Macy's electronic shoe tags

Though not exactly a sweeping reinvention, Macy’s at the Woodbridge Center in Woodbridge, N.J., houses a unique concentration of innovations and experimental formats qualifying the location as “The Macy’s Lab.”

The 278,000-square-foot, three-level unit contains new merchandising formats, technologies and services geared to support omnichannel operations and reduce the hassles of shopping, and it will likely be part of the discussion Tuesday when Macy’s reports its fourth-quarter and year-end results. The numbers will be the main part of the story, though chief executive officer Jeff Gennette is expected to also talk innovation, what’s ahead and where there’s been progress improving the Macy’s experience.

Woodbridge is not Macy’s first “lab.” Two years ago, a unit at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio, was renovated into a prototype testing concepts in beauty, bridal, health and wellness, yoga and fitness products including a juice and smoothie bar.

Apparently, Macy’s has shifted the experimentation to the Woodbridge Center and to different  ideas. Some of the concepts inside Macy’s Woodbridge are seen in other Macy stores; other concepts might be rolled out in the future. The Macy’s strategy calls for “testing, iterating, scaling.”

Officials said Woodbridge was chosen for the lab because it’s a typical Macy’s store, big, but not a flagship, so what works there could very well work elsewhere. Moreover, Woodbridge Center is rather representative of mid-market U.S. malls, being anchored by J.C. Penney, Boscov’s, Lord & Taylor, Sears and Macy’s. It’s not a super-regional mall.

On the merchandising front, Macy’s in Woodbridge features more open-sell display in footwear and cosmetics, and an “extremely” edited assortment overall. It’s been reduced by 40 percent. Macy’s has trimmed the assortment across its 700-unit chain, though not to the degree seen at Woodbridge, but there’s been a recognition that the stores have been over-assorted, and that less merchandise makes Macy’s easier to shop, reduces product duplication, and keeps a sharper focus on better-selling items.

Macy’s in Woodbridge has fixtures identified as “The Edit.” They’re stocked with what the Macy’s fashion office and store buyers recommend or consider necessities for shoppers. In beauty, recommended products spotted included Clinique Vitamin C skin care, Smashbox eye shadow and Anastasia brow gel. The Edit format runs through fashion, beauty and home.

The Edit at Macy’s in Woodbridge, N.J. 

Most of the third floor of the store is occupied by Backstage, Macy’s two-and-a-half-year-old off-price business, currently seen in about 50 Macy’s locations and headed to more. Backstage introduces off-price shopping to mall settings as opposed to strip or outlet centers and depending on the store, offers lower price points and some categories and products not in the rest of the building, such as stuffed animals and some home decor in the case of Woodbridge. It has a value aura, whereas the main Macy’s store is more elevated with better brands and visuals. At Woodbridge, Last Act, Macy’s clearance section for second and third markdowns, has been integrated into Backstage, rather than being in different “families of business,” as Macy’s says.

Women’s shoes in Woodbridge is a mix of open sell and assisted sell, with the latter emphasizing higher-price brands such as Michael Kors, though there are some upscale labels displayed in the open-sell section as well.

Macy’s “At Your Service” counter is situated in a prominent spot by an entrance, rather than being buried in the back of the store, so it’s in plain sight and clearer to customers about what it provides. It’s a pick up station for online orders, a return station for online or store purchases, and it’s for purchasing gift cards and pay bills.

On the technology side, the store features “juice bars” to recharge mobile devices. They’re not for smoothies.

There is a bank of high-tech lockers for picking up online orders. After an online purchase, Macy’s e-mails an access code that you enter at the locker to unlock the drawer where your purchase is. The drawers vary in size to accommodate different products.

Automated lockers to pickup online purchases at Macy’s in Woodbridge, N.J. 

In beauty, there are “You Cam Makeup” stations where you take a selfie, and select makeup and colors that appear on the image of your face on a screen. It’s a fast alternative to actually trying on makeup in the store, which can be messy.

Associates in the beauty department are trained to cross sell, so they can recommend products they feel are best suited to you, based on your skin tone and other features, without being bound to allegiance to any single brand.

In the open-sell footwear area, RFID electronic shoe tags indicate for customers the price of an item, and its availability by size. They’re easy to read and can be quickly reset as products sell and prices change.

Macy’s is also testing central checkout lanes at the Jersey store, and associates have hand-held devices for product information and roving checkouts.

To some degree, there’s a view to returning department stores to their heyday when they were eclectic emporiums of all kinds of goods and services and when families would make it a day at the store. In the past, Gennette has suggested that food and beverage hold great promise, even possibly establishing food halls at select flagships or high-traffic sites. Macy’s has found success rolling out LensCrafters inside its stores, as well as Sunglass Hut shops, and has been considering broadening its Apple offering. “We now have new economic models by which we can add those businesses back into the department store,” Gennette said last year.

Footwear is a mix of open and assisted sell at Macy’s in Woodbridge, N.J. 

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