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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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Short holiday and severe winter affect Destination XL in Q4

BY CSA STAFF

Destination XL Group was disappointed with its performance in the fourth quarter and said contributing factors were sluggish retail environment, a short holiday selling season and adverse weather conditions.

The company reported a net loss of $55.1 million for the quarter, compared to net income of $4.2 million in the year-ago period.

Fourth quarter net sales declined nearly 6% to $108.5 million, from $114.9 million in the prior-year period. However, same-store sales rose 13.6%.

“Since accelerating the opening of DXL stores and closing our Casual Male stores nearly a year and a half ago, we have made significant progress in our transformation,” said president and CEO David Levin. “During the past year, we opened half of the 102 DXL stores that are currently in operation. From that activity, we’ve been able to analyze a significant amount of empirical data with respect to the effectiveness of our store openings and closings. We have better insights into the optimal location and size of DXL stores and the importance of opening new stores prior to the Q4 holiday season.”

DXL plans to open approximately 40 DXL stores and close approximately the same number of Casual Male XL stores. Some of the new DXL stores will be smaller-size locations in smaller markets.

During the full fiscal year 2013, net loss was $59.8 million, compared with net income of $6.1 million for fiscal 2012. For fiscal 2013, total sales were $388 million, down 4% from $399.6 million for fiscal 2012. Same-store sales declined 3%

Looking ahead, Destination XL forecasts a comparable sales increase of approximately 5.6% and total sales in the range of $405 million to $410 million.

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