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.

Stores play on politics for sales

Gap, Wal-Mart hope election season can jolt consumer spending

With the start of the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Monday, retailers, faced with the toughest economic environment in years, have latched onto the presidential election as a vehicle for jump-starting sales.

Among the first to step into the fray: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Gap Inc.

Gap, the San Francisco-based apparel chain, is resurrecting its legacy white T-shirt with a nationwide “Vote” campaign. The rollout began Friday in Chicago at the Gap’s Midwest flagship on North Michigan Avenue, where makeshift voting booths lined the storefront.

Inside, shoppers lined up for free white T-shirts with the words “Vote for _____.” A clerk filled in the blank according to customers’ wishes using a T-shirt press. Shoppers have their pick of an array of press-on letters, markers, buttons and patches.

What are shoppers voting for? It’s not all Obama and McCain. Some are voting ice cream or lower gas prices or, simply, change.

The store had 300 T-shirts at 9 a.m. They were gone by 1:30 p.m. Gap’s seven-city tour moves to Philadelphia on Tuesday and runs through Sept. 11.

At the same time, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is launching a series of television ads during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The 15-second ads focus on the economy, gas prices and health-care costs, and they pitch Wal-Mart as a place to save money. The first ad airs Monday and is slated to run through Sept. 7 on cable network news and talk shows focused on election coverage.

Meanwhile, a new survey found that when asked to vote as if the election were today, shoppers that favored Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney are more likely to vote for Sen. John McCain, while Macy’s and Target shoppers say they would cast their ballot for Sen. Barack Obama.

The survey, released Monday from Worthington, Ohio-based BIGresearch, also found that while Wal-Mart and Penneys shoppers favored McCain, the group was fairly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Kohl’s shoppers, on the other hand, tended to fall more squarely in the Republican camp. Macy’s and Target shoppers were more likely to call themselves Democrats.

“Perhaps McCain should consider a bus tour through Wal-Mart parking lots, and Obama could use Target,” said Gary Drenik, president of BIGresearch.

How bad is it? Retail guru Mickey Drexler, dubbed the “King of Cool” on the cover of Fortune magazine’s Sept. 1 luxury issue, tells the business publication that the current retail environment is the worst he’s seen during his 40 years in the business. The CEO of J. Crew and master merchant also says the days of big-name designers are over.

“Designer goods have become much too available, either through their own distribution or through logo counterfeiting,” he told the magazine. “I see the world moving away from carrying a bag around with the designer’s initials or designer’s logo. The more you see of anything, the less special it becomes.”

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