LAS VEGAS — Macy’s Inc. chief executive officer Jeff Gennette didn’t sugarcoat where Macy’s has been and where it’s going over the next few years.
The ceo, who kicked off the annual shop-talking retailing conference in Las Vegas, was clear in what the retailer would need to do to win over customers.
“We have a lot going for us, but Macy’s heritage isn’t going to be enough to guarantee success,” Gennette said. “Yesterday’s playbook isn’t going to help us win tomorrow.”
Gennette described 2015 and 2016 as tough years for the retailer as it embarked on a closer look at its customers to assess the business’ challenges. “What we heard from our customers was a wake-up call,” he said, and what resulted was last year’s strategy to reset the business.
Gennette pointed to positive comparables in the fourth quarter as one indication the business is headed in the right direction. There’s still more work to be done, moves Gennette outlined in his talk.
This year the retailer is set to relaunch its flagship on the web as well as mobile. On that latter front, Macy’s has been testing a mobile checkout system, with that capability expected to be rolled out to all Macy’s stores by year-end. He also said the company will up its activities around personalization and also leverage beauty associates, viewing them as micro-influencers.
The company, Gennette said, has also found what the executive called a “practical application” of virtual reality that will be scaled in the Macy’s furniture business this year. Customers will be able to lay out furniture in a room and then, via a VR experience, be able to step within their fully furnished room. That technology is expected to be scaled in 60 doors by the summer.
Backstage, the retailer’s off-price channel, continues to do well, Gennette said, with Macy’s stores that add Backstage seeing a lift in their business. This year more than 100 Backstage locations are expected to be added, including an expansion to the West Coast.
The company’s also identified 50 stores that will get what Gennette called “extra weight” behind their merchandising, food and beverage and staffing. What works in those 50 doors is expected to roll out to other stores next year.
It’s a mix of initiatives making up the game plan, with product assortment the final piece in that strategy that calls for an elevation and editing of the merchandise.
“We are editing to reduce the sea of sameness in our bricks-and-mortar stores,” Gennette said.
That falls into what Gennette outlined in three buckets: private brands, exclusives from nationals and a regular release of limited-edition capsules. Exclusives are expected to grow from 29 to 40 percent of the business over the next few years, Gennette said.
Molly Langenstein, general business manager of ready-to-wear for Macy’s, spoke with WWD Monday in more detail about what’s expected for the assortment in the future, ahead of a talk at the conference that she is expected to give on the growth of private label.
“If you want to go to a mall, you have to make that commitment to get into your car or get into whatever your commute is to go to a store. So we need to make sure that the assortments when they get into a store are worthy of that trip,” Langenstein said.
While Macy’s has always had a private label business, the focus has predominantly been on creating lines as assortment gap fillers or to serve an opening price role, Langenstein said.
“What we’ve been switching to for the last couple of years and what you’re going to really see in a more forceful way is how this is dovetailing into more private brands and how we become our own brand,” she said.
She pointed to the brand Aeropostale as a good example. That line used to be sold at Macy’s and then eventually branched off into a brand in their own right with their own stores.
“Really, building this brand architecture and arsenal for our customers to look at that includes, number one, putting more into the garments,” Langenstein said. “Better quality, better make and looking at the tiering structure of good, better, best so that we have that better quality and make within our assortments.”
Macy’s also looks at its consumers through the lens of specific lifestyles, of which there are five, when thinking about the assortment and is now looking to leverage the data it’s collecting through it’s loyalty program or credit card to survey consumers on packing or the actual garments themselves, she said.
That’s something that can be aided with the faster development timeline the company’s now working on with a 15-week calendar from concept to delivery. Still, consumer data can only go so far and isn’t the sole answer when it comes to keeping a pulse on what’s hot or what’s next.
“They [consumers] can be very informative of the here and now,” Langenstein said. “They can’t be as predictive if you were to bring something in maybe six months from now because their information is all about today, but real-time type of information the customers have been very, very helpful.”
To project further out, Langenstein said Macy’s also has that covered with the retailer currently beta testing with a company right now in the apparel space on deeper consumer insights.