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Martin Whitmore

Managing Partner, Cambridge Retail Advisors
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  • Posted on: 10/13/2021

    Will ‘hyperautomation’ determine retailing success from this point forward?

    Useful analytics requires a steady diet of input. The only way to get that is through IoT and RFID. Ideally this needs to start with the manufacturer. With container ship traffic jams offshore and container pileups onshore due to lack of truck drivers and other factors, retailers must find some way to know where their goods are. "Selling the Invisible" was supposed to be a book about services, not retail products. Regarding the AI piece of hyperautomation -- take machine learning, for example -- you can't train models using ML unless you have datasets to feed them. Again, back to that steady diet that should include lots of chips. RFID, that is.
  • Posted on: 09/28/2021

    Why are retailers falling short of their hiring goals?

    Since the push at most retailers is to hire part time associates, the answer is pretty straightforward. Because of this, workers are forced to maintain two or sometimes three part time jobs. The retailers with systems that make it most convenient for their workers to manage their schedules remotely and the retailers that allow associates to bid on shifts will be the most successful in hiring. The ability to view and manage your schedule remotely and to bid on shifts posted are key elements for any retailer to have in their Workforce Management System.
  • Posted on: 09/21/2021

    Where are the weak points in in-store fulfillment?

    It's really all about the quality of your inventory data. Since most retail stores suffer with less than ideal inventory accuracy the risks to customer convenience around timely fulfillment increase proportionately. There's also the fact that most retail stores are not structured to handle shipments and the cost of space and labor associated with getting them ready for that. The big technology win here is that we have reached an inflection point with RFID. Lower RFID ticket prices and the higher cost of labor make it the right solution at exactly the right time. RFID can help retailers get their inventory accuracy into the high 90th percentile and help associates pick orders much faster.
  • Posted on: 09/17/2021

    Retailers don’t have to choose between profitability and customer satisfaction

    It's all about convenience for retail shoppers today. As a retailer you need to provide the most frictionless shopping experience possible. Those retailers that provide that frictionless experience today are flourishing and will continue to do so while those that don't will fall by the wayside. That doesn't just apply to the sales process but to the entire customer experience including the returns process.
  • Posted on: 09/15/2021

    Rite Aid is going remote-first with its corporate workforce

    I think that Rite Aid is way ahead of the curve with this approach. As other big companies strive to get workers back to the office and struggle with vaccination policies it is becoming more clear that this is our immediate future. With this policy they will become a leader in the recruitment of corporate candidates and a desired landing spot.
  • Posted on: 09/08/2021

    Higher wages can boost retailers’ bottom lines

    With the pandemic-driven focus of customer convenience becoming more important every day it behooves retailers to improve the quality of their workforce and more importantly the quality of the tools they provide to that workforce. Although the higher wage scale will improve morale today that effect will wane unless retailers improve the level of information they provide to their workers and the quality of that information.
  • Posted on: 08/30/2021

    Amazon finally catches the ‘buy now, pay later’ wave

    As cash transactions become more and more obsolete, retailers are beginning to get in on the buy now, pay later model. Not only do I think this will continue to grow rapidly online I also see the trend growing in the store. It is a trend that has roots in the furniture industry where you are stepped through the process of multiple financing options even to the point of rent to own. The ability to take the pain of collection away from the retailer and put the onus on the financing company helps retailers maintain a positive relationship with their customers.
  • Posted on: 08/11/2021

    Knowing when to make a change for a brand’s sake

    It really all comes down to staying relevant without sacrificing brand integrity. In a retail world now driven by social networking it is critical to remain "current." Change for the sake of change is seldom the solution. It really takes a well planned, results oriented strategy to be successful. In the off-price world there is the example of Marshalls (before the TJX acquisition) who tried to become more of a department store and maintain depth of inventory. Their sales suffered greatly and they became a prime acquisition target. Once they acquired Marshalls, TJX immediately changed the model back to true off-price and the results were incredibly successful.
  • Posted on: 08/09/2021

    What benefits do premium loyalty program members value?

    I think you've hit on the biggest incentive, free delivery. Amazon has set the bar for this with Amazon Prime and fast, free delivery. Today's consumer is overwhelmed with loyalty offers and they are extremely conscious of with whom they share their information. In order for loyalty programs to be successful today something meaningful that won't erode margins needs to be offered. The concept of early opportunity to purchase on merchandise that is on promotion could be a driver for increased loyalty participation.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2021

    Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?

    My point is this could reduce some of the hysteria around the positive rates rising and may make more people see the value of being vaccinated. If 90% of cases are asymptomatic because those people were vaccinated, it would point to the importance of being vaccinated.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2021

    Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?

    Sadly the answer here is obvious. Retailers absolutely should be proactively preparing for the many variants that seem to be coming on a daily basis. I think clear, consistent policies from retailers would make it much less confusing for the customer. Switching back and forth from masks required to no masks required only adds to the confusion and concern. More importantly it is vital to get complete reporting about the spread. It's one thing to say that we had XXX more cases yesterday, but how about expanding that reporting to how many of those cases are asymptomatic or very mild?
  • Posted on: 08/05/2021

    Is workleisure a new or rehashed opportunity?

    The line between business casual and too casual has become blurred. As the virtual working model or hybrid model (home and office) continue to expand this line will become increasingly more difficult to define and maintain. Retailers have a hard enough time getting their assortment right for segments that have been around forever. I'm not sure if creating "Frankenclothes" will be the answer. I don't see Brooks Brothers coming out with a yoga suit any day soon. It's more likely that dress codes will lighten up so that casual Friday wear is the norm throughout the week. People want to dress in a sophisticated way. It helps the mindset of enhancing one's productivity. Also, too casual could undermine one's authority. With workleisure you can dress comfortably and still look respectable.
  • Posted on: 08/04/2021

    What does the recent sales rebound mean for mask makers and retailers?

    Unfortunately the demand for masks will not recede in 2021. With the confusion around mask effectiveness and the ongoing battles between the vaccinated and unvaccinated the ability to forecast demand will be greatly inhibited. The fact that there have been so many breakthrough cases in vaccinated people is reigniting the perceived threat, even though the vast majority of those positive tests are asymptomatic. The safe assumption is there will soon be mask mandates in most states for indoor activities and mask usage will continue to grow.
  • Posted on: 07/27/2021

    Will the Delta variant keep shoppers and unvaccinated workers at home?

    The effect will really be on the unvaccinated segment of the population. Vaccinated shoppers desperate to get back into stores and diners ready to get back into restaurants will not be deterred. Some of the restrictions of social distancing may be brought back, predominately the mask mandate, but a total shutdown like before is highly unlikely. As more and more businesses make the decision to mandate that their employees be vaccinated there will be an increase in HQ operations and a back to work mentality that evolves. How about the idea of a one-time, or ongoing, discount for all vaccinated customers much like the Senior Discounts that many retailers and restaurants provide? Let’s try and help get more people vaccinated and keep businesses open.
  • Posted on: 07/26/2021

    Macy’s should have stayed local

    Nostalgia is hot! Macy’s decision to eliminate the tried and true brands that appealed to regional customers is an example of overplaying your hand. Although, maybe effective in some areas, the blanket decision to eliminate brands such as Marshall Field's was short-sighted. These were brands that had a generational connection to the regions and maintained social significance. The bigger problem for Macy’s right now is understanding who they are and who they want to be. Their foray of a few years back into “everyday low prices” and lack of commitment to that has hurt them. The incessant promotional environment that they have created now leads the Macy’s customer to only buy items that are being promoted and never pay the price on the ticket. It’s really about this: Who do you want to be?
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