In search of a merchant
Carole Sloan, founding editor-in-chief -- Home Textiles Today, 11/11/2002 12:00:00 AM
Where are the merchants? And does anyone want them — really?
In this era of Wall Street blowups of retail models of what the Street thinks all retailers should be like — and look like — there's little relationship to the reality of the world.
The key issue seems to be more a numbers thing than a merchandising or marketing thing. Looks like what has happened is that the quest for numbers performance has awesomely impacted the rest of the business.
In retailing, one of Wall Street's favorite among favorites — Kohl's — is under scrutiny in Massachusetts, one of the most puritanical states when it comes to business practices.
And what Kohl's has to answer to is the state's claim that the retailer's pricing claims aren't quite up to snuff. Coupons, hours-long sales and percentages may not be what that governing entity sees as fit for their state.
And now we have an ever-growing river of questions about credit policies among retailers.
Let everyone buy on credit, the percentages for monthly fees would more than offset the defaults.
Federated was one of the first in the new open credit era when it bought Fingerhut, long a retailer targeting the credit-challenged community. In its quest to grow the Fingerhut business, the customer base was expanded. And we all know the finale. Or will it be — now that the business is back in the hands of its earlier ceo.
Then we move forward to Sears, the long-time purveyor of credit to mainstream America. The problem of bad debt provisions has been biting at management for at least a decade.
This is a company that by now should know how to make these programs work.
And then we look at Spiegel. Once an upscale catalog with trendy stuff for the home and body, it tried to pick up some of Sears' audience after it dropped its catalog.
Not good. It added downscale customers to its file, found credit problems and had merchandise that was not simpatico to this new constituency. And its existing audience was turned off by promotions.
And now we have Target, the Wall Street nanosecond darling now defending the growth of its credit business.
Maybe it's now time to have another refrain from "Bring back the merchants."
We would love your feedback!
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