Viewpoint: How can department stores survive in the digital era? – Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From Boston Business Journal

How can a department store survive in the age of digital shopping carts and free home delivery? It’s a question that some of even the most iconic retailers struggle to answer.

As a result, many are closing up shop. Last month, for instance, Macy’s identified seven stores for closure as part of its previously announced plan to shutter 100 locations nationwide. In November, Sears said it would close 63 stores on top of the 350 that it announced would shut earlier in the year. And last summer, J.C. Penney closed about 140 of its stores around the country.

Closing less-profitable locations makes a lot of sense, but that alone is not enough. What’s needed is a reinvention of the traditional bricks-and-mortar model. Stores must rekindle the magic of department store shopping by providing a holistic customer experience, one that’s efficient and satisfying from a purchasing point of view, but also engaging and exciting.

For starters, brick-and-mortar stores need to change how they view their online counterparts: digital stores should be seen as complementary forces rather than competitive ones. Shopping in the future will be a blend of the electronic and physical realms. Read More »

What Blue Apron needs to do to survive the threat of Amazon – Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From MarketWatch

For a while, it looked as though Blue Apron was destined to become a culinary juggernaut in the American kitchen.

Founded in 2012, the company APRN, +1.89%  carved out a clever business model by mailing perfectly portioned, pre-packaged ingredients and recipe cards to home cooks in need of handholding. It’s not yet profitable, but growth is impressive. Last year, the company had $795.4 million in 2016 by delivering about 8 million meals per month to customers.

Recently, though, there have been challenges. Shares that the company had hoped to sell between $15 and $17 apiece in June were priced at just $10, hurt in part by Amazon’s AMZN, +0.23%   announced acquisition of Whole Foods WFM, -0.02% earlier that month. They now trade for less than $6, pummeled in part by Amazon’s plans to launch its own meal kits.

The twin revelations about Amazon are no doubt unnerving to Blue Apron’s executive leadership team and investors. And yet, they should also see them as encouraging signs. That Amazon sees so much potential in the industry is proof positive that the meal kit represents a new American staple, and not just—pardon the expression—a flash in our collective pots and pans.

True, Amazon is a formidable rival. And yes, the meal kit business is increasingly crowded. (Current contenders include: Plated, HelloFresh, Purple Carrot, and Sun Basket.) But Blue Apron has an opportunity to differentiate itself. To do so, it must focus on the needs, wants, and values of its target audience: mainly millenials.

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If retailers want to compete with Amazon, they should use their tax savings to raise wages – Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

From Harvard Business Review 

Walmart announced today that it is raising its starting wages in the United States from $9 per hour to $11, giving employees one-time cash bonuses of as much as $1,000, and expanding maternity and parental leave benefits as a result of the recently enacted tax reform. It is part of Walmart’s broader effort to create a better experience for its employees and customers. The new tax law creates a major business opportunity for other retailers as well — if their leaders are wise enough to take advantage of it.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is dropping from 35% to 21%. Retailers, many of whom have been paying the full tax rate, are going to benefit substantially. Take a retailer that makes 15% pretax income. Assuming its effective tax rate goes from 35% to 21%, it could save the equivalent of 2.3% of sales. Specialty retailers with higher pretax income will save even more.

Retail executives have a choice in how they use these savings. I believe the smartest choice — one that will help them compete against online retailers like Amazon — is to create a better experience for customers and to achieve operational excellence in stores. For most retailers, doing both requires more investment in store employees — starting with higher wages and more-predictable work schedules. My research shows that combining higher pay for retail employees with a set of smart operational choices that leverage that investment results in more-satisfied customers, employees, and investors. Read More »

Jeff Bezos’s initial focus on books constitutes the greatest execution of a beachhead marketing strategy ever – Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet

MIT Sloan’s Bill Aulet

From Entrepreneur

Jeff Bezos recently briefly overtook Bill Gates to become the richest man in America. It’s a reminder, much like Amazon’s most recent $13.7-billion acquisition of Whole Foods, of the remarkable power of the company that Bezos has created and the straightforward strategy he used to create his empire. Now, with each new click and each new transaction, Amazon grows its war chest of consumer and market data and the company’s growth appears — at least for the moment –unstoppable.

But it was not always so. Once upon a time, Amazon sold only books. Bezos’s initial focus on books constitutes the greatest execution of a beachhead marketing strategy ever. By creating a narrow and winnable focus for his first product, Bezos was able to build the fundamentals of his company, and create a launching pad for Amazon to grow into different markets over time.

Today, when I want to buy audiobooks, gardening tools or a Spike Lee Brooklyn bicycle cap, I shop through Amazon and know it will all be delivered, courtesy of Amazon Prime, to my front door in Boston in two days. I have come to depend on Amazon’s recommendations and customer feedback to guide my purchases. I now have an Amazon TV system and have installed Alexa systems at both home and at work. My publisher directs me to the Amazon author section to see how many copies of my book have been sold each week, and in what regions. And when I relax at the end of the day, I read the Washington Post on my iPad, which is free with Amazon Prime. And it all started with books.

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With “Go,” Amazon identifies another job it can do better–Lou Shipley

MIT Sloan Lecturer Lou Shipley

MIT Sloan Lecturer Lou Shipley

From Xconomy

Early last year, I “fired” talk radio along with NPR’s morning and evening editions. That same day, I “hired” Amazon Audible as my commute companion.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. Audible is far better than its predecessors at doing the job I need done as I travel to and from my office – provide on-demand access to an array of rich, custom content.

I got to thinking about that firing-hiring recently when reading an article about Amazon’s new “Go” concept: a quick-stop grocery and convenience-meal venture that will allow consumers to grab what they need off the shelves (Amazon’s Just Walk Out technology tracks what’s added to the shopping cart), confirm the purchase, and leave without ever standing in a checkout line.

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