Retail Hits And Misses: So Much To Review This Week

 

I’m tired of “experiential,” and I don’t want to help build “community.”  What I  do want is for retail to make it easier for me to actually buy stuff. 

 

This week I had four retail experiences that illustrate why some retailers are winning while others are only alive because of crazy VC money.

 

New Stand, (photos above) opened on the Bowery in the former Patricia Field space. I have no idea what this store is about.

All the salesperson kept stressing was that they have an app that I should download and that they have kiosks on all the new ferries zooming around NYC. The store looks like a pop up with an odd assortment of “curated” products that I could undoubtedly get much more easily (and cheaply) at the nearby CVS.

I was told the back of this huge space is their office/HQ, but I’ve also read the company is planning to rent it out for “brand activations” and other events.

I am not optimistic about the longterm prospects of New Stand.

 

Showfields, the self-proclaimed “most interesting store in the world,” is another coolish, experiential situation in NOHO (11 Bond Street). They feature online brands hoping to make it to brick and mortar. I’ve visited several times. They are clearly not making a dime from sales.

Hence, their newest gimmick: turn the entire fourth floor into a free coworking space for those who sign up for the Showfields newsletter. However, the hours of operation are so random, I can’t imagine anyone actually working there. And I guess that’s OK because Tal Zvi Nathanel, the CEO and founder of Showfields, told the Commercial Observerthis is not a WeWork, this is like a coworking meditation space.”

Nathanel goes on to say that adding coworking to Showfields isn’t about trying to get more shoppers into the 14,000-square-foot store (I mean, who would want that?!) but an effort to build a community which will be critical “to the next phase of retail.”

Based on what I’ve seen, I’m not confident there will be a next phase for this retail.

 

But there are some actual winners! Read on below.

 

H Mart, the Korean grocery chain with a major cult following, opened its third location in Manhattan in the East Village, near NYU

 

I recently discovered H Mart on the Upper West Side and was so jealous we didn’t have one downtown.

Jealous no more! The East Village location (39 Third Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets) just opened, and it’s enormous. They are also in the process of adding a Korean BBQ Chicken restaurant, which will make it even more popular with NYU students and locals alike.

I doubt I would do all my grocery shopping here, but they do carry essentials for cooking as well as many prepared foods. And I’m a sucker for all that cute packaging. And they wave goodbye to you after you’ve paid as you leave the store.

H Mart was founded in Queens in 1982. They are a privately held company but reportedly do over $1 billion in sales and have 61 locations in the US.

 

Walmart is Also Back In My Good Graces

I did a major order with them this week, and it was smooth as butter.

Over the last few months, I’ve been watching them get back on track. And for that, we have to thank Doug McMillon, CEO at Walmart. He’s been absolutely focused on making Walmart competitive with Amazon. And it shows.

They’ve started carrying an upgraded selection of brands, many I could previously only get on Amazon. The trade-off has been higher prices. On the other hand, the whole online experience has improved dramatically. I’ve also noticed they seem to be packing the orders more carefully.

And after visiting Bentonville recently, I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for Walmart and Doug McMillon. He’s turned into a superstar CEO, and I’m especially impressed by how he’s handling his social media. I will be writing about how he and other CEOS rank in their use of social  shortly.

Who is losing as I get back on the Walmart bandwagon?

Target. They continue to disappoint me with their selection. They offer far less choice than Walmart.

Amazon, although it has the most extensive selection, I cannot stand how difficult they make it to find what you want on their site. They foist sponsored brands on you even when you specifically request others. It’s made ordering on Amazon incredibly irritating and time-consuming. Jeff Bezos had better be looking into this. He keeps saying the key to Amazon’s success is “obsessively,” focusing on/delighting the customer. I’m not feeling delighted.

But I will never count Amazon out either.

Especially when Bezos talks about the foundational pillars of the business which he explains are based on asking not what’s going to change in the next ten years but instead, “what are the fundamental things that are NOT going to change?

I’ve heard him say that he is confident that in the next decade, people will still want low prices, fast shipping, and a large selection. Those are the three foundational pillars of the business.

  •  It’s impossible to imagine people saying to me, ‘Jeff, I love Amazon. I just wish you delivered a little more slowly. Or, I love Amazon, I just wish your prices were a little higher.

Having that longterm perspective is what makes Amazon stand apart from the crowd even if they occasionally disappoint customers like me.

 

Bottom Line.

I have gotten increasingly cranky about retail because I find it harder to buy stuff – whether it’s sneakers or parts for a coffee maker – more often than not, I come away empty-handed. Brick and mortar stores are now regularly out of stock, or they have no one on hand to help you.

Online retail is making it trickier to get what you want because of all the sponsored products that always show up in your feed first, second, and even ninth and tenth.

And when it comes to “experiential,” it’s not that I’m opposed to shopping being fun or having an instagrammable moment or two. What I am opposed to is “experiential” at the expense of a solid concept – at the end of the day, retail is about having something to sell that people want to buy and that is far too often getting lost in all the hoopla around instore co-working or apps or community-building or some “experiential,” “highly-curated” nonsense that we see New Stand doing.

So yes, I think it’s grim out there for shoppers – as well as for retailers. And that’s why I am so excited that Walmart has been able to up their game. It’s also why I am so happy to welcome a store like H Mart to my neighborhood . They offer the kind of experiential I can get on board with: fully stocked stores, an informed and helpful staff, and their “special sauce,” the wave goodbye as I leave with full shopping bags of things I want and need.

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