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Omni-Channel Key to the Future of Retail

Omni-Channel Key to the Future of Retail

While innovating customer engagement was the theme of the annual Global Retail Conference, sponsored by the University of Arizona, the growing importance of omni-channel retailing, social media, high profile brands and the Mi

While innovating customer engagement was the theme of the annual Global Retail Conference, sponsored by the University of Arizona, the growing importance of omni-channel retailing, social media, high profile brands and the Millennials was the focus of keynote presentations by retail and brand executives.

The roster of more than a dozen speakers for the conference, which was held in April and attracted more than 350 attendees, included top retail execs from Macy's, Home Depot, Walmart and Petsmart, brand licensing executives from Li & Fung and Saban Brands, as well as various consumer and research experts.

Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy's, gave the opening keynote presentation and emphasized his vision of the department store retailer through the acronym "MOM" (My Macy's) and the terms "omni-channel" and "magic selling."

Lundgren, who refers to himself as chief customer officer to emphasize the importance of targeting and engaging customers in every possible way, reveals Macy's extensive commitment and opportunity to reach a new group of consumers, the Millennials, who are ages 13 to 30, 70 million strong in the U.S. and bigger than the Baby Boomers.

Lundgren explains that this is the first generation to incorporate technology in every aspect of their lives on an hourly basis. He says this is a very different customer who requires Macy's to do things differently than ever before to attract them.

Lundgren says that conferring with Macy's employees in this age group is a key way the retailer is trying to understand shopping patterns and needs of customers. Macy's is already using online, social media, mobile devices and its popular live events, such as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, its July 4th fireworks and the Flower Show, to engage customers. "Never fail to astonish the customer," says Lundgren.

The Macy's CEO also points out how the retailer continues to improve its localization of merchandise assortment strategy, as well as using technology to better manage inventory. Macy's is turning almost 300 stores into fulfillment centers this year to handle online orders and better serve its customers.

Macy's is also expanding with:

  • Beauty spot" kiosks, which allow customers to browse and select products while an associate brings those products to the customer;
  • Virtual mannequins," which will be able to change displays based on time of day and other factors;
  • The "endless aisle," which will allow customers to surf a tablet device in store and view product assortment beyond just what is in stock in that location and make a purchase.

Another key element and focus among keynote speakers is the importance of licensed brands at retail and how they drive customer traffic and loyalty.

Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands, explains how the Paul Frank brand is growing worldwide and expanding into various new categories (see story on page 76).

"We are capitalizing on the growing importance and value of brands that are authentic, expandable and target passionate consumers," says Dekel.

Dekel says that Paul Frank now has more than 45 licensees and is in more than 25 product categories and is expanding PF Kids and PF Teens.

Dekel says that Paul Frank is expanding worldwide, and he is particularly bullish on China, where he projects there will be 50 Paul Frank stores by year end.

Rick Darling, president of LF USA, addresses the importance of international expansion and the popularity of designer and celebrity brands. He admits that Li & Fung is cautious of celebrity brands because of their unpredictability and the length of time it takes to establish a long-term program. Popular designers, he believes, aren't as risky, pointing to Georgina Chapman as an example. Chapman and co-founder Keren Craig recently partnered with LF USA for a line of apparel and accessories set to launch in fall 2013.

According to Martha Van Gelder, director of the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing: "This is a unique conference with high level speakers in a small setting that focuses on one central theme, such as customer engagement. The program is built from 360 views on all aspects of retailing."

The annual event supports the "non-profit Retail Center at the University of Arizona–one of the few retailing business degrees (versus fashion) in the U.S.–for the benefit of raising the visibility of and promoting careers in retailing," says Van Gelder.

There are currently more than 30 corporate partners and sponsors.

Next year's global retailing conference will be held on April 11-12, 2013, in Tucson, Ariz. For more information, visit www.terryjlundgrencenter.org.

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