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Getting support early on critical to building urban stores

BY CSA STAFF

New York — When building an urban store, be prepared for anything, and make friends with your local Economic Development Corp. early, advised retailers and a developer at the “Setting Up Shop Downtown” session at Chain Store Age’s 50th annual SPECS conference in Grapevine, Texas (March 9 -12, 2014). The session was particularly timely given that more and more retailers are targeting urban areas for growth — and the trend is likely to accelerate going forward.

It’s critical to get the local community on board and solicit their comments early, said Terry Pratt, senior tenant coordinator of Philadelphia-based PREIT, particularly regarding lighting and signage.

Building a store or restaurant in an urban location can require a complete change in design to fit local standards, especially if the building is historic, noted John Devine, president of Milford, Conn.-based Subway Real Estate Group, whose stores range from 1,200 sq.-ft. to 1,400 sq. ft.

Office Depot’s footprint, at around 5,000 sq. ft., often requires multiple levels and even different merchandising, said Kristin Muntean, VP for strategic Initiatives and innovation the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company.

Other logistical changes for urban stores include merchandise delivery and trash pickup schedules to avoid conflicts with office workers and residents, all said.

Second and third floors can become practical, noted panel moderator Debra Hazel, a New York City-based retail and real estate consultant, as long as vertical transportation is plentiful and immediately visible.

But even with the challenges, are building stores worth it? The answer was simultaneous and unanimous from all three speakers:

“Absolutely!”

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Ron Insana at SPECS: Economy in good shape

BY CSA STAFF

New York — The economy is in better shape than many people think — especially when you look under the hood at some of the parts, CNBC senior analyst Ron Insana told attendees at Chain Store Age’s 50th annual SPECS show. Insana was a keynoter at the event, which was held at the Gaylord Texan Hotel, Grapevine, Texas, March 9 – 12, and brought together retail executives in store planning & design, construction and facilities. Attendance was up 25% over last year’s year’s show.

“The United States economy is actually performing quite nicely,” Insana said. “If you look around the world, no one else comes close.”

China’s growth is slowing more than anyone realizes, Insana said, while India is not doing nearly as well as anyone expected.”

“The emerging markets are acting badly as a group,” he added.

Looking ahead, the CNBC analyst predicted the U.S. will have a better balanced economy, one that is much more reliant on the production of goods and services than financial services.

“I am concerned,” he said. “That our kids are not going to be fully prepared for the kind of jobs we will see.”

Citing the nation’s growing energy development, the 3D printing revolution and the rebound in manufacturing, Insana said the United States is becoming increasingly self-sufficient in a number of ways.

“Over the next three to 10 years, I think the United States will become a standalone economy,” he added, or what he described as a “fortress America.”

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Is Amazon Prime’s Fee Hike a Savvy Move or a Potential Crack in its Armor?

BY CSA STAFF

By Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Marketing

Amazon Prime’s recent decision to raise its annual membership fee probably didn’t come as a surprise to anyone within the online retail or subscription e-commerce industries. The company had been talking about increasing its subscription fees by $20 to $40 since at least January, so the biggest news might have been the price point Amazon chose.

Per the announcement, Amazon Prime fees will jump from $79 to $99 for new members and existing members who renew their subscription on or after April 17, 2014; the Student Prime fee will rise from $39 to $49 on the same date. The online retailer attributed these increases to the growing costs of fuel and transportation but downplayed the severity of 20% hikes by stating, “If you consider things like inflation and fuel costs, a Prime membership valued at $79 in 2005 would be worth more than $100 today.”

Paid loyalty is the best kind of loyalty, and since its launch in 2005, Amazon Prime has offered plentiful evidence to support that belief. Prime customers spend an annual average of $1,340 with the retailer, more than two-and-a-half times the $529 that non-Prime customers spend with Amazon every year. Better still (at least for the Internet behemoth) in the nine-plus years since its launch, “tens of millions” of shoppers around the globe have joined Amazon Prime, willingly forking over the $79 fee to receive “free” (i.e., pre-paid) 2-day shipping on all of their eligible purchases.

Creating Amazon Prime was a savvy decision in two ways. When shopping online, consumers rank free shipping as the biggest factor in their purchase decisions — more important than same-day delivery or even low prices. Through its Prime service, Amazon generates revenue upfront that allow it to offer free shipping even as it alleviates the primary reason why consumers abandon their shopping carts during checkouts: the sudden appearance of shipping costs that substantially increase their overall purchase price.

Since 2005, a large and growing number of consumers have been happy to shell out $79 to eliminate the sticker shock of shipping fees. The question that Amazon is now asking its customers is this: “Are you willing to pay an extra $20 for that same sense of certainty?” The answer will have profound, far-reaching consequences, not just for Amazon but for its e-commerce competitors as well.

Of course, Amazon didn’t become an online retail powerhouse by making poorly-considered decisions. As one of the pioneers in the subscription loyalty field, it recognizes the possible perils associated with raising the Prime price, and it’s sure to try to soften the impact — on members and its own bottom line alike — by augmenting the Prime benefits.

Members already enjoy free two-day shipping, unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV shows through Prime Instant Video, and access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Among the likely enhancements are two possibilities in the near future and one longer-term goal that could present a serious threat to retailers of all sizes and kinds:

• A streaming music service. Amazon would be going head-to-head with Apple, Google, Pandora, and a host of other music providers in a highly competitive market, so its retention powers might be limited.

• A streaming TV-box service. Again, Amazon’s product would be facing off with Apple, Roku, and others, but this corner of the entertainment industry is far less settled, and it might help Amazon make inroads with the Millennial generation.

• Free overnight (or even same-day) shipping. This is a potential game-changer for the retail industry. Amazon already has 46 warehouses set up across the United States, all of them situated within 100 miles of high-density cities. If Prime members can receive their orders within 24 hours of placing them — at no additional cost — brick-and-mortar retailers will face more pressure than ever, coming from a company that’s already on pace already on pace to become the largest retailer in the country by 2020.

Fortunately, Amazon Prime’s rate hike offers an opening that its rivals can exploit before that happens. Smart retailers can mimic Amazon Prime’s business model and create their own pre-paid shipping programs (priced below $99 a year) and/or build out such programs with exclusive savings offers that would lock down their best customers at a price similar to the new Amazon Prime fee. Retailers with physical presences in multiple cities could also add same-day delivery services that would beat Amazon at its own game.

Retailers succeed by changing with the times. As Amazon reinvents itself, retailers must adapt to the evolving marketplace by offering customer more services and conveniences — efficiently and affordably, of course.

Tom Caporaso is CEO of Clarus Marketing, which creates and markets high-value subscription websites and loyalty programs designed to save consumers time and money. He can be reached at [email protected]

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