Macy’s Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Terry J. Lundgren has stated there’s plenty of life left in the department store format yet. And now, Macy’s is developing a prototype concept to move the retailer into the next generation.
The retailer is testing its newest thinking at a 200,000-square-foot store being renovated at Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. The unit, which will be revealed on June 25, could become a model for future stores.
“The whole concept of the store is to test new things,” said Kathi Newton, vice president and store manager. “A lot of the things we’re testing very easily could be rolled out to other stores. The focus of the renovation is to provide an all-encompassing store experience with a focus on service and merchandise experimentation. Every aspect of the design is being customized to complement the lifestyle of the Macy’s customer.”
The Easton Town Center store is considered one of 30 “platinum” doors in the chain because they lead Macy’s in sales, profit, service and future growth potential. These stores are encouraged to experiment with enhanced selling and service models.
The mall is a destination for shoppers in central Ohio, and is often used for testing prototypes. Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and ceo of L Brands and an investor in Easton, put new brands through the paces at the center over the years.
A major focus on the revamped Macy’s first floor is the health and wellness department called Restore, Nourish and Strengthen, offering men’s and women’s activewear; Finish Line footwear for women, men and children; Gaiam Yoga and fitness products, and tech accessories from Fitbit, among others. A full-service juice and smoothie bar, Berry Blendz, will be in operation and vending machines will stock healthy snacks.
The store is using analytics and sales data to determine what product categories to invest in. “We see it throughout sales numbers,” Newton said. “The whole active business has been explosive. Easton just opened a Whole Foods. The trends around us are telling us this is an important business to her.
“We’re looking at this not just from a product and presentation perspective,” Newton said, adding that the department will be run by an expert with a nutrition and exercise science background. “This health and wellness expert will train the health and wellness ambassadors [or sales associates]. We also have some other areas where we’ve beefed up our staffing so that we can better connect with customers.”
Speaking of connecting, Connect @Macy’s one-on-one service can help shoppers navigate the entire store. The connect desk and buy-online-pick-up-in-store desk are located near the entrance. “You can retrieve your packages,” Newton said. “If you bought a dress for an event but forgot the hosiery and shoes, the Connect @Macy’s representative takes you to those departments.”
My Stylist @Macy’s, which is basically a personal shopper, isn’t new, but its treatment at Easton is — the service is front-and-center in the middle of the main floor with its own lobby and “gorgeous” fitting rooms for men and women. “This service used to be buried,” Newton said. “It was a best-kept secret. We’re taking it from a place that was pretty discreet to a place where you can’t miss it. We hired more people and added a My Stylist wedding specialist.”
There will be dedicated stylists in the men’s Nautica department as well.
It would be heresy to move traditional first-floor categories such as cosmetics, handbags and jewelry off the main floor. “No categories were relocated,” Newton said. Rather, the store analyzed its business and exited “businesses where our customers were voting ‘no,’ areas that we didn’t need to be in. Some things that may be important to a store across the city may not be important to this building.
“Social dresses was on this floor, but we took that off. We expanded cosmetics significantly. We downsized some departments by editing down,” she said, noting that juniors was edited as were some brand assortments.
The enlarged beauty area features a Bluemercury shop and spa room (Macy’s bought the beauty specialist retailer in March 2015), open-sell displays with more room for maneuvering were built for all brands, including Chanel, which often eschews the design. There’s a designated area for beauty programs such as master classes and visits by national makeup artists.
“Every single counter has been changed,” Newtown said. “One of the new concepts is the event area, so that we can have something going on every day of the week.”
Macy’s partnerships with other brands are represented at the Columbus unit. The first LensCrafters in the chain is at Easton Town Center with a dedicated space for a licensed optometrist.
The Tux Shop at Macy’s, operated by Men’s Wearhouse, is intended to supplement the store’s burgeoning bridal business. “We’re always in conversation with different vendors,” Newton said. “We feel, ‘Why not bring in those that do it best.’”
A vastly expanded bridal-dress assortment for bridesmaids and mothers-of-the-bride, as well as shoes, will be available, including Adrianna Papell dresses that can be ordered in 10 different colors.
A Papyrus department is meant to underscore the retailer’s claim of being “the gift-giving headquarters,” Newton said. “Now customers don’t have to go somewhere else to finish the gift.”
The store for the first time will carry an assortment of loose diamonds, allowing customers to build and design their own engagement rings. A new fine-jewelry viewing room was built to accommodate couples.
The store is going for bolder “visual moments,” such as the runway with 20 to 30 mannequins wearing the latest trends that shoppers will see upon entering the store. “It will be extremely impressive, showing the customer how to put it all together,” Newton said. “This will give them an impression right when they walk through the door.”
A lounge has been carved out in the shoe area. Home products are merchandised by color and product type versus brand and home décor items have been added to accessorize the furniture department.
From big ideas to small innovations, Macy’s Easton unit is the lab. “All the shirts in the men’s department are merchandised upright so you can file through for your size” rather than searching heaping piles of shirts. “It’s easier to find. Those are the kinds that things that are also being tested,” Newton said.
It remains to be seen whether the ideas, big or small, will be enough to move the needle and help Macy’s gain traction. The retailer has been under fire from investors impatient for its share price to rise.
Macy’s comparable-store sales were down 2.5 percent last year and earnings per diluted share dropped 14.3 percent, and the results so far this year haven’t been any better. The company has reduced its forecasts for the year, including predicting comp-sales down 3 to 4 percent.
“It’s definitely been a year of transition,” Lundgren said recently. “The industry and Macy’s are clearly facing a challenging period.”
At the retailer’s annual general meeting at its headquarters in Cincinnati last month, Lundgren had hinted at many of the initiatives seen in Easton, including the wellness area and expanded bridal offerings.
He also, once again, was put in the position of having to defend the department store format. “If department stores were not around today, someone in Silicon Valley or somewhere would be inventing them,” he told journalists after the meeting.
Department stores have challenges and need changes, he acknowledged, but “I don’t think the concept of department stores is going away.”