Saturday, September 29, 2007

Merchandising 101

I have a confession.

I am not among those people who love to shop.

Comedian Rob Becker did a one-man show about ten years ago called Defending the Caveman in which he argued that, based on evolutionary instincts, men and women are different. Men are essentially hunters; they leave the cave intent upon the hunt with the goal of bringing home a specific item. They search until they locate their target, kill it (buy it), and bring it back to the cave.

By contrast, Becker argues that women are essentially gatherers, wandering from place to place, looking for the good fruit (bargains), and being open to finding something other than what they expected to see. Unlike the male targeting behavior, women are more willing to change course and gather something they weren't looking for (when they discover a sale). Gathering is often a social affair, involving a group of women together.

Perhaps God screwed around with my DNA because I am definitely not a gatherer. The only time I step into a store (whether it be a grocery store or a department store) is when I have something specific to purchase. My life is way too busy to regard shopping as either a diversion or pleasant interlude.

Although I've often described myself on this blog as a creature of impulses, those impulses rarely relate to shopping.

The only exception to this rule applies to hardware stores.

I LOVE hardware stores. I'll happily wander the aisles for an hour, picking up gadgets, examining them and sometimes buying on impulse.

When it comes to clothes, I'm pretty simple. For decades, twice a year, I visited Sakowitz to refurbish my wardrobe. Then the chain experienced financial problems and pulled out of Dallas. So I switched my custom to Foley's, a department store that had the advantage of being nearby. Foley's best sales were called Red Apple Sales and included coupons with significant markdowns. I adapted my buying habits so that I only shopped at the department store when they mailed me Red Apple coupons.

About a year ago, Foley's was absorbed into the Macy's fold. The merchandise was upgraded, which I didn't object to--except that some brands I liked disappeared completely. And they eliminated the coupons, to which I had a serious objection. Since that time, I've visited Macy's twice and walked out empty-handed both times.

Turns out I wasn't the only shopper who felt that way. Today's New York Times has an article on Macy's "boldest stroke in American retailing in decades."

The Macy’s chain completed its takeover of 410 department stores around the country a year ago and renamed them all Macy’s, vowing to lure shoppers with innovations like price scanners in the aisles and exclusive fashions from the likes of Oscar de la Renta. So far, the grand plan is not working.

A big reason? Macy’s forgot a basic law of human nature: Shoppers love a deal.

For years, the department stores that Macy’s acquired, like Marshall Field’s and Filene’s, had relied on 15- and 20-percent-off coupons to alert people, like a Pavlovian bell, that it was time to shop. As part of its reinvention, Macy’s tried to wean shoppers off them.

Apparently hunters and gatherers alike were annoyed by Macy's highhanded treatment in mucking with their favorite department stores.

According to The Times, Macy's did three things that ticked off loyal customers: (1) They changed the name of favorite stores to Macy's (which didn't matter tuppence to me); (2) They reduced "reliance on midprice clothing brands like Levi’s and Dockers" (which did tick me off) and (3) They eliminated coupons (which was the deal-breaker for me and lots of other customers).

Macy's chief executive admits the dropping of coupons contributed "to four consecutive months of falling store sales this spring. Macy’s stock has dropped more than 40 percent since it bought the May stores."

"...the changes amounted to 'too much, too fast,' Mr. Lundgren acknowledged in an interview. It turns out that men, in particular, are creatures of shopping habit. They want to go to the local department store and find the Dockers where they have always been."

And it's not just the men. We women hunters go to the Serengeti, expecting to find gazelle and wildebeest grazing on the savannah where they belong, too.

Shape up, Macy's!

1 comment:

Sherrill Quinn said...

Maya, I'm so not a shopper, either. My sister-in-law has long called me a hunter--I know what I want, when I see it I bag it and go home. LOL

Hope your book signing today goes well. :)