We’re entering a strange time for retailers. Online companies like Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) continue to steal share with lower cost structures and lower margins. Legacy retailers are going to have to find ways to compete. Here are three things I think need to happen for them to stay ahead.
Don’t be shocked if the OfficeMax Incorporated (NYSE:OMX)–Office Depot Inc (NYSE:ODP) merger isn’t the last we hear of retail buyouts this year. There are a number of retailers struggling to find their way in the changing world of commerce. I’m not sure bringing two struggling office chains together is the solution, but having fewer stores for the space isn’t a bad thing. Consolidation is one way to eliminate supply from the system, especially when demand is down.
The consolidation trend will likely continue, and there are plenty of Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT)s for chains to add. If a retailer doesn’t sell essential items (milk, produce, toilet paper) that Amazon can’t poach by simply lowering its price, they’re probably in trouble. Look at the sales of J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP), Sears Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ:SHLD), and Best Buy Co., Inc. (NYSE:BBY) over the past three years. Despite a growing economy overall, they’ve seen sales decline.
That contrasts with Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) , which have been able to grow because they’re a more essential stop on the errand run. Struggling retailers need to merge and consolidate the industry to hope to survive against online retailers and discount stores that sell everything.
The shopping experience has changed, and retail needs to change with it. More and more we’re seeing branded stores that act not only as retail shops but also as showrooms for products. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) started the trend and now can boast being the 21st largest retailer in the U.S., according to Stores magazine. It did so by creating a place where you can touch and play with devices before buying them. NIKE, Inc. (NYSE:NKE) has expanded retail stores to get in front of customers who may be buying clothing online instead of at traditional outlets. This change in strategy will work for some brand retailers, but many need to innovate further.
Amazon may be taking more share in everything from electronics to clothing, but there are still essential items Amazon will never sell in bulk. I doubt you’ll be buying milk online or having toilet paper delivered by UPS. These essentials still belong to grocery stores and discount retailers. Target and Wal-Mart will be able to leverage this advantage, but they need to innovate even further to survive in the future.
There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to order everything I need online and pick it up at my convenience at the store. Here’s an idea for Target to build an online presence while keeping stores busy: I’ll build a shopping list on my phone (as many of you do too) and when I’m ready to head out, I’ll tell Target I’m coming. Maybe I’ll wander the aisles for a few items I need or maybe I’ll choose to have my items placed straight into my trunk and pay online. Imagine the ease that would bring to shopping if I could get items today and never leave the comfort of my car.