Posts Tagged ‘Retail’

How Do You Shop?

February 11, 2009



As a visual merchandiser, I am constantly aware of how people interact within retail spaces. What I love about visual is the dynamic between the creative and analytical elements. Making a store or a display look “pretty” and compelling is great, but there are other considerations. Following are just a few:

  • What does the product assortment look like?
  • Are there promotions to be dealt with?
  • What are the adjacencies?
  • How will the customer interact with the product itself and what amount of employee engagement can be expected?
  • Is there stock to support the presentation needs across the store fleet?
  • How will the product interact with any POS signage?

And, perhaps most importantly, how does The Customer shop? This will vary by customer demographics and the product, naturally, but there are overlapping strategies used by most retailers. For example, most of you are probably aware of the concept of impulse buys, lower price-point product that is customarily displayed near the cash wrap/register. I challenge you to find a store that does not execute this strategy. It could be a Target, Chevron, Gap or Chanel boutique, there WILL be something near the register designed to catch your eye.

End caps (the ends of aisles, essentially) are a hot spot for vendors, who pay big bucks for the space in grocery stores and mass merchants such as Target/Costco. Have you ever noticed that tortillas are ALWAYS merchandised on a non-dominant end cap at the end of the aisle featuring “International” foods?

The same goes for eye-level merchandising, and you’ll notice that this remains consistent by vendor across all retailers, and it’s usually driven by price-point. Large food manufacturers, for example, can afford to buy this space for their mid-range product. Higher price-point items within the same category will be found above eye level, with lower priced items nearer the floor. The same goes for alcohol. When retailers develop their own competitive “generic” brand – as Target has with many products – they will merchandise those items alongside the brand name goods.

I once had an interview at Gap, Inc. for a visual manager job for Old Navy Baby. After meeting my interviewer in the lobby, I was immediately taken a few flights up, to a lonely corner, and placed in front of an open grid wall. Behind me were two rolling racks of spring samples for boys and girls.

“Pull something together,” I was told. I had an hour.

As someone who eagerly watches shows like Top Chef and Project Runway, after this interview I had a new-found appreciation for how difficult it is to execute a challenging task in a short period of time. The hour felt like 5 minutes. My process went something like this: I took stock of the samples I had to work with, there were some assortments but only a piece of each, so I would not be able to bulk anything out. I figured they probably worked on the same grid walls to develop their visual standards for stores, so I tried to determine how they went about this. Do they coordinate outfits or split items by category or color? I hadn’t been to an Old Navy in ages and hadn’t had the time to hit up a store before the interview. I opted to merchandise by coordinating items, including accessories.

He wasn’t impressed. But, he was kind of a bitch and I didn’t want the job that much, so it was a win-win. An experience, at the very least!

I’ve lately become more and more intrigued with color. In my current position, I do quite a bit of merchandising my color, although I have fought against it with some categories as I don’t feel it makes sense with how the customer shops. These can be difficult determinations to make, and as I said above, it greatly depends on the customer demographic.

For example, take American Apparel. They merchandise by color within particular styles. Stores like Banana Republic tend to split out their merchandising by theme or collection, with a focus on newer, on-trend items at the front of the store. A department store may not have the same flexibility as they often are required to split out merchandising by vendor/designer. Within a designer boutique, like Marc Jacobs, however, you may see all items merchandised by color

American Apparel

Marc Jacobs

Banana Republic

With some categories, it makes absolutely no sense to merchandise by color; such as books or vinyl. It would look pretty, but talk about a nightmare for the customer. CVS does not merchandise all eye-shadows together by color, as customers will customarily be looking for a particular brand before a certain color.

I’m still waiting to see a grocery store merchandise produce by color, I think that would be beautiful AND customer-friendly.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how you shop. Are you fairly observant or do you keep your head down and focus on what you’re after? Does a beautiful window or interesting merchandising enhance your perception of a brand? Any hang-ups or pet-peeves about retailers?


Starbucks Lays Off 1000+ Workers

February 11, 2009

You can read more at the Starbucks Gossip (who knew?) blog.

Job Update No. 2

February 7, 2009

Alright folks, so here’s the deal.  As I said earlier, it was announced that, effective immediately, everyone in my company would be taking a 5% pay/salary cut.  I am going to keep this fairly vague as it makes me a bit nervous to write about my job.  Some of you know where I work, so I just ask that you don’t say anything in the comments.

There will be layoffs, next week.  I thought this might be the case as next Friday is a payday.  They will happen across the company.  There are two pieces of good news here; one, I am fairly certain that I will not be laid off, and two, I don’t think they can possibly lay more people off after this.  It’s the 8th round of layoffs I’ve witnessed, and I’ve been with company for 5 years.

I didn’t ask who was being laid off and I don’t want to know.  My boss told me that “none of us” will be going, and I asked that that meant those of us (just 3) under him, or those of us in Creative Services.  He answered that between the three of us no one would be going.  This means at least one person will be going from CS.  Which…..fucking sucks.  Just a few years back there were roughly 30 of of us in CS, now there are 10 – including two directors and our VP.

My boss and I have positioned ourselves as pretty valuable assets for the company, luckily.  We’re multi-functional, we actively try to save the company money, we’re good at what we do, and we’re flexible.

That said, we’re on a sinking ship.  We’re on credit hold with most of our vendors and sales are crap.  I would guess that roughly 20% of our stores will be closing in the near future, which is just under 10% of our fleet.

The powers that be ARE doing what they can, but as we’ve seen, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that our company could shut down completely.  I do think that our CEO will fight to the end, it’s privately held, family run company.  And although we’re small to mid-sized, the brand would be missed.

At this point, I am having to reevaluate both my spending, budget and dept repayment goals.  Obviously now that I have a consolidation loan, that will be a large, fixed monthly payment.  I will continue to pay as much as I can toward the other two credit cards that remain open.  However, additional money coming in will need to be saved.  I am worried that I have thrown thousands toward my credit cards in the past few months.  It was GREAT to do so, but I think I need to start building up some emergency savings, just in the case the axe does fall.

However, in case you think I’ve lost ALL perspective, I consider myself to be very lucky.  I still have my job.  I also have parents who can and will help me out if and when I become unemployed.  This doesn’t mean they will pay all of my bills while I leisurely look for a new job, but that’s a HUGE deal, knowing that you have that cushion waiting for you.  Most people don’t have that.

For now, I plan on spending the weekend sleeping, listing some things on eBay and drinking wine.  Next week will likely be quiet here on the blog.


Sometimes I Love The Web

January 31, 2009

Zara has one of the coolest site landing pages I’ve seen in a long time.

Also, did you know that Zara is a vertically integrated firm?

I’ve always loved them, and now I love them MORE.

Confession Time

January 20, 2009

Alright, I won’t lie.  I was THRILLED when I saw the landing page for J Crew Women this afternoon.  Not only because I love when retailers feature their employees (granted, they are always employees in creative or design services), but also because I have a secret wish to BE one of those employees.  Oh, and I also want to work for J Crew.  And, of course, be featured in this very feature.  Also, I own roughly 10 J Crew merino sweaters. In fact, I own the very cardigan they are all wearing – in black.

Below, the stylish women of J Crew.  And, what I would choose if I would have….you know….been chosen.

Sarah, Stylist

Vannell, Photo Studio Coordinator

Molly, Designer – Women’s Dresses

Lisa, Director of Design – Women’s Jewelry

And, Penny, wanna-be J Crew visual merchandiser!

Paisley Crawford Cami – $79.99

Merino Michelle V-Neck Cardigan – $88

Matchstick Jean – $98

Rimini Metallic Flat Sandal – $98

Crystal Chain Necklace – $55

The Great Recession – Companies Ask Employees To Take Some Time Off

January 6, 2009

I arrived home a few weeks back and began ranting to David about California state workers.  I had been listening to our local NPR station on the way home.  An employee representative was complaining that, due to the tough economic climate, CA state workers are being “forced” to take 2-day-a-month “furloughs.”  Essentially, time off without pay.

“Seriously?” I asked, “I mean…..really?  State workers are so spoiled anyhow, and they’re bitching about having to take a few days off a month?”

“Penny, that’s like a 10% pay cut,” David responded, giving me a searing look as if I had just kicked our cat in the head.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sympathetic.  And, I am allowed to make fun of state workers.  I live in the California state capital; I am surrounded by them.  My father is a chemist for the CA EPA.

I suppose my irritation is rooted in the fact that, at the beginning of Q4 last year, my company informed us that we would be taking some mandatory days off.  Actually, it went something like this:

“The office will be closed on XYZ days.  You can take those days unpaid or use PTO.  Have a nice day!”

At first I was pissed.  Really pissed, in fact.  But, eventually, I said “fuck it” and decided to use my PTO and enjoy a few extra days off.  It’s not as if I was saving up for some amazing vacation, anyhow.  I then started to hear murmurs of other companies encouraging employees to take some time off.  Gap, Inc., for example, asked their employees to take a three-day vacation during a slow week during Q4.

This month, I have to take two days off.  A Monday and a Friday, I believe.  I don’t need to, nor do I want to.  But, you know what?  It’s better than the alternative.

So, dearest state workers……please shut up and enjoy the fact that you are not one of the thousands of newly unemployed.

Deep Markdowns Draw Consumers Out Into Dreary Weather For Last-Minute Shopping

December 20, 2008

Image: Veer

I work for a nationwide specialty retailer.  And I can tell you, the desperation is palpable.  As a visual merchandiser, my busiest time is usually from August through October, when I am working on holiday.  This year, November and December have been hell.  We are changing up merchandising and promotions so much it makes my head spin; I can only imagine what it’s doing to our store staff and customers.

We’re not alone, it seems.  All retailers, from big box stores to luxury brands are discounting, and discounting BIG time.

Macy’s Inc., the second-largest U.S. department-store chain, is offering $800 sapphire or ruby and diamond rings for $249 during part of the day. Gap Inc.’s Banana Republic chain is advertising clothing for as much as 60 percent off. A $2,100 Marc Jacobs dress was listed at $629.95 on Saks Inc.’s Web site.

“This year, you have many retailers just trying to clear inventory to raise cash rather than to achieve highest profit,” said Linda Tsai, a retail analyst at MKM Partners LLC. “It has the potential to create havoc for retail and considerable bargains for consumers over the next few weeks.”

Source: Bloomburg

Inventory is, quite possibly, the most difficult issue for retailers.  How much do you buy?  How assorted?  What kind of agreements and minimum buys have you negotiated with vendors?  Trust me, it’s not easy.

The winners are consumers.  Yes, people are losing their jobs by the thousands and many more are cutting back.  But, it is the holiday season, and there are gifts to be purchased.  Thankfully, there are major deals to be found.

Personally, I did no shopping this year.  David and I are not buying for one another, he took care of the gifts for his family, and I only need to buy a $100 gift certificate for my dad, whose name I pulled for my family.  I didn’t even send out holiday cards this year, which I always do.  I think it’s partly the state of our economy, and also the fact that I have been busy; starting this blog, working, etc.

How about you?  Are you still wrapping up your holiday shopping or are you all done?