When the conversation turns to retail startups, I’m all in. I soak up the chance to hear about the origins of a new idea, the highs and lows an entrepreneur faces in “birthing” their concept and their plans for leveraging the initial hypothesis. I get all wrapped up in the “how did I ever live without it?” sentiment — and I’m often among the first to make a purchase.
As much as I embrace the new kids on the block, though, I keep an eye on the moves stalwart brands are crafting to counter the startups. Refusing to be eclipsed by the newcomers —and ever-cognizant of the precept that “when you’re through changing, you’re through” — retailers including Macy’s, Gap, J.Crew and Walmart have been on an innovation tear, testing different concepts, collaborating with newfound partners and testing select services.
Macy’s is firing on all cylinders. The department store recently announced a partnership with Facebook that calls for Macy’s to add 150 brands that currently advertise on Facebook to sell in The Market @ Macy’s — a small, open marketplace concept within its stores that rotates a handful of brands in and out. The Market, which debuted earlier this year, will introduce hard-to-find brands such as Love Your Melon and Two Blind Brothers (each with a philanthropic stance).
In addition, Macy’s is adding new virtual reality experiences in about 70 stores with an eye toward making shopping journeys “more convenient, efficient and fun.” VR headsets will make it easier for customers to visualize furniture that is not stocked; they’ll also be able to use an app to “see” furniture in their own homes. Augmented reality will be layered on in the beauty department, where Macy’s is in the process of adding virtual mirrors where shoppers can “try on” products.
Gap has introduced a new brand, its first in over 10 years. Called Hill City, the high-performance men’s apparel brand offers technical clothing that transitions seamlessly though the day. The brand, which will be sold primarily online at the outset, also intends to weave customer feedback into decision-making. Hill City is integrating an element of crowdsourcing into its strategy; its influencer program taps Hill City consumers to try samples of the clothing and provide reviews via chatbot.
Then there’s J.Crew, which has been facing headwinds for several years. In September, company executives announced a plan to unveil a brand for younger, female shoppers. This comes on the heels of a partnership with Amazon.com to offer a micro collection of basics and another between its sister brand Madewell and Nordstrom which calls for Madewell’s first menswear collection to be available in 31 Nordstrom stores, Nordstrom.com and Madewell.com.
One of Walmart’s more out-of-the-box moves announced recently: a digital concierge service called Jetblack. The same-day courier service is limited to luxury customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are part of an eight-month pilot program restricted to buildings with a doorman and starts at $50 a month.
All of which is to say, there’s no better time to be in retail, and it’s going to be a heck of a fourth quarter. Let the selling begin.