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Ted Hurlbut's Retail Reader, Summer 2010

Summer in the city. The dog days. And we're still trying to read the tea leaves. Spring started out promising, then faded at the end. What will Back-to-School and Christmas bring?

One thing is clear to me. We can't discount our way to prosperity. Despite the cutbacks in inventories over the last year and a half, the major national chains have continued to discount like crazy, for what's really a pretty logical reason. After all this time, that's about all that's left that they know how to do.

The very best independent retailers, however, have always understood that they needed to create value for their customers in ways other than continuously dropping their prices. Through unique assortments, engaged salespeople, distinctive stores and impeccable service, they have created an enormous reservoir of goodwill and equity with their customers.

The sum of all those parts is the customer experience, and as our lead piece in this issue of the Retail Reader calls out, shaping customer experience is the key to any successful retail strategy in the new normal we find ourselves in. The other pieces that I've chosen for this issue reinforce that point. The retail winners will be those who adhere to sound retail management fundamentals and build their strategy around their customers.

Labor Day is looming, and with it the beginnings of two important seasons; Football and (yes, we start early these days) the holiday shopping season. May you come out a winner on both scores. Breathe deep (and pass me a hot dog, please)!


Shaping Customer Experience A Critical Strategy As Retail Recovers

"As fragile as it may be, there’s a retail recovery underway as consumers gain more financial confidence. Now that retail acquisitions have calmed down and the economy is stabilizing, there’s a fight for consumable dollars. One of the most potent pieces in the retail arsenal is ensuring a consistent and differentiated consumer experience. Retail executives today are now realizing that to be competitive and win the war for consumer spending they must focus on the intangibles of the customer experience. Further, they are redefining their understanding of what customer experience truly means." From Retail Customer Experience... 


Seven Requirements For Becoming Customer-Centric

"There is a lot of talk these days about putting the customer at the center of business thinking and operations. Whether motivated by the economy, competition or a shift in strategic focus, the dialogue in some hallways and boardrooms is starting to explore the following questions. What would be different if we put the customer at the center? What would have to change? How would we get started? How would it make us more successful? Although many retailers are trying to embed a customer orientation into their organization’s decision-making and culture, most are struggling to make real progress." From Retail Customer Experience...

Consumers Resetting, Not Recovering

"An extensive new study from NPD Group finds that no matter what's going on with the economy, people aren't so much recovering as they are resetting. "Overall, consumers have reached this new equilibrium of spending and making decisions about things like groceries and apparel and electronics and automotive," Dee Warmath, SVP/Retail Insights for NPD, tells Marketing Daily. "The pie has shrunk, so each category is competing with another. So while there is a roving release of pent-up demand, there's not an overall increase in spending. " From Media Post Publications... 


Are We In A Recovery? Check The Underwear

"There have been a lot of quirky economic indicators bandied about of late, from sales of lipstick to pick-up trucks — with varied results. But men’s underwear sales even have the endorsement of former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, since they tend to be one of the first things men stop buying when times get tough." From


Do Not Give In To 'Dumb Discounting'

"That brings me to one of my favorite topics and one that is particularly relevant during a period of constrained spending. I call it “dumb discounting,” which is a series of actions retailers take to theoretically drive business. In reality, the discounts frequently create limited sales increases driven by customers who won't shop again at the store and most of the time leads to reduced gross margin dollars." From Retail Customer


The Sad Truth About Best Practices

"The sad truth about best practices is that most of the time, they won’t work for you or me. They worked for somebody, some time, in some situation, in the past. Sure, the idea of best practices is attractive. Supposedly you or I can follow along, obediently, and succeed using so-called best practices. Too bad it doesn’t work." From