Wednesday, July 16, 2008

R.H. Macy, J.W. Macy, H.B. Macy, L.L. Macy

So Macy's says, after the Great Macyization, that it "wants to bring back the local department store."

Whoops.

Of course, it'll still be Macy's. But Macy's national apologist -- sorry, vice president for corporate communications and external affairs -- says, "We want a customer to walk into her local Macy's store and say, 'This store has exactly what I want. You get me. This is my Macy's.'"

Well, duh.

The story as linked to notes: "While no one suggests that Macy's should become discounter, analysts universally say that Macy's needs to improve and sharpen its image." Alas for the reputation of copy editors, that poorly written line appeared in my local newspaper as "Analysts are suggesting that Macy's should become a discounter. But they do say Macy's needs to improve and sharpen its image." Which, of course, is meaningless. But that's not the fault of the originating newspaper, whose sin was simply to not put an "a" before "discounter." (Part of the reason you need copy editors is that when you force anyone --another copy editor or the reader -- to guess what you mean, usually half of them will guess wrong.)

An analyst says: "Part of what Macy's did when they bought all these other department store companies was argue that they could save money by doing all the buying in New York. You could argue for years that the best department stores were the ones that were merchandized to the local market. But how are you going to do that when the local stores have no buying power?"

Lesson to embattled newspapers: Yes, you can centralize too much. On the other hand, another analyst would have just come in and said, "We're going to kill these department store stocks because they don't have centralized buying." Another lesson to embattled newspapers, although it comes too late for most: Some analyst is going to find a reason to kill your stock no matter what you do. There's always something you're doing wrong. Destroying your companies to please analysts by keeping earnings higher than they legitimately should be will not make them like you any better in the end. It may get you another couple of years of bonuses, of course. But Old Testament vengeance eventually occurs.

Lesson to Macy's: If you suddenly find yourself owning stores in Billings and Great Falls, your customers are going to be the same people who were in Billings and Great Falls before, and hoping that they will suddenly like the same styles at the same time as people in North Jersey or North Dallas just because you do is probably an error.

But, of course, the real problem with this story is that this is essentially the same program that Macy's announced in September 2007. Now they appear to be announcing it again.

Didn't work before? Didn't get done? No one paid attention? Well, no. This story, which a search will show ran all over the place, Detroit to West Virginia to Tucson, was a cut-down Gannett News Service version of a story in the Arizona Republic, which bore the nut graf:

"But signs that Macy's wants to shed its generic chain-store image are already apparent at its Biltmore Fashion Park store, which is remodeling and changing merchandise based on its own customer research."

In other words, a local follow-up story got spit into the wire machine and was churned out as a new initiative. Macy's must have been pretty surprised to learn that they were announcing as a plan in 2008 what they announced in 2007. This sort of nonsense gets published because even good newspapers treat the wire as filler, and assign a copy editor of the day to pull some stories off it to dummy the page. The copy editor says, "Hey, Macy's, they operate here. I don't know anything about the 'Automatic' Sprinkler Co. And I've got a 14-inch hole and the story is 14 inches. Voila!" And the copy editor who knew they ran the original story had been laid off and the business editor is running his staff copy and not paying attention to the wire. Under our current stress, even great newspapers are starting to do this.

The original Phoenix story is a decent local story, despite missing that "a" that led a copy editor in New Jersey astray. As the V.P. for C.C. notes near its end:

"'Other retailers attempt to localize their stores based on computer spreadsheets and historical sales data,'" he said. "'We are starting with what customers want and need. It requires much more human observation and insight.'"

Give the man a prize! (God, I'm turning into a snarky blogger.) Or, as Marshall Field said: "Give the lady what she wants." When department stores such as Macy's were young, there were lots of them. Those that gave the lady what she wanted succeeded. (Giving the lady what she wants is not always checking off the lady's list. Part of it is figuring out what the lady wants before she knows it. But if you guess wrong, stop saying you were right and it's her fault.)

Department stores became oligopolies. They had great reputations and set the pace. Then discounters arrived. Department stores wanted to maintain their margins, so they tried to figure out what sort of customer and lines would pay the margins they needed. Alas, they found that that customer often was not there, and that the customers they had wanted different merchandise, often more mainstream, than was in the store. They left and no one else came in. And then came the Great Macyization.

Now Macy's in so many markets has to overcome the hurdle of being a store that no one has any emotional attachment to and that many people say isn't selling what they want. Can it be overcome? Sure. Penneys has been doing it. But you have to figure out who your customer is and what the customer wants of you. What they will pay you for.

Newspapers haven't figured this out yet, of course. Many of them still haven't figured out that this is how you stay in business.

1 comment:

mcwflint said...

What's harder to excuse is the same wire story appearing in the same newspaper within 7 days of each other ... once, OK. Twice, ouch. Now it's a new game in my extended family - who will spot the repeater first. Wait. Maybe that's the plan to keep newspaper readers - keep them guessing.