Carol Spieckerman

President, Spieckerman Retail

Carol Spieckerman is an internationally-recognized authority on retail and brand positioning. She specializes in future-proofing her clients’ retail strategies and positioning them for high-volume success with key retail decision-makers and influencers.  As president and CEO of Spieckerman Retail, she tracks Retail TrajectoriesSM that cut across categories, tiers, environments and borders and transforms them into actionable strategies for her brand marketing, agency, licensing, and technology clients. Carol is an author and regular contributor to leading retail and business media. Her credits include the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Forbes, Dealerscope, Women’s Wear Daily, Bloomberg Business Week, Private Label Buyer and Retail Wire. Carol speaks at corporate and industry events around the world including the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the International Licensing Expo. Her blog, The Right Brain of Retail, is considered a “must-read” by major retailers, brands and suppliers and her retail insights are prominent on Twitter @retailxpert.

  • Posted on: 10/17/2018

    Should ‘best by’ dates expire?

    If you take a look at various product forums, you will find all kinds of confusion around verbiage that companies use to describe various levels of "expiration." When I recently purchased an item that I noticed was missing an expiration date (yet had a date-like number faintly stamped on the package), I contacted the company via email and was told that, for their products, the retailer is supposed to look at the stamped number (evidently the production date) and determine a "best by" date, then place a tag reflecting that date on the package. Oops. That didn't happen but how convoluted, right? When I did the math, I realized the product was right on the cusp so I returned it. Consumers don't want suggestions or vague descriptions. They want definitive "do this" or "don't do that" instructions that are universal. Why should a box of crackers be different from a package of meat? Both have a date past which consumers shouldn't eat the food or wouldn't enjoy it if they did. Marketers and retailers should determine which condition they are working with and use the universal system to articulate that date, knowing that the consumer will throw out the product past that date. End of story.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    Does anyone pay the full retail price anymore?

    Just because someone is shopping at a "discount" retailer doesn't mean they aren't paying full price. They're just paying the full price that aligns with that retailer's margin structure. So perhaps the bigger shift is the way that retailers are positioning their value propositions. For example, Target focused on the "expect more" side of its brand promise for years then shifted to the "pay less" angle in order to better compete with Walmart, dollar stores and hard discounters. Now it appears to be building out and balancing both sides of the house. Amazon is free to sell across the spectrum from cheap t-shirts to luxury goods and can adjust prices on the fly. Increasingly, retailers are in a position to shape shoppers' perceptions of value, not just reacting to shoppers' penchants for it.
  • Posted on: 10/16/2018

    Walmart and Advance Auto Parts join forces online

    This is a real step in the right direction. So many of Walmart's acquisitions and brand partnerships have been focused on, and even isolated to, digital. Walmart's partnership with Advance Auto Parts leverages Walmart's full clicks-to-bricks scale in a category that is still quite fragmented. Great for both companies and a natural fit.
  • Posted on: 10/08/2018

    Will a new private label keep Target’s customers out of Aldi and Dollar General?

    The Smartly line is a good way to message value to shoppers who may not otherwise think of Target as a destination for staples. Target has gone all-in on private brands as of late and Smartly checks the "good" box in frequently-purchased categories. This effectively positions Up & Up as "better" and national brands, and Target's proprietary partnerships, as "best," giving a range of shoppers incentive to check more items off their lists while in Target. Great timing too, as the holiday shopping season cranks up. Increased store traffic should hasten awareness and help Target gain traction with the new offerings.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2018

    Are retailers getting too political with voter registration campaigns?

    I like retailers promoting people to get out and vote. A huge generational and cultural shift is underway at retailer HQ and within most retailers' stores. Reinforcing voter education and responsibility at the workplace is a way of keeping that responsibility front and center and ensuring multi-generational participation.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2018

    Is Target ready for Amazon and Walmart this holiday season?

    Target's expansion of convenience options and tightened shipping and delivery timelines are big steps in the right direction. Going into the holiday shopping season ensuring that click-and-collect processes are humming at the store level will be critical. Pickup areas should be dedicated to that purpose, clearly marked, easily accessed and efficiently-run. Target stores are still pretty big and often feature obscured sightlines and confusing, inconsistent layouts. In my experience, finding help on the floor is actually much easier at your average Walmart. At Target, store associates always seem to be near the front of the store. "Disperse and deploy" are the marching orders.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2018

    Toys ‘R’ Us to rise from the ashes of bankruptcy, but should it?

    Although there are plenty of examples of retail revivals gone wrong at the ready, all are not created equal. In fact, one of today's RetailWire discussion focuses on Eloquii, a brand that was shut down, then revived and subsequently bought by Walmart. Relaunches can take many forms these days and Toys "R" Us has left a big void in the toy and juvenile products space, one that many suppliers are still trying fill. Digital-only, shop-in-shops, co-located stores -- all are possibilities and suppliers will be eager to support whatever is "next" for Toys "R" Us. Toys "R" Us is a globally-recognized brand. I wouldn't bet against it.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2018

    Walmart adding plus-size women’s brand to its digital portfolio

    With its acquisition of Eloquii, Walmart is simply adding another tentacle to its niche-brand hydra. Collectively, these brand acquisitions give Walmart authority, discoverability (search) and category-specific talent/leadership. Plus-sized apparel is a real specialty business that requires close attention to profitability. It's not just as easy as making clothes bigger and consumers don't always understand when plus-sized line extensions cost more. Walmart is smart to acquire a brand that has worked out the business model. No doubt Eloquii will provide expertise that will benefit Walmart's entire plus-size business.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2018

    Can a new CEO revitalize J.C. Penney’s business?

    These days, retailers no longer feel bound by direct category expertise when it comes to bringing in new leadership. Ms. Soltau just happens to possess it, having held positions at Shopko, Kohl’s and Sears. That, and her more recent experience at Jo-Ann, should ensure that proper focus is given to the critical “softer” side of J.C. Penney’s business (apparel and home). Focus and continuity are make-or-break at this point and J.C. Penney must get its core house in order before leaping into new categories. After years of crowbarring brand after brand into its stores, a portfolio evaluation that includes an honest assessment of J.C. Penney's private brands (and how they stack up against national brands) will be in order. Ms. Soltau will also need to take a hard look at J.C. Penney’s still-sizeable store fleet and evaluate which markets benefit from brick-and-mortar presence and those that may be more efficiently served digitally. Penney's was the first retailer to hit $1 billion in online sales many moons ago but many others have encroached since. Building morale and building rapport with J.C. Penney staff, including at the store level, will also be important. Many legacy employees that have weathered multiple structural, leadership and strategy changes are still on board. They are proud of J.C. Penney’s history and want to feel confident in its future.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2018

    What’s Dunkin’ without Donuts in its name?

    In this multi-touchpoint world, a "simple" name change is a major undertaking but one that can pay off for the same reason. Even negative buzz benefits Dunkin' during the transition as it drives awareness for the new moniker. Removing the "donuts" limitation may drive some consumers to revisit the locations out of curiosity, just to see what's changed. I find it interesting that local coffee/beverage shops are still opening and some are thriving, including a new multi-location concept in my area that is wicking customers away from Starbucks and others. Clearly, Dunkin' can't stay still and a more broad-based name change is a needed evolution.
  • Posted on: 09/17/2018

    Are grocers shortchanging flexitarians?

    As a vegan, I've noticed something quite interesting that I never hear anyone address. The challenge used to be that there weren't a lot of plant-based options on the market, period. Now, there are a plethora of options and many brands have gone mainstream (Gardein, Beyond Meat, Morningstar, etc.) which presents another challenge: retailers attempting to get on the bandwagon aren't always choosing the best products from particular brands. I was thrilled when Walmart starting picking up respected vegetarian/vegan brands, but some of the rock star items (Gardein fishless filets, for example) would suddenly disappear, the worst versions of Tofurkey lunch meats would arrive, the remarkable Chao cheese has made its way in (merchandised right there next to the tofu and fresh mushrooms?). Local grocers are selling some of the same items at crazy markups, Whole Foods seems to be dumbing down its offerings even as mass competitors double down. In short, it's a bit of a mess and the time has come to treat flex, veg, etc. as a viable and important category. Several times a month, I get inquiries from friends, friends-of-friends, clients and others about which products are the best and where (in a particular store) to find them. It's happening so often that I'm compiling a list, with photos, to help people them on their journey. It shouldn't have to be so hard.
  • Posted on: 09/12/2018

    Bonobos CEO says Walmart’s evolution mirrors Netflix

    The future of retail is about both brands and platforms, or as I distill it in my presentations, "platforms and portfolios." For example, Amazon's model was heavily weighted toward platform capabilities initially; the platform WAS the brand. Now Amazon is building out the portfolio side of the business through the creation of its own brands (with unprecedented scale and stealth) and brand partnerships. Amazon's ownership of the platform gives it a killer advantage in promoting its portfolio. Walmart is pursuing a similar model although its initial platform consisted of thousands of stores paired with supply chain prowess. Now it is evolving into integrating its digital platform with its store network and, yep, now pushing forward on the portfolio side through acquisitions, private label revamps and partnerships, some of which are exclusive to digital. was a platform acquisition, Bonobos arguably provided benefits on both sides of the platform/portfolio house. Subsequent acquisitions and partnerships are propping up the portfolio (that is supported by the platform(s)).
  • Posted on: 09/04/2018

    Walmart’s two-day shipping pledge comes with a caveat

    I actually see no problem with this since Walmart is assuming the risk that a shopper could jump off to another platform when items aren't available. No doubt Walmart is gathering data that will determine whether its similar-item recommendations actually work in enough cases to justify the strategy. In the meantime, Walmart is shifting the burden to suppliers to ensure that products are widely distributed.
  • Posted on: 08/31/2018

    The Rock rules celebrity endorsements

    I've worked extensively with the licensing community for years and have seen any number of celebrity big bets crash and burn. Celebrity scandals get the most attention but the multi-stakeholder, multi-media, multi-category nature of celebrity marketing creates unique vulnerabilities on several fronts to include:
    • Faulty assumptions - Assuming that Q scores and other metrics translate into consumer affinity (or retailer attention).
    • Jumping the gun - Signing big deals, committing to guarantees and royalty rates on a wish and a prayer, without solid backing or established retailer buy-in.
    • Poor execution - Late releases, piecemeal product deliveries, licensee/manufacturer snafus, etc.
    • Dilution - Daring products to get noticed or succeed in over-crowded, over-branded environments (online or in-store). What looks powerful in a showroom vignette can easily get lost in "real life" on the floor.
    • Over-extension - Pushing into new categories and channels too fast or too aggressively.
    The primary piece of advice for brand owners and brand managers is to diversify and take a portfolio approach to the business. It's never a good idea to go all-in on a celebrity brand to the exclusion of other opportunities, if for no other reason than retailers are no longer doing so. Going back to the The Rock, last month I spoke with an actor who told me that The Rock employs a relative who looks like him to take on various appearances and scene completions where looks-like is good enough. If true, "omnipresence" may need to be thrown in as one of the "key measures" he "rocks"!
  • Posted on: 08/30/2018

    L’Occitane aims for a more immersive, more disruptive flagship

    As much attention as small formats have received, flagship stores aren't going away and in fact are more important to some retailers' strategies than ever before. They check a few boxes that go beyond literal sales generated from a particular location. Flagships are the ultimate expression of a brand's point of view and possibilities, they encourage brand engagement through experiential retail, they serve as innovation laboratories, and also drive brand awareness that can translate into digital sales as shoppers seek to continue the relationship. This is where L'Occitane may be going too far too fast. I love L'Occitane products but two holiday seasons in a row, I've had horrible experiences on the L'Occitane website. Availability, navigability, and frustratingly clunky ordering processes had me wailing, and ultimately, bailing. One of my top retail trajectories is "let your flagship fly," but the grooviest flagship in the world must be backed up by seamless digital execution -- it must be baked into the plan for retailers to realize all the benefits.

Contact Carol

  • Apply to be a BrainTrust Panelist

  • Please briefly describe your qualifications — specifically, your expertise and experience in the retail industry.
  • By submitting this form, I give you permission to forward my contact information to designated members of the RetailWire staff.

    See RetailWire's privacy policy for more information about what data we collect and how it is used.