April 21, 2017

By Alexandra Singer

Every day we read articles about how retail is dying, or at the very least undergoing a dramatic and potentially devastating evolution, raising the question…is the retail “bubble” bursting? Should we be doing a course correction at this point, amending our five-year plans to slow projected growth? Are there fewer sources of reliable, high-responding prospect names available?

We say a firm ‘no.’ Belardi/Ostroy’s business is experiencing appreciable grow through the launch of new catalogs by previously pure-play online retailers, wholesale brands and traditional retailers that are looking for a cost-effective way to find that next responsive customer. These clients find the catalog to be a valuable vehicle, especially for driving demand from customers with positive long-term value. But it is just one part of their marketing mix. In short, our clients are not relying on the co-ops for 80% of their new customers.

Retailers that have run aground (and there are many) are typically too big and increasingly irrelevant, and have thus been forced to shut stores if they’ve been lucky enough to stay alive. Yet, 87% of retail sales in this country are still in physical stores, reinforcing the contention that having a brick and mortar presence still fulfills a huge demand. Being successful in retail is about having a varied marketing mix and skillfully leveraging all channels. In other words, never relying too much on one channel, as consumers’ marketing and shopping preferences are variable and ever-changing.

The cooperative databases Belardi/Ostroy works closely with are constantly evolving. They don’t want their businesses to die, so they are bringing in new sources of data to improve prospecting, and they are creating new revenue streams. And the way we work with the co-ops is unique: we incorporate unparalleled knowledge of how each co-op model performs across our client roster when we’re mapping out strategy for a new client. And we use that expertise to greatly impact the models for each client individually, as every retailer’s requirements and goals are different. But we have clients in so many different categories, targeting so many different audiences, that we have an amazing cross-section of model tests from every co-op from which to refer.

But what happens when there’s an appreciable decline in response rates? We could immediately point the finger at the sources of prospecting names. But it’s also prudent to look to other likely causes such as branding or merchandising issues that often negatively impact prospecting performance.  So what ultimately makes for a truly successful mailing? Relevance, authenticity, staying true to your brand and offering the customer a unique experience is the secret sauce. The best prospect models in the world can’t compensate for a marketer that lacks these critical elements.

For the past three years, January has been a soft month for most of our clients, as the traditional sale/clearance demand in January was pulled back into December with the increase in promotional discounting. Interestingly, we are hearing January was stronger this year than in past years, even with stormy weather across the country and relatively little new product out there. This could be a positive sign of what’s to come in spring. Just last week, the Commerce Department stated that January beat economists’ forecasts. As we look ahead to the next few months, the home category is anxious to see if a new season will give a boost to the 12-18 month softness they’ve been experiencing, and for our apparel clients, it will be interesting to see if the mature brands can drive enough newness and excitement to compete with so many new and emerging brands.

The following article has given us some pause. It was written by the man who predicted the housing crisis, and who is now predicting that the retail bubble will burst. (First of all, what bubble?) He lists 39 retail stocks- and 37 are down. For anyone keeping up on the industry, it is apparent that big retail is down- especially in stores. At the same time, we have seen solid growth in specialty retail and some incredible success stories from emerging brands. Some could argue that the consumer has shifted away from these large, mature brands because she wants something new- not the same old stuff from the same old company. Last week I was with a client whose peers have literally been demolished by Amazon, and yet their business is strong and growing. We truly believe consumer demand is there (as we are seeing so far in Q1), but we all have to work harder to get it!

Here’s to a strong spring season ahead,
Polly & Your Friends at Belardi/Ostroy

P.S. We hope to see you at our conference this spring in Napa. Click here to register.

January 11, 2016

Happy new year! We hope 2017 is off to a great start for you.

We shared with you the ups and downs throughout the holiday season. In short, ecommerce was strong, physical stores were weak, Amazon ruled the day, and promotional activity reached new levels. Across the board, the apparel category fared better than home, and emerging brands fared better than mature brands. Our year end industry reports coming out in late January will show more detail by category. Overall, and especially with the election, consumer holiday shopping narrowed to just a few weeks, starting just before Thanksgiving, and even after Thanksgiving there were slow days mid-week. Here are some of the highlights and stats that stood out to us.

Consumer spending continues to shift online:
44% of all Black Friday sales took place online (NRF) vs. 15% off-holiday.
Adobe reported that ecommerce sales increased 11% over LY (their information is based on analysis of 24.6B visits to shopping websites).
RetailNext reported mall traffic dropped 12.3% in November and December; however, the Thomson Reuters Same Store Sales Index registered a 1.8% gain for December.
Of the 70 percent of adults who visited a mall this season, a quarter said they did not shop at a store, according to ICSC. Nearly half reported dining at a restaurant.
Adobe reported that mobile devices accounted for 50% of visits to retailers’ websites, with a 23% increase in sales from these devices YOY.
Adobe also concluded that email marketing drove a fifth of all holiday online sales.

Amazon sets new records:
Amazon shipped more than 1B items worldwide this holiday season.
On the Monday before Christmas, 49.2% of all online sales in the U.S. were made on Amazon (Slice Intelligence). No other retailer came close. Best Buy had 3.9% and Target and Walmart were at 2.7% and 2.6% respectively.
Amazon shipped 50% more items for third party vendors (more than 28 million items from third party vendors just on Cyber Monday).
Amazon accounted for more than half of online product searches in December, with 52% of searches starting with Amazon compared to 26% with search engines, according to Google Search Trend data

Promotions reach new levels:
Of more than $6 billion in North American online retail transactions, Dynamic Action reported that retailers promoted much more heavily in 2016 than in 2015. Overall promotions were up 52% specifically within the holiday season.
The average apparel discount increased to 31.3% in December, according to the research firm Conlumino; however, they also reported that the amount of product on sale did not increase after December 26th, as it did last year when unseasonably warm weather left too much winter apparel on the rack.
Rakuten Marketing reported that average order value was down 5%; a downward trend in AOS is something we are seeing from many of you as a result of promotions.
A mid-December release from Retail Dive reported that the reliance on promotions had reduced product profit margins for North American retailers by 19% compared to last year, and driven up marketing costs by 7%, BUT with sales failing to drive new customer acquisition.

More interesting stats:
On average, 10% of items bought during the holidays are returned, with the large majority at stores (NRF).
2017 is expected to be stable but not spectacular, led primarily by ecommerce and international growth.
U.S. consumer confidence climbed to the highest level since 2001 in December.

After a year with highs and lows, we are hearing from many of you that your needs are two-fold: 1) the need to identify incremental, effective marketing channels and 2) the need to find meaningful ways to improve new customer acquisition. We hear you and we are ready to rise up to the challenge.

We wish you the very best in 2017, and we look forward to a great year together,
Polly & Your Friends at Belardi/Ostroy


December 21, 2016

It is hard to believe the holiday season is winding down so quickly, but we hope you have a chance to slow down this week and spend time with your family and friends.

It looks like the holiday season is shaping up to be shorter than ever. Consumers waited to shop until Thanksgiving, and it will be a bumpy ride right to the end. 80% of our clients are reporting that month to date sales are up to LY, but it has not been a stellar season. With the exception of our emerging brand clients, single digit growth has been hard to come by and at the expense of much larger promotions. Our retail trade pubs are filled with news of retailers taking a hit; brands like The Limited, Macy’s, J Crew, American Apparel, and Sears continue to struggle.
It is harder than ever to break apart sales performance from promotions, which by several reports are up significantly. A few facts from Dynamic Actions Retail Holiday Index:
Promotions, including 30% off sales and buy-one-get-one deals, are up 34% over last year to date, and up 52% during the holiday season (Nov. 1 through Dec. 5) compared to 2015.
A reliance on promotions has reduced product profit margins for North American retailers by 19% compared to last year, and retailers have seen marketing costs rise 7%, with a 25% jump over the holiday season so far. Yet sales are failing to drive new customer acquisition, which is down 12% for the year and 6% over the holiday season.
At the same time, there are some reports of strength in retail, but if you look closely it is in categories like Outlet and not in specialty retail. November retail sales grew a solid 5% year-over-year and 0.1% from an already-strong October, according to the NRF, which exclude automobiles, gasoline stations and restaurants. Online and other non-store sales grew 15.3% year-over-year, reflecting the growth of online shopping. This mirrors what we are hearing from many of you, that ecommerce is very strong while retail store sales continue to be soft and down to LY. This is reflected in the 14% decline in seasonal workers hired by retailers in the first two months of the holiday season, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

In a season with record catalog volumes, there were a few that stood out to me last week:
· Stylish and playful mini-catalogs from Huckberry, JMcLaughlin, and Marine Layer all focused on gifting.

· A new men’s catalog from Todd Snyder (and a shout-out to our creative team who did an outstanding job putting this piece together).

· A suite of delicious-looking, gourmet food gift catalogs from Dean & Deluca, Mackenzie, Petrossian, and Olive & Cocoa.

· “Gifts that give back” from Bambeco’s latest catalog- refreshing and beautiful as expected.

At Belardi/Ostroy, we are relentlessly focused on progress. Over the last year, there have been tremendous improvements in technology and data. At the same time, we have always been focused on holistic planning across channels. After extensive time and resources, we are pleased to announce our Integrated Planning solution coming in early 2017. Our goal is quite simple: Deliver an integrated marketing plan across channels to both customers and prospects at a known addressable level in order to improve response rates and increase marketing effectiveness. We still see marketing budgets being built and executed at the program level, but the future is here. Our goal is to first start by identifying your target audience of customers and prospects, determine your most effective marketing channels online and offline, and then build a seasonal plan focused on the specific contact strategy to each segment, essentially planning “consumer first” instead of marketing first. More to come after the new year – stay tuned!

Lastly, we continue to work on our speaker lineup for our May summit in Napa, and we are excited to announced that Carlos Alberini, CEO from Lucky Brand, has joined our list of industry leaders. We look forward to seeing you there. Click here for registration.

Wishing you the very best in the new year (personally + professionally),
Polly & Your Friends at Belardi/Ostroy

December 7, 2016

After a very strong Thanksgiving weekend and Cyber Monday for most of you, we are hearing that sales fell off dramatically Wednesday through Friday with some pick up over the weekend. The holiday season continues to be a bumpy ride. Categorically, the children’s market is doing well while the food/gift market continues to be soft. Results are very mixed across our apparel and home clients. Emerging brands continue to thrive, even at full price, showing us just how much consumers are hungry for something new. Interestingly, the men’s business is soft across the board, but they are comp’ing some big growth in the last few years.

Some of our favorite stats from last week:
· Of the $289 spent over Thanksgiving, $214 was on gifts, or 74%.

· Types of stores shopped Thanksgiving weekend: Department stores- 50.9%, Discount stores- 34.2%, Electronics stores- 31%, and Clothing or accessories stores- 28.4%.

· The most popular time to buy online is weekdays from 12-2pm and on Sunday evenings.

· 48% of holiday shoppers said they did the majority of their shopping on or before Cyber Monday.

· 41% of online shoppers purchased from a new retailer.

· 1 in 3 retailers dedicate 31-50% of their total online marketing budget to holiday efforts.

· 38% of marketers do not use personalization in their marketing efforts.

· Only 1.7% of E-Commerce orders on Black Friday through Cyber Monday came from social media (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest).

Multiple Sources: NRF, Adept Blog, EConsultancy, Adobe, Google, Statista, TopRank.

We continue to see huge discounts, especially from the big multi-channel retailers in home and apparel as well as big box companies. We have taken the position that free shipping is no longer a promotion but an expectation. Here are some great free shipping stats from UPS:
93% of shoppers take action for free shipping.
Free shipping was deemed the 2nd most important factor for shoppers when purchasing online.
83% of shoppers will wait two more days in order to get free shipping.
Delivery speed is the 4th most important factor in the online buying process.
50% of shoppers will choose a slower transit time for free shipping.

After record volumes of mail every week in November, my mail volume last week was down to LY (69 pieces vs. 82) with the biggest declines for home (9 TY vs. 16 LY) and apparel (21 vs. 27). It will be interesting to see if there is more mail volume this week as companies try to capitalize on the trend towards consumers buying later. Some of the eye-catching pieces included a tri-fold from Olukai, Wrap London’s smaller catalog, Ted & Muffy (boots catalog – never seen before), Chewy.com (sent a dog Christmas card), Monticello (home catalog – never seen before), Torrid (fast fashion for the younger plus size woman), and Sundance’s Almanac (men’s only catalog).

Lastly, we are hard at work building a terrific speaker line-up for our spring conference in Napa. If you have any recommendations- or if you would like to speak yourself!- please don’t hesitate to let us know. Our speaker line-up this year includes industry leaders such as: Jodi Watson (SVP Petco Direct), Chris Nicklo (CMO ZGallerie), Lisa Bayne (CEO Artful Home), Sam Yaggan (former CEO Match.com), Beth Gumm (CMO American Giant), and Brian Tsung (CMO Bambeco). Here is the link to registration (retailers only).

As always, we hope this email finds you well and enjoying the spirit of the holidays,
Polly & Your Friends at Belardi/Ostroy