PROFILE

Chuck Palmer

Principal, ConsumerX
Chuck is a retail strategist with a consumer behavior bias. He focuses on the nexus of consumer behavior, technology and creativity. With more than 25 years experience across the worlds of online and offline retail, retail strategy, operations, consumer behavior and in-store digital visual merchandising (digital signage networks). You can read his blog at www.ConsumerXretail.com.
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  • Posted on: 01/02/2019

    Why are retailers publishing paid-subscription magazines?

    Our desire to engage and have meaningful interactions has only increased as we have access to unlimited and (perceived to be free) content. It makes sense that generalized publications are seeing the end of their print runs. One of the key reasons these publications makes sense is their business model. It's a redirection of marketing spend into evidence-based (data) investment. It makes enormous sense that a brand like Away would do a magazine about travel. It would be a great way to test customer response to new products and offers, it keeps them coming back in between purchases and if they can find a voice with wide enough appeal, reach customers they hadn't before. Do they continue to buy ads in Conde Nast Traveler and Afar? Maybe. Until their publication starts taking readers away? I find it interesting that the reverse seldom really hits big. That is, a publication creating retail products. I think Real Simple and Martha Stewart continue to crank out the merch, but when Esquire offers dress shirts and cologne? Uh, no thanks. Got that covered with the real stuff. Content can be the powerful connective tissue between online and IRL experiences and purchases. It's a tricking thing to get the imagery, the voice and the merch just right.
  • Posted on: 01/02/2019

    Whole Foods to expand nationwide to drive Prime Now growth

    Let's remember, we're talking about a segment of a subset of the grocery and retail marketplace. Whole Foods has always differentiated itself in a variety of ways. They emerged as the leader of the "natural" food sub-category based on an aggressive buying strategy, elevating small natural and organic brands, slow growth and distinctive stores that leveraged the best of retail design--architecture and visual merchandising -- that elevated shopping and mitigated price sensitivity. There was (still is?) a certain prestige quality to shopping at a store that didn't look like your local Safeway or Kroger and had a variety of choices of food that were better for you and the environment. This of course is reflected in their real estate strategy -- the stores often anchor specialty, upscale centers, not necessarily in relation to the standard grocers. The club-y-ness of Whole Foods aligned nicely with Prime (even though it is essentially a mass proposition now) as a way to test and learn. We also need to remember standard retail metrics and SOPs don't apply when we are talking about Amazon. The value of the data alone transcends typical margin conversations. It is my hope Amazon allows Whole Foods to maintain the in-store innovations that made shopping there interesting. On a recent visit, I noted the Prime Now section of refrigerated cases and dry shelves has taken a "prime" position in the front of the store taking over some cafe seating. Those cafe areas have been instrumental in conveying a sense of comfort and encouraging community. The Prime Now space with it's off-the-shelf cases and racks and its pale blue and black scheme is visually jarring and off-putting. They are reportedly looking for larger than usual spaces. I hope this means new stores will have a more seamless integration of the new elements and they will leverage data to make each store, its staff and assortment as locally relevant as it can be.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2018

    Store employees of the future will be affiliates, not associates

    The permutations of this concept are intriguing. I think we should disconnect the affiliate model from the store associate model. Perhaps associates are where the first affiliates are found, but I can see this empowering enterprising individuals to build their own careers. This works best in apparel, I imagine. I'm thinking about the proverbial star suit or shoe sales associate who, with more direct control over the digital marketing tools a large chain has to offer, could build a significant business within the context of a retail brand. Now expand that to different categories and allow that shoe star to sell cosmetics and gifts etc, you have a personal shopper. I can also see individual social influencers taking their monetization models to the next level and crossing retailers and brands, finding the best merchandise and prices for their customers. I'd love to see the results of Macy's experiment. I can see that yielding interesting insight into how this works. Given decreasing brand loyalty and the personal trusted engagement of influencers, I can see how this might play out.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2017

    What retail apocalypse?

    The news of retail's demise has been greatly exaggerated. I wonder if we are seeing a behavioral shift fueled by a strong economy? Retailers and brands are getting better at incorporating benefits to the flow of online/in-line behavior and customers are now more likely to try out some of these new techniques, like click and collect. It may be the combination of financial confidence, the calendar and the smoothness of logistics have allowed us more latitude in how we both procure the things we know and shop for new things. And if there is anything apocalyptic, it's real estate, not retail. I doubt customers this year are freaking out about less Sears stores or the dead mall closing. Consumers have plenty of options for goods and services; they don't really care about the portfolio of mall management companies.
  • Posted on: 12/27/2017

    What retail apocalypse?

    Ed, could you elaborate? I have to admit I haven't studied Bitcoin so I don't see a connection here. I might be thrown by your use of "mass adoption."
  • Posted on: 12/26/2017

    Is ‘brick mining’ valuable enough to justify physical stores?

    I believe we are at an unprecedented moment in retail. Our appetite for knowing our customers is whetted by the information we get from ecommerce. The more we can learn about what happens in our stores, the better. We have a unique opportunity to put real data points along the customer journey and validate what we know and think we know. Or better yet, learn something new that can affect assortments, pricing, presentation, staffing and maybe even operating hours. I advocate looking at the online/in-line continuum from the consumers' perspective. The original use of the term "omnichannel" referred to how consumers view their shopping and purchase behavior. They see it as one channel, or better yet, they see it not in the terms of channels at all, but in desire and need; procurement and experience. So we should be seeking to understand their experience with our brands and stores. With emerging technology, we'll be able to better understand our stores efficacy both from a customer experience and a square footage performance perspective. But as in any complex methodology, we need to build solid hypothesis first and seek the relevant data to test our ideas. In the end, it's not about the data, it's what we do with what we learn from the data.
  • Posted on: 12/26/2017

    Lululemon leans on personal development of associates

    Culture is not built in a day. Nor is it applied by an outside consultant. Believe me. Culture is built every day by leadership and when it's successful, it allows staff to grow with the company and in turn, the company gets to grow with the staff. Especially in stores. Letting your our staff become the best manifestation of the brand will inherently deliver unique customer experiences. Investing in your staff's personal and professional development is a no-brainer. It's the thing that differentiates Nordstrom from Macy's; Macy's now from Macy's of 30 years ago; and Crate & Barrel from everything else. Leadership either invests in their people and culture or not. These are the things that make a company sustainable over the ups and downs of retail.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2017

    Do pop-up efforts make sense for subscription box services?

    I think we are seeing the "E-comm-ization" (you heard it here first, folks) of retail. We can change the look and feel of our websites much more effectively and efficiently than we can our stores; and with much greater reach. We're seeing an effort to get web-like benefits from our stores. Rapid changes, A/B testing, data collection. There are various ways to do this, and I think it works especially well for e-commerce outlets to present in-person. My issue on this subject has always been scale. A pop-up in New York makes headlines but I question the value of the data that comes from it. As we see more real estate dedicated to these transient operations, we may be able to get better feedback from more customers across markets. And of course the fresher we can keep these experiences for consumers, the more they will come back.
  • Posted on: 12/18/2017

    Did Netflix cross the data-disclosure line?

    I think we are supposed to use data to create a better customer experience, not call them out and make fun of them. What Netflix got wrong here is the tone and personality. The last line -- "who hurt you" -- might be funny amongst friends, but in this context, it seems like the people who watch that film repeatedly are sad or depressed or something. (Not sure how I'd feel if I were part of the production of that film.) I think it should have played into the comfort of Netflix and the holidays: "To the 53 people who have viewed A Christmas Prince everyday for the past 18 days: we're with you. " Or better yet, delete the number of people. There seems to be a disconnect between the folks who are responsible for brand purpose and voice and their social media team. That's a big miss.
  • Posted on: 12/13/2017

    Will late deliveries mess up Christmas?

    Retailers need to be thoughtful of their customers' concerns. There are ways to automate notifications of package tracking. They should think about sending notifications even if there is a remote possibility of a delay. Given unforeseen events, consumers will understand, but being upfront and honest goes a long way for long-term brand loyalty. In retail, a problem is always an opportunity to make a better customer.
  • Posted on: 12/05/2017

    Can brands hit a hole-in-one with urban golf apparel?

    I don't get golf. Never have. It's so weird to me.
  • Posted on: 12/05/2017

    Subscription services are moving beyond just being surprise boxes

    This category seems to be reaching a plateau. I expect to see consolidation, re-positioning and some retailers simply going away. I think this may be a good example of data mis-use. When data is created, rather than crunched or mined, a company can gain more bankable insight. I can see those companies that are aggressively engaging individual consumers backed up by focused data-driven experience and merchandising strategy as the big winners in the next phase.
  • Posted on: 12/05/2017

    Which off-price retailers will withstand the test of time?

    I think the idea of "off-price" is more of a retail idea than it is a consumer one. While many consumers are motivated by a bargain or a value, more sophisticated merchandising systems result in less supply for this category. So we see a saturation of goods made specifically for off-price and consumers understand that. With the exception of TJX, most companies are falling flat on the in-store experience, which should be about authentically good products at deep discounts.
  • Posted on: 11/27/2017

    Customer data is grocery’s new battleground

    "Customer data" is a broad and deep term. For the most part it has meant transactional data -- loyalty and POS data are driven by the decision to buy. The real frontier is learning about consumer behavior that is the antecedent of the purchase, both online and in-line. The potential is enormous and don't think for a moment Amazon and Kroger and Walmart are trying to make better apps. This is about proactively creating data not just mining what already exists. It is about measuring and understanding at an unprecedented scale. The transformation will be enormous and if handled properly, almost transparent to consumers. Stores (both online and in-line as borders blur) will become more relevant to individuals and communities. Artificial intelligence holds to potential to scale across the fleet of stores what a good store manager does -- know your customers and your product and your people and your pricing and act to make your business as good as it can be. I expect we cannot even imagine what grocery will be like when we can arm our stores with validated empirical data about the value of soft emotional drivers such as the appeal of smell, the need to nourish your family, or what food is healthy for me to eat.
  • Posted on: 11/27/2017

    How would the end of net neutrality impact retail?

    Everyone should be working to protest the proposed repeal of net neutrality. Everyone. As for retail, I worry this polarizes e-commerce and squeezes out mid-sized and smaller brands and retailers. I can only see this as limiting choice and innovation.

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