With better leadership, Sears could’ve been a contender – Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From The Hill

When I arrived in the U.S. for graduate school in the mid-1980s, I asked my host family in a Philadelphia suburb where to shop to outfit my dorm room. They didn’t skip a beat: “Sears,” they said. “It has everything you need.”

To say that I was in awe of Sears would be an understatement. Having grown up in small cities in India that were dominated by mom and pop stores, I’d never seen anything like it. I bought pillows and bed sheets; a hot pot, microwave, a mini fridge; and also rain boots, socks, and a pair of earrings. I remember thinking, “This is the American store of my dreams.”

So last week’s news that Sears filed for bankruptcy struck a personal chord. The company has been under pressure for years: shuttering stores, jettisoning assets and taking on ever more debt. Finally, facing a $134 million payment that it could not afford, Sears capitulated.

The main culprit, according to media coverage, was the rise of online shopping and Amazon. Amazon, of course, has become the familiar villain in these tales — allegedly responsible for the death of many once-dominant American retailers, from Toys “R” Us to Sports Authority to Radio Shack.

But considering e-commerce accounts for only 9 percent of all retail sales, that explanation rings hollow. The truth is, Sears’s bankruptcy is of its own making. Its management, led by Eddie Lampert — Sears’s chairman and its biggest individual creditor and shareholder, made a series of missteps that ultimately crippled the iconic chain.

These include focusing too narrowly on cutting costs at the expense of investing in the in-store experience, spinning off key brands and competing on price.

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Why it’s not the end of America’s brick and mortar retail stores–Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From The Hill

Even in a digital age, brick and mortar retailers have distinct advantages over e-commerce. But the other day, I watched as two stores totally blew those advantages. In a bookstore, the customer waiting in line before me asked for a particular book, only to be told it was out of stock. “We can order it for you,” the customer was told. But she shook her head. “I have books on order. I wanted something to read now.” The second came as I returned an item to a large department store chain, a routine matter — or so I thought. Thirty frustrating minutes later, after being shuttled between employees like a ping-pong ball, I left, wondering why something so simple had taken so long.

Both these incidents demonstrate how the woes facing brick and mortar retailers go far beyond price competition from online shopping. The bookstore I visited had missed its advantage of instant gratification. The department store lost its advantage of convenience and the human touch. An impersonal trip to the post office to mail a return was better by comparison.

My shopping experience underscores three primary factors that underlie the plight of current brick and mortar retailers: retreat from core competence, failure to view online counterparts through a complementary lens, and loss of focus on customer experience. Unfortunately, the results of these missteps are apparent.

Distressed retailers are closing stores at a record pace. According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 2,800 retail locations have closed just this year, including hundreds of locations being shut down by national chains such as Payless ShoeSource and RadioShack. The outlook for major department stores is grim. Macy’s said it will close 68 of its 870 stores nationwide, affecting 10,000 employees, citing changing consumer behavior. Sears Holding Corp. will close 108 Kmarts.

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Brick-and-mortar retailers should nix deep discounts to make most of jittery shopping season–Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From The Conversation

Brick-and-mortar retailers have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride this holiday season as early expectations of strong consumer spending were weighed down by the uncertainty prompted by the election.

That’s on top of the usual jitters about the slow demise of Black Friday and more consumer cash gravitating to online retail.

That has made projections about this year’s holiday shopping season more of a guessing game than usual, but one aspect has now become clear: The rush by retailers to deeply discount merchandise will likely not prove to be beneficial to these retailers in the long term.

My research in “business to business” marketing suggests that instead of enacting ever-steeper price cuts that erode margins, both major retailers like Macy’s and small mom-and-pop stores would be much better off leveraging their physical presence as a source of strength rather than weakness by focusing on the personal touch that only they can provide.

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This big retailer could kill your subscription startup — Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila Chatterjee

From Fortune

Watch out, Birchbox.

Some of you might be old enough to remember the milkman – the person who delivered dairy products to your home every few days. Or you might recall the Columbia Record Club, which regularly brought music to mailboxes. And then there’s the venerable and still-going Book of the Month Club, which keeps subscribers abreast of trends in literature.

Let’s keep that history in mind as we consider the soaring popularity of subscription services in which boxes of products or food or goodies appear regularly at your door. Companies like Birchbox, Blue Apron, Club W, OwlCrate,BarkBox, and Bespoke Post are among those leading the way in services that let consumers sample beauty products or exotic food or young adult books or other specialty items without leaving the house. “Best of” suggestions for subscription boxes are also popping up this season as hot items on numerous holiday gift guides – which would certainly lighten Santa’s sleigh.

Yet the basic concept is as old as the cheerful man in white who left bottles of milk in the box on your front step. What’s new about subscription boxes is their use of Internet technology, in which consumers can order subscriptions online, customize the items they want in some cases, and record and upload their reactions to social media. And then there’s the emotional effect that the milkman didn’t spark – the experience of opening the box, that anticipation of the surprises inside and the sense of gift giving … to yourself. It’s like Christmas every month without the standard rejoinder of: “Oh, you shouldn’t have.”

Relevance, Resources, Relationships: How to Create a B2B Content Marketing Strategy — Sharmila C. Chatterjee

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Sharmila C. Chatterjee

From Huffington Post

In 1895, John Deere, the agricultural machinery company, debuted a slight publication called The Furrow targeted at farmers and ranchers. Back then, The Furrow was a simple newsletter containing pen-and ink-drawings, articles about farming techniques, ads for new plows, and a section tailored for women readers that featured products like cream separators. Fast-forward 118 years to today: The Furrow is still published – albeit in glossy form, complete with its own website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It has circulation of 1.5 million.

The Furrow is one of the earliest examples of content marketing, an approach that involves creating, distributing, and exchanging information to attract, engage, and retain a clearly defined audience, with the ultimate goal of driving sales. According to a recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), 91% of North American B2B marketers use content marketing as part of their current marketing strategy.

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