Jeff Sward

Founding Partner, Merchandising Metrics

Jeff’s experience spans both retail and wholesale assignments in both the apparel and home segments of the business. Department stores (Macy’s and Sak’s) as well as specialty store (Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters). Branded and private label. Concept to execution. Merchandising Metrics is a consulting firm that challenges how retailers are executing versus their competition in the mall.

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  • Posted on: 01/20/2022

    NRF 2022: Nordstrom finds freedom in alternative wholesale pacts

    The article says it -- "win-win." And I'll add -- "win." Retailer, wholesaler and customer all win under this model. Nordstrom proves once again that it is highly customer-centric in its thinking. I don't see "endless aisle" and "curation" as being part of the same thought process. I'm a huge fan of Nordstrom's ability to curate and focus on what is important to customers today -- now, not yesterday. And if that means adding new brands with new retail/wholesale models, so be it. Retailer partnerships with DTC brands is a model where I suspect we will see a lot of experimentation and subsequent success for all parties.
  • Posted on: 01/18/2022

    December retail sales were strong, no matter what the clickbait headlines said

    December absolutely beat my expectations. I thought that the combined dynamic of sales being pulled forward and so called "lean" inventories would surely put a damper on December sales. And yet records were set. So we have robust, healthy sales on lean inventories (remains to be seen just exactly how lean). I hope that's a powerful lesson for retailers who have for years been participating in, if not pushing, a downward promotional spiral. Turns out we can have healthy sales and improved margins on leaner inventory. OK, so demand in December was not just robust, it was really robust. And when demand is not quite so robust, will more inventory boost demand? NO! Differentiated product, great execution and a powerful Explore + Experiment = Experience offering will give the retailer the edge they are looking for.
  • Posted on: 01/14/2022

    Will NFTs, Kanye West and high-fashion collabs help Gap get its groove back?

    I love the fact that Gap is thinking so far out of the box as they push their evolution back to relevance. And at the same time I am highly skeptical about their choices of Kayne West and NFT's to propel that evolution. At its peak Gap was as much about great marketing as it was about "fashion." They were very much grounded in every day essentials at the time. That equation is now very old and tired. KW and NFTs certainly stand for contemporary marketing, but it feels like a tortoise trying to quickly evolve into a T-Rex. I admire the aspiration but, like I said, I'm skeptical.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2022

    Can Penney’s new leadership (finally) transform the business?

    The relationship between J.C. Penney and SPG and ABG offers some intriguing possibilities, along with J.C. Penney's roster of proprietary brands. So they have plenty of opportunity to differentiate themselves. But a bunch of proprietary brands hanging out on four-ways and rounders isn't going to cut it these days, no matter how many coupons are offered. And customers don't care about industry press releases. So let's get a "store of the future" up and running and see what mall-based department store retailing can stand for now that we are 22 years into the new century.
  • Posted on: 01/13/2022

    Has ‘just-in-case’ replaced ‘just-in-time’ inventory management?

    It turns out that "lean" and "efficient" are not the same thing these days. Lean can become wildly inefficient with one logistics hiccup. And we are in for a bad case of hiccups for at least several months. This does not mean that the only solution is overbuying. I think a better solution can be found in managing flow. We used to call it "safety stock." Or we would adjust min/max inventory levels to compensate for changing lead times. We adjusted inventory levels at the distribution level to be sure we could always flow what was needed to the stores. That's not overbuying. That's not overreacting at the supply level in the face of uncertainty at the supply level. That's staying focused on demand (also more difficult these days) and managing flow versus just increasing the level of the buy. Lead times used to be known and highly predictable. Now they are unknown and unpredictable. That's not a reason to over buy. It's a reason to beef up inventory at the distribution level with a higher level of safety stock -- just in case.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    Are brand and product messages in conflict?

    Sometimes product is just product, but most of the time it's about product + emotion. How does the customer feel about that product? A private label polo shirt evokes different feelings than a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. They may technically be very similar product at the molecular level, but a couple of pennies worth of embroidery means that the Ralph Lauren shirt is perceived very differently than the private label shirt. Marketing and brand messaging have created that difference in perceived value. Purpose driven positioning has to be genuine, but it's still about managing emotions. It can elevate a customers perception of a product from obscurity to a new found level of appreciation. Some people are perfectly happy with the private label polo shirt, and some want the elevated feeling of the Ralph Lauren shirt. Some people just shop price and some will want to pay for the elevated feeling that comes with a product with a purpose driven element. Purpose driven positioning is a play to the emotions, but it still has to be in sync with practical end use.
  • Posted on: 01/12/2022

    More Americans are making Target runs

    Mr. Cornell references the past four to six years as the cornerstone of Target's success. While I think that's true, I think it's the work of the past two decades that made their emerging dominance over the past four to six years possible. Mall-based department stores kept shrinking their product offering, to become, arguably, over-assorted in apparel. All in the name of expanding gross margin percentage. Target kept building and reinforcing real breadth of product offering to become probably the most efficient shopping stop a household can make. Apparel, home, grocery, pharmacy and electronics all under one roof. Plus Starbucks! Great product, including well thought through differentiating private label. Great shopping and service. Great response to all the shopping and execution details demanded by the pandemic. They checked all the boxes with more skill and dedication than most retailers checked a couple of the boxes with.
  • Posted on: 01/11/2022

    Reality hits omnichannel retail with a hard truth

    In this omnichannel market we now live in, efficiencies have to be explored and embraced where ever they can be found. I was one of those expressing horror at the spinning off of e-commerce businesses. But that was totally from a merchandising and brand management point of view. The execution of the delivery and return functions can absolutely be handled by third parties. Yes, Amazon owns a lot of its own planes and trucks and can be largely vertical in that regard. But UPS and FedEx work for a great many, many more retailers. My wife recently bought a pair of new reading glasses that had to be returned. The brand offered "package-less" returns and supplied a QR code. I took the unpackaged glasses to a UPS store where the code was scanned, I was handed my receipt and on my way in less than 60 seconds. That's about as friction free as a return can get. It's a credit to UPS but it's a huge credit to the brand that put that process together. The return wasn't just free, it was as hassle free as it could get. The brand needed a capable logistics partner to pull off this friction-free return. Points for UPS and huge points for the brand for really thinking it through.
  • Posted on: 01/10/2022

    Has BOPIS lost its pandemic boost?

    Survey says -- customers actually like shopping! Sure, some people just want to get out and about again. And absolutely BOPIS is here to stay. So let's not be surprised that growth has moderated, but let's also be continually reminded that BOPIS is now an integral part of the customer's expectations for many retailers.
  • Posted on: 01/07/2022

    Will 15-minute cities truly bring back local retail?

    Sounds awesome. And perfectly timed. And a very healthy solution for people, their communities, and the planet. And -- it's not necessarily anti-mall. I'm sure there are malls that will benefit from mixed use redevelopment that incorporates both residential and business end use. Maybe they can be eight-minute cities.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2022

    The Container Store’s new acquisition is upscale and ‘Made in the USA’

    The pandemic has given us a renewed and heightened appreciation of our home as the center of life, now including school and office life. So anything that can enhance the utility and efficiency of how the home front is organized is going to be a win. And made in the U.S. adds lots of bonus points to that equation for both the customer and the retailer. Re-shoring will be extremely difficult for many businesses but where it's feasible, full steam ahead.
  • Posted on: 01/06/2022

    Is retail ready for the phygital future?

    I find myself agreeing that the evolution of the business as described will happen -- to some degree -- and then immediately I wish and hope that it doesn't happen. Let the early adopters have their fun, but I really hope that most people are slow, late adopters. Instead, let's make retail the fun and social experience it can be. Of course tech and digital tools will have a role, but real people interacting with other real people and real product is what I crave. Life can be so much more than an enhanced 3-D Zoom meeting.
  • Posted on: 01/03/2022

    Are Nike’s Member Days loyalty’s future?

    The great thing about Nike's approach is that it is way more than a multi-day version of a one-day sale event. The world already has plenty of multi-day sale events. Nike offers true content and engagement, a real opportunity to explore + experiment. Wouldn't it be great if brands could use these kinds of events to help raise awareness about sustainability solutions instead of just selling more stuff?
  • Posted on: 12/30/2021

    How to escape your comfort zone

    Get a "coach." Seek out and embrace some kind of external accountability that will always be able to challenge your internal rationalizations and procrastination. The best athletes in the world have a coach. They might have some insight worth paying attention to.
  • Posted on: 12/30/2021

    Can a factory-to-consumer experience be a quality one?

    The factory-to-consumer model is an intriguing one. How many warehouses and stores between the factory and customer can be eliminated? How many different transportation costs? How many different shipping/handling/picking/packing/selling/delivery costs can be eliminated? How much of all this new efficiency can be passed along to the consumer in the form of reduced selling price? And how much is available to the factory and the new middleman in the form of profit? Seems like the biggest challenge is a combination of trust and timing. The Wish share price experience is a good illustration of the "looks good on paper" beginning and the hard realities of executing a whole new model. This might be one of those scenarios where it pays to be a fast second rather than being the pioneer.

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