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Retail trends murkier this year: Credit- and debit-card fiasco could endanger whole economic recovery

TNS Regional News • Feb 18, 2014 at 3:07 PM

It’s been 10 years since retail consultant Chris Boring started jotting down ideas about trends in the industry.

Initially done as fodder for a business presentation, it’s evolved into an annual top 10 list of retail trends for the coming year.

Predictions for 2014 turned out to be more difficult than he might have imagined, said Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies in Columbus.

“Up until December, I think just about all the economists agreed that 2014 looked like the best economy in years,” he said. “All the signs pointed upward. We all expected to see a big uptick that would have been reflected not only in sales but in rising consumer confidence, which was at a six-year high at the end of last year.”

Then came the Target data breach.

The credit- and debit-card fiasco could endanger the whole economic recovery — not just the retail business — he said, but only time will tell. Because the hard winter has kept everyone hunkered down at home, a true picture of whether buying habits will be affected has yet to emerge.

One hopeful sign, Boring said, is that few consumers have changed their credit-card behavior since the data breaches at Target and other retailers. “Part of that is because no one is held liable for the charges. It’s so ingrained in our lives now to use credit cards when we’re shopping. I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Among the trends on the list and one that has been hitting central Ohio hard: the recent “firearms frenzy.”

“There are now more than 220 licensed arms dealers in central Ohio, a lot of them just open lately,” he said. These include Cabela’s, which opened locally last March, Gander Mountain’s first Firearms Super Center in Ohio in Reynoldsburg, Field & Stream’s planned opening in the fall at Easton, Vance Outdoors’ planned store in Obetz, and Walmart, the top gun and ammo retailer in the country.

Another trend that will hit central Ohio this year: outlet shopping.

“Most of the brands carry knockoffs specifically made for the outlet, and not the merchandise that didn’t sell from last season,” Boring said.

Such an approach can dilute a brand’s image, leading to disaster for a luxury brand.

That point was raised in October during L Brands’ meeting with investors as CEO Les Wexner scoffed that luxury handbag maker Coach “became a discount outlet,” and that he wants to move in the opposite direction, closing one of the four outlet locations for

L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret.

“(Coach) cut their own throat,” Wexner said. “The outlet business is easy money, (but) discounting yourself is the beginning of the end. ... Outlet doesn’t build a brand.”

Coach’s outlet stores now account for 60 percent of their sales in North America, up from 30 percent in 2006.

“I totally agree with (Wexner) for Victoria’s Secret,” Boring said. “I can totally see what he says about protecting brand image. At Victoria’s Secret, that’s paramount to them. But I don’t know. Maybe the answer is, ‘it depends.’?”

Researching cool

Now they can find out what the cool kids really want.

Hoping to make better decisions on designs and pricing, Abercrombie & Fitch has signed a deal with online analytics provider First Insight to tell them what consumers like.

In doing so, Abercrombie becomes the second local retailer in as many months to sign with First Insight. In January, The Limited signed on with the analytics company.

First Insight uses social media to learn about shoppers’ preferences. The process helps reduce retailers’ risks and allows for faster design and manufacturing.

Faster and faster

A few weeks ago, legendary oil and gas magnate T. Boone Pickens shared a stage in New Albany with Wexner.

While Pickens, famous for his quips, delivered some funny lines, Wexner talked quietly about how he has pushed his retail business to become ever more competitive by moving faster through the process of manufacturing, shipping and distributing products.

“Today,” he said to gasps from the crowd, “the entire process takes 11 days.”

But Wexner also displayed his own wry wit when talking about lessons he has learned in his retailing career.

“Am I determined or stubborn?” Wexner said, smiling. “I realized — you’re only stubborn when you’re wrong.”


By Tim Feran - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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