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Here is an interesting graph. It comes from Goldman Sachs by way of Quartz (A new generation of even faster fashion is leaving H&M and Zara in the dust, Apr 6).

It is showing that how sales growth relates to lead time. And while I am obliged to say that correlation is not causation, it seems pretty clear that it is good to be fast; firms with shorter lead times have distinctly higher sales growth.

The focus of the Quartz article is on Boohoo and Asos, two British web-based apparel retailers that target young shoppers. As seen in the chart, their recent performance has been smoking everyone — even Inditex, the parent of Zara. An obvious consideration here is that both Boohoo and Asos are younger, smaller firms so it is easier for them to generate rapid growth than older, larger firms. It also seems that at least Asos has done some things recently to juice its sales that are independent of its operational expertise. For example, the Financial Times reports that they took advantage of a week British pound following the Brexit vote to cut price in international markets (Asos cuts its cloth for growth but leaves less margin for error, Apr 4).

But it is still an interesting question of how a web-based retailer can benefit from its distribution structure to execute fast fashion faster.

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As we have posted about before, retailers using store inventory to fulfill on-line orders is a thing. It is also a thing that raises an interesting question: At what level of store inventory should a retailer stop using store inventory to fulfill on-line orders? That is, should everything be available first-come, first served or should some store inventory be held back only for those customer that wander into the store? According to the Chicago Tribune, different chains are following different strategies on this (With Hatchimals scarce, who gets dibs — online shoppers, or those in the store?, Dec 13).

Target ships online orders from 1,000 of its stores, up from 460 last year. To avoid empty shelves, Target will turn off the order pickup or ship-from-store option on some items when a store’s stockpile falls below a certain threshold, said Target spokesman Eddie Baeb. Stores that ship also get extra inventory.

An online customer likely doesn’t care which store or warehouse handles their purchase. The shopper already walking the aisles does. Exactly how many items Target holds back depends on the product and how quickly it typically sells. …

Other retailers, like Toys R Us, don’t try to guess how many items to hold back for in-store customers.

Even on Christmas Eve, the retailer doesn’t bump back online orders to help procrastinating brick-and-mortar holiday shoppers. Purchases, whatever the format, are first-come, first-served, said Toys R Us spokeswoman Jessica Offerjost.

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It’s the end of the year so it is clearly time to see what is up with how retailers are handling holiday logistics. A useful starting point is this graphic from the Wall Street Journal (As Web Sales Spike, Retailers Scramble to Ship From Stores, Dec 1).

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This shows how Toys R Us fulfills its web orders. And, yes, that says that over 40% of the web sales were fulfilled from stores. (To put that total in perspective, the company’s revenue last year was $11.8 billion.) (more…)

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It’s not every day that you see a video about supply chain contracting, so I cannot resist posting about it:

The video comes from Vox and they have an article that goes with it (The hidden war over grocery shelf space, Nov 22). That article, in turn, was at least partially inspired by a report written for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Rigged: Supermarket Shelves for Sale, Sep 28, 2016).

The contract in question is a slotting allowance. Slotting allowances are paid by food manufacturers to retailers in order to get items onto shelves. The money is paid upfront and often varies with the number of stock keeping units (SKUs) introduced and the number of stores in which the products will be stocked. The term comes from the act of creating a space — i.e., a slot — for an item in a warehouse or on a store shelf. The origin story is that retailers at some point started demanding that vendors compensate them for the costs they incur in helping launch new products (which often fail). The reality is that the money involved is now significantly higher than the cost of rearranging products. In effect, retailers are selling off their real estate.

So are slotting allowances good or bad for markets and customers?

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IKEA has big growth plans. According to the Wall Street Journal, it aims to increase its revenue by €50 billion by 2020 — 74% higher than its 2014 revenue (IKEA Can’t Stop Obsessing About Its Packaging, Jun 17). Part of that growth is going to come from expanding into new markets, some may come from new formats, but a lot of it has to come from selling more stuff through existing stores. And that is going to require finding ways to cut prices to move more volume.

That’s where design comes in. IKEA is reviewing products in order to find ways to reduce their production and — importantly — their distribution costs. As this graphic demonstrates, this is pretty much a war on air.

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About a year ago, we had a post on Zulily and how they managed their order fulfillment. It featured a nifty graphic from the Wall Street Journal showing just how much longer their delivery times were relative to other interet retailers. Now, the Journal has another story — with a spiffy updated graphic — discussing how their delivery times have gotten even worse (Zulily Nips Business Model in the Bud, Mar 23).

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Wal-Mart made waves last month when it announced that it would increase the starting wages of its workers so that all of its associates would make at least $9.00 per hour. That’s not exactly the kind of pay that makes you rich, but it is 24% higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. TJX followed Wal-Mart’s lead and announced a similar wage policy.

But why should these large firms be upping their pay? That is the question examined in a recent Bloomberg article (Why Retailers Are Suddenly Desperate to Keep Their Least-Valuable Workers, Mar 6). As the article notes, it is not clear that firms need to be paying more. Yes, labor markets have been firming up, but the unemployment rate went up last month because a number of workers returned to the labor force. So there are still a good number of workers available. Why then make a move that’s going to increase costs by a billion dollars per year?

The article’s answer to that question? Turnover!

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Turnover in the retail sector has been steadily rising and now stands 5 percent a month. At that rate, if Walmart’s workforce were to hold to the national average, over a full year it would be losing 60 percent of its sales staff. Employee churn at fast-food chains is even worse: Almost 6 percent of all fast-food workers left or were laid off in December, according to federal data. An individual worker won’t ever command anything like the salary-bargaining powers of a baseball player, of course, but service economy employers tend to notice a rising tide of worker defections. Plugging all those gaps in the workforce is hugely expensive. Here’s how the math breaks down:

  • The average retail sales employee in the U.S. earns an annual income of about $21,140, or $10.16 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The cost of replacing an employee earning less than $30,000 per year is about 16 percent of that person’s annual wage, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.
  • A retail employer would therefore need to spend almost $3,400 every time a worker defects.

That adds up quickly. Walmart has about 500,000 low-wage employees. The cost of replacing each one, using the rough estimate from above, comes to roughly $1 billion—the cost of the just-announced wage increase to $9 per hour.

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