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All 2014 U.S. Retail Store Closings Roundup

All 2014 U.S. Retail Industry Store Closings Complete Roundup

Radio Shack and Staples are the latest U.S. retail chains to announce a significant number of store closings planned for the 2014 calendar year. Get a complete list of all 2014 store closings in this U.S. Retail Store Closings Roundup...

More About U.S. Retail Industry Store Closings:
Retail Industry Spotlight10

2014 Highest Value Retail Brands - Why Best Brands Like Walmart, Macy’s and Amazon Have Real Brand Strength and Real Future Success (WMT, M, AMZN)

Monday April 21, 2014

When the 2014 Best Retail Brands ranking list was released earlier this month by branding consultancy Interbrand, it was no surprise to see superbrands like Walmart (WMT), Target (TGT), Amazon (AMZN), and Macy's (M) near the top of that list. Well, maybe it was a little surprising to see Target there with an 8% YOY increase in brand value despite the collateral damage of the Black Friday data breach debacle that is far from cleaned up. But in general, the retail brands with enduring success are the retail brands assessed to have the highest value in 2014. It's only logical.

Interbrand is not the only organization that dares to attempt to assign a monetary value to something as intangible as a brand. Each year the MillwardBrown Optimor research agency also creates a Most Valuable Brands list including the top retail brands, and comes up with completely different results. As with everything, the validity of the conclusions are found in the validity of the criteria used to create the conclusions. And it is the assessment criteria that Interbrand uses that makes its annual brand value ratings and rankings both valid and actionable for any retailer in the world.

According to Interbrand, "brand strength" is a result of ten different factors:

Clarity - Crystal clear definition of your identity, mission, vision, and values

Differentiation - What makes your brand distinctly recognizable, and what your brand offers that is uniquely identifiable

Presence - How visible your brand is in the places where customers and opinion influencers are paying attention

Relevance - The combination of the value of your offerings, your market appropriateness, your personality match, and the accessibility of all of that to your target markets

Responsiveness - Your nimbleness, flexibility, and willingness to change in a quickly evolving global retailing paradigm

Understanding - A deeper knowledge and understanding about your brand and company that extends beyond advertising slogans or the latest-greatest marketing promotion

Protection - Fundamental legal and proprietary matters, which matter little in the absence of the other nine brand strength factors

Authenticity - You are genuinely and transparently what you present yourself to be both internally and externally

Consistency - Every intersection and interaction with your brand is unfailingly reflective of the identity you have clearly defined

Commitment - All of the above has primary consideration when making every business decision and none of the above is done halfway

The explanations are mine, based on personal experience with, and analysis of, retail trends and retail performance. The terms that describe the ten factors that create brand value belong to Interbrand and I think they are irreproachably accurate, and therefore, of great value to any retail organization interested in strengthening not only its brand image, but its entire retail raison d'ętre.

Think about the most troubled U.S. retailers chains that are topping the 2014 Store Closings list - JCPenney, RadioShack, Sears, as well as the recently liquidated Coldwater Creek, Dots, and Blockbuster chains. Even a cursory external evaluation using the Interbrand brand strength factors reveals the muddiness of these failing and failed retail brands. Survival in an ultra competitive retail environment has been and will be the difference between being able to rise out of the muck of indiscernible brand value and floundering around in it until you are sucked into extinction.

Love them or hate them, it's easy to know and describe what the most valuable retail brands like Walmart, Macy's, Whole Foods, and Amazon are all about, which gives customers some good reasons to consider doing business with them. But the best of the best retail brands realize that in a paradigm of unlimited retail access, "consideration" and consumerism are two different things.

Up until recently much of retail branding was about perception, which was fabricated by cleverly executed marketing manipulation. These days the superficial brand image has a greatly decreased power to attract, and next to no power to retain. The first seven brand strength factors above are foundational. Rising above that foundation are "authenticity" and "consistency," which are the two factors that empowered consumers are using as their main criteria to judge whether or not a retailer is worthy of brand loyalty. "Commitment" is what brings an intangible brand to life in a palpable way for longer than 30 seconds.

Being included alongside the elite brands on the annual Interbrand rating and ranking list is not a realistic short-term goal for most of the largest North American retail chains, not to mention the smaller ones, or the retail concepts just being born. But propelling your retail operation along a brand strengthening trajectory using the factors defined by Interbrand is definitely possible. And advisable.

Actually, it's probably essential. Because these days success in retailing is less and less about what you do and more and more about who you consciously choose to be.

The U.S. retail industry loves to measure and compare itself from every conceivable direction, and that's no doubt a manifestation of the innate competitiveness of those involved and interested in the retailing game. It's not always clear however, if any particular ranking list has any valuable takeaways for the retailers that are or aren't included on it. But in this case the retail leaders who see the actionable value in the 2014 Interbrand Best Retail Brands list and the brand strength factors that created it are the same leaders who will likely redefine the future of retailing.

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Restaurant Technology and the Digital Customer Experience - Panera, Subway, Olive Garden, and Largest U.S. Restaurant Chains Moving to the Leading Edge (PNRA)

Sunday April 13, 2014

What's new and what's news in the restaurant segment of the U.S. retail industry can be generally summed up with one word - technology. Olive Garden (DRI) is introducing online ordering this month. Subway has been testing a smartphone ordering and payment system in 2,000 California restaurants. The CEO of Panera Bread has been showing up in the mass media talking about plans for "Panera 2.0." There's no doubt that the world's largest restaurant chains are working hard to move their businesses up to the leading edge of technology. The question is whether all that digital effort is also moving the world's largest restaurant chains in the direction of the world's best dining and customer experiences.

From tabletop ordering tablets to mobile payments, to real-time digital customer feedback, some of the largest U.S. based restaurant chains like McDonald's, Wendy's, Baskin-Robbins and Buffalo Wild Wings seem to be in a digital race to see who can become the shiniest, the buzziest, and the gadgetiest the fastest. Much like the largest U.S. retail chains that are participating in a similar digital competition, it would be well advised for restaurant chain leaders to consider some fundamental truths about retail technology as they lead their organizations down a fast-moving digital track.

- Technology for technology's sake is of little benefit to anyone.

- The customer experience is not completely defined by their technological experience.

- After the "wow" factor of the technology (quickly) wears off, there will be more customer expectations that need to be met and exceeded.

This month Panera Bread's CEO Ron Shaich has been aggressively and publicly outlining the company's plans for integrating technology into the Panera restaurant experience. Those plans include online and mobile ordering, a "rapid pick-up" system, in-restaurant electronic table locators for food delivery, customized digital ordering, and the ability to save previous orders and payment.

The driving motivation behind Panera's planned technological advancements is... read more >>

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GE Capital Is Branded Credit Card Manager of Choice for Largest U.S. Retail Chains with Branded Credit Card and Customer Loyalty Programs (WMT, AEO, DDS)

Tuesday April 8, 2014

Related: Roundup of Branded Retail Credit Card Programs >>

After renewing some long-term agreements with some of the largest U.S. retail chains, GE Capital seems to be the financial institution of choice for private label and co-branded credit cards for the U.S. retail industry in 2014. American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) is the latest retail chain to renew its agreement with GE Capital for management of its branded credit card program. This follows closely behind the biggest of the big retail credit card contract, which was the renewal of the agreement between GE Capital and the Sam's Club and Walmart chains. It's been a pretty good month for GE Capital so far.

But just to prove that there's no room for laurel resting in U.S. financial services, GE Capital also received the bad news this month that Dillard's (DDS) will be handing its credit card servicing business to Wells Fargo later this year.

Prior to this banking change, Dillard's has been offering its private label credit card, which can be used for Dillard's purchases only, and a co-branded Dillard's American Express credit card. Both of those cards are an integral part of the Dillard's customer loyalty "reward program."

In other words, you can only be considered a "loyal" and "rewardabe" Dillard's customer if you are also a credit-worthy credit card user. That's an unfortunate message to send to Dillard's cash-paying customers, but apparently nobody in the Dillard's finance department has figured out how to make an equally accessible rewards program financially feasible without factoring credit card fees into the equation.

Considering the risks associated with credit card security these days, it wouldn't be that surprising if the largest U.S. retail chains just decided to do away with its branded credit card programs altogether. This will be particularly understandable for retailers that do business in California, where legislation is pending that would hold retailers solely responsible for security breaches, and limit the type of "personalization data" that can be collected and stored by retailing companies.

Seemingly it's a commendable thing for California legislators to be concerned about the security of its citizens. The parties being protected by this legislation, however, are the banks. And don't they already have big departments filled with legal people whose primary focus is protecting the interests of the company that signs their paycheck? Perhaps this is an area where the negotiation of contract terms can be sufficiently handled without the need for government regulation.

Despite the threat of the Russian underworld and Ukranian teenage hacking, retail credit cards still have enough financial benefits to be worth the risk to U.S. retailers. In fact, the retail credit card business is healthy, with record low chargeoffs and month-over-month improvements in yield and excess reported by Fitch Ratings.

Another recent positive trend in retail credit cards is the connection being made between digital coupon offers and retail credit/debit card purchases. Coupons.com is facilitating the connection between Visa, MasterCard or American Express and retail companies like Vitamin World, Tilly's, DressBarn, Perfumania, the Body Shop and all of the GAP brands - Piperlime, Athleta, Banana Republic, Old Navy - that are willing to issue and redeem digital coupons.

So consumers who link their Visa, Mastercard or American Express card to their account on Coupons.com can browse through available "card linked" offers on Coupons.com, and "add" them to a credit card. When that "linked" credit card is used to make a coupon-eligible purchase, the amount of the coupon automatically gets deducted from the shopper's credit card, and a text or email communication from Coupons.com is sent to confirm the digital coupon redemption.

This is a win-win innovation except for the double security exposure inherent when both a retailer and a website have data stored that could be stolen by some crafty Russian hacker ring, or an industrious teenager in the Ukraine. According to Verizon Enterprise Solutions, only 11% of merchants that are accepting credit cards have sufficient security standards for credit card transactions. That shouldn't be good enough odds for any retail credit card user, no matter what kind of bribery perks are associated with those credit cards.

It also shouldn't be good enough odds for any U.S. retail chain, no matter how much credit card sales add to the bottom line. It's not just about putting customers at risk. It's about doing the right thing and doing the things you do the right way.

Until branded retail credit card programs can substantially prove that they are committed to doing credit cards the right way, then it's about consumers opting out of the game altogether for their own protection. That will motivate retailers to change faster than any amount of government legislation ever could.

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As Retail and Restaurant Birthday Freebies and Loyalty Club Programs Expand, Marketing Budgets Are Wasted Without Specially Defined Customer Experiences

Monday March 31, 2014

Click here of you just want to access the Complete Index of Retail and Restaurant Birthday Bonuses and Freebies >>

More than 2.5 billion American consumers belong to loyalty clubs in all industries, according to private label discount network Access Development, and 70% of those loyalty club members say they feel a loyalty club helps define their relationship with a company. This is either the cause or the result of the expansion of retail and restaurant loyalty, discount, rewards, and freebie marketing programs in the past few years. But as the number of retail and restaurant loyalty and birthday club options continue to grow, the possibility that marketing budgets are being wasted on me-too customer loyalty marketing programs expands as well. Beyond the Loyalty and Birthday Club offers is the "special" in-store experience for loyalty and birthday club members, which most retailers aren't really using to their best advantage.

I was brainstorming with a client recently about expanding e-mail and social media marketing activities in order to gain exposure with a new audience. Of course there are an infinite number of online and mobile marketing strategies that can be used to attract attention and boost website traffic, but before choosing the best strategies, there was one important question that I felt needed to be answered. "Once you've got them there, what are you going to do with them?"

And that's the question that was also top of mind for me with each birthday freebie that I collected this month. Now that they have me here, what are they going to do with me? Unfortunately, the answer to that question, more often than not, was "Not much."

So far Baskin-Robbins wins the birthday freebie experience contest because of one simple thing, which is not the mini marshmallows in my birthday scoop of rocky road. What Baskin-Robbins gave me was a birthday greeting which included my first name, pulled from the printed coupon I had to present to get my free birthday scoop. That is such a common sense customer service fundamental that you would expect every retailer to do it as a standard part of giving away free stuff in an attempt to make an emotional customer connection.

But as I often say, just because something makes sense, doesn't mean it's common. (I have no idea if this is an original thought, so feel free to attribute it to another thought leader if I am stealing a quote.)

Imagine my birthday surprise when the sales associate handling my birthday bonus transaction didn't even think to say "Happy Birthday" at one of my customer service favorites - Starbucks. Customer disappointment is even greater when expectations are higher. Reportedly Starbucks adds 80,000 new members to its Starbucks rewards program every week. It's mind-boggling to believe that a company with the service commitment of Starbucks would be handing out millions of birthday freebies every year without taking the time to fashion, communicate, train, and execute a "birthday experience." Talked about missing the moment!

For any retail leaders who are reading this and thinking, "It's free, lady. So what else do you expect?" you might want to consider discontinuing any present or future freebie or loyalty marketing programs and plans immediately. If meeting customer expectations seems like an unreasonable request, then exceeding customer expectations is way out of your reach. You really don't want to do any kind of marketing programs to attract customers - either repeat or new - until you have that all sorted out in your mind and in the execution of your experience.

In actuality, customers have very little to complain about when they are being given something for free. But the lack of customer complaints is a very ineffective measurement of customer satisfaction. Customers rarely complain about small disappointments, but the sum total of a lot of small disappointments leads to one big customer defection. Loyalty programs should be viewed as the opportunity to create the kind of customer delight that leads to fanatic customer loyalty. But that kind of loyalty doesn't happen by itself and it takes more than an annual birthday bribe to win it.

That said, I've probably gotten myself deleted from a few birthday databases. March is the easiest time of year for me to review the trends in U.S. retail industry loyalty club programs since it is the month that my e-mail box is flooded with birthday greetings, discounts, and freebies from my retail and restaurant BFFs. This year, it was quite easy to add a big batch of birthday bonuses to the master list of retail industry birthday club marketing offers. The newest retailers that want to contribute to your birthday celebration this year are:

- Abercrombie & Fitch
- Ace Hardware
- American Eagle
- Auntie Anne's
- Aveda
- Barnes & Noble
- Boston Market
- Carraba's Italian Grill
- Cinnabon
- Del Taco
- Denny's
- Dickey's Barbecue Pit
- Disney
- Dunkin' Donuts
- Famous Dave's
- Famous Footwear
- Fuddrucker's
- Goodwill
- Jason's Deli
- Kmart
- Lone Star Steakhouse
- Noodles & Company
- Orange Julius
- Pick Up Stix
- Qdoba
- Schlotzsky's
- Sephora
- Sonic
- Stir Crazy
- Taco John's
- Uno Pizzeria & Grill
- Wienerschnitzel

That's in addition to the dozens of birthday clubs and loyalty club birthday freebies that were already on the birthday promotion roundup list. Click here for the Complete Index of Retail Birthday Clubs and registration links >>

Clearly the restaurant sector of the retail industry is most actively using the birthday club marketing strategy. What I also noticed this year while reviewing my birthday club options is that fewer retailers wanted me to help me celebrate with freebies, and more of them thought my "special day" would be happier with a free-with-purchase offer. Also I noticed that many of the birthday "month" offers last year had been compressed into birthday "week" offers this year. These trends again indicate that an improvement in the overall "birthday experience" could help retailers with their ROI on birthday bonus marketing programs.

By the time my birthday month rolls around next year, I predict that new birthday freebie options will still be easy to find, that more of them will be discounts and conditional-purchase offers than completely free freebies, and that a majority of birthday coupons will be mobile accessible so that I don't have to fire up the printer that I haven't needed to use since this time last year.

Already there are more birthday freebie offers that any one consumer would want, or be able to redeem each year. It's easy to predict that as technology drives more personalized marketing for birthday marketing programs, birthday freebie offers may eventually become as competitive as Black Friday doorbusters.

No matter how they evolve and how they are executed, there are two reasons why loyalty clubs in general and birthday clubs in particular are are fundamentally a good idea. From a consumer's perspective, it's always happy to get surprises and freebies, particularly on your birthday. And from a retailer's perspective, it's never a bad idea to do something that gives a customer a reason to smile.

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