line was poor earlier, but now we are reworking our strategy here. Based on the analysis of our marketing team, we are deploying 1,000 additional shop sales executives and we will be launching about 1,000 additional shop-inshop formats in rural and tier II cities. On the organised retail front, the overall channel coverage is at 42%.

India is an important market for us due to the opportunities it presents. We have plans to launch more than 32 new models here… We are betting big on the touch screen segment
MOON B SHIN

MANAGING DIRECTOR, LG

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