lit up graph showing business growth 2020
These major brands are responding to trends by offering personalized consumer experiences, telling stories via social media and stoking brand partnerships. — Getty Images/Urupong

To drive retail sales in 2020, home shopping network QVC is eyeing new storytelling frontiers on Instagram; Nordstrom is bringing express alterations to more markets; while WW, the company formerly known as Weight Watchers, set up shop in Kohl’s, dishing out weight-loss advice in pop-up shops amid the clothing and cookware aisles, executives told CO—.

The iconic diet and lifestyle company’s very mention in the same breath as QVC and Nordstrom speaks to the changing definition of retail and the rise of the retail-as-a-service model, as brands test partnerships, concierge-like, consumer-education-led and community-driven experiences, while pivoting to social networks such as Instagram where shoppers spend much of their digital lives.

In conversations with CO—, brand executives’ 2020 growth goals highlight a retail industry in flux, interviews during the National Retail Federation’s January show revealed.

The emergence of e-commerce and digitally native brands have birthed new retail concepts and co-branding experiments between disruptors and legacy retailers — from Amazon kiosks at Kohl’s stores to Nordstrom’s Rent the Runway drop-off hubs, where shoppers pick up the digital-first brand’s fashion rentals.

For retailers, the idea is to drive foot traffic and churn sales by offering consumers newfound shopping perks as well as seamless, contextually resonant “phygital” (physical and digital) experiences, as brands meet shoppers in new and untraditional spaces.

"The industry's been talking about the omnichannel retail imperative for years, but there's no single formula that works for each brand — it's really all about context," Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst at eMarketer, told CO—. “Contextual retail keeps brands relevant by letting the consumer dictate the terms of engagement."

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Mick Doyle, VP, Nordstrom. — Nordstrom

Expanding convenience and bespoke services

Mick Doyle, VP, Nordstrom

Nordstrom is bringing online order pickup and merchandise alterations to more locations this year, aiming for a concierge-like and bespoke dimension to the convenience options that shoppers expect today.

In addition to pickup and return of online orders, the tony retailer’s inventory-free Nordstrom Local “service hubs” in New York City and Los Angeles offer express alterations and even free styling advice.

The strategy reflects the expansion of Nordstrom’s “market strategy,” which first launched in Los Angeles, the department store’s largest market, and where the retailer says results are exceeding expectations.

“Over the past few years, we’ve enhanced how we serve our customers in Los Angeles and New York through our market strategy by providing them greater access to services, increased merchandise selection and faster delivery — ultimately enabling customers to shop on their terms,” Mick Doyle, vice president of market strategy, told CO—.

“2018 was the year of Los Angeles; 2019 was the year of New York,” he said. “In 2020, Nordstrom is excited to scale our market strategy to customers in our top 10 markets.”

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Mindy Grossman, CEO, WW. — WW

Spreading its brand presence via Kohl’s, Oprah and wellness-geared tech

Mindy Grossman, CEO, WW

WW is working to insinuate the brand into the hearts of new consumers several ways this year. It’s courting tech-savvy, personalization-hungry digital natives with the myWW program and app — its first weight loss program to match members with a customized plan; tapping the Oprah effect with Oprah’s 2020 Vision, its wellness-geared motivational tour (Winfrey is a WW shareholder); and penetrating retail stores with the rollout last month of pop-up shops to Kohl’s stores, CEO Mindy Grossman told CO— during the show.

Touting a shared goal to help consumers live healthier lives, 55 WW wellness kiosks outfitted Kohl’s stores throughout the country for the month of January, where shoppers who might have been browsing for a vacuum or a Simply Vera V-neck top could meet with a coach to discuss their wellness and weight loss goals.

For WW, the Kohl’s partnership granted the brand a presence in an entirely new setting and exposure to hefty consumer foot traffic, said Grossman, a retail veteran who previously served as the CEO of HSN.

“If we’re going to reach as many people as we want to reach, it’s really [about] having our brand show up in different venues in different ways to different audiences,” Grossman said. “That’s really what we’re looking to do.”

If we’re going to reach as many people as we want to reach, it’s really [about] having our brand show up in different venues in different ways to different audiences.

Mindy Grossman, CEO, WW

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Mike George, CEO, Qurate Retail Group. — Qurate Retail Group

Live from Instagram, it’s QVC

Mike George, CEO, Qurate Retail Group

This year, QVC and HSN will mine Instagram for growth, a digital space that is the natural evolution if its TV shopping model, said Mike George CEO of Qurate Retail Group, parent company of the home shopping networks.

“Instagram is a powerful platform to tell stories and we’re a storytelling company,” he told CO—.

It’s a nod to shoppers’ increasing exposure to brands on social networks, particularly fashion and lifestyle goods, the very merchandise sold by QVC and HSN’s program hosts.

It’s also an implicit play for younger shoppers. Polling from e-commerce platform Yotpo found that 50.6% of millennials said their most recent fashion purchase was inspired by what they saw on social media, underlining the rising influence of channels like Instagram. That’s not lost on George.

“We care about Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms, but for folks who might not know about our company or many not have an affiliation to it, to be able to present a compelling product, a compelling story, a compelling influencer on Instagram, and then connect her back into the wider QVC and HSN ecosystem,” represents fresh opportunities for the brands, George told CO—.

On Facebook, QVC and HSN might engage in a live stream of its traditional show, using Facebook essentially as an extension of its TV platform, he said.

By contrast, “Instagram is probably more about telling stories in small sound bites and creating interest that then drives people perhaps to Facebook [and] perhaps to their own mobiles device where they can engage in more live content,” George said.

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James Rhee, CEO, Ashley Stewart. — Ashley Stewart

Growing sales with a ‘community’-driven movement for underserved shoppers

James Rhee, CEO, Ashley Stewart

This year, plus-sized lifestyle brand Ashley Stewart will stoke its “If you build community, they will buy,” strategy with bigger events and a growing multimedia arm at AshleyTV, nurturing its devotion to its core shopper, African-American women, who are woefully underserved by marketers, James Rhee, chairman and CEO, told CO—.

Beyond new merchandise like the recent launch of the first inclusivity-sized collection from Kardashian sisters Kendall + Kylie, the body-positivity-espousing brand is counting on local events and its signature Finding Ashley Stewart Tour to drive both shopper engagement and sales this year, he said.

The nationwide tour/contest, which generated over one million votes in 2019, searches for the retailer’s 2020 ambassador, an everyday woman who embodies the brand’s essence, with a finale hosted by comedienne and cohost of “The Real” Loni Love, whose eponymous fashion line hit the chain’s 88 stores last fall.

Ashley Stewart’s heightened media presence and the cultural capital it’s building with celebrity partners from the Jenners to Loni Love and Whoopi Goldberg have struck a resonant chord with the brand’s customer, helping to turn years of losses into profit gains, he said.

That’s worth noting, as plus-sized retail has been an embattled market of late, with the Avenue filing for bankruptcy last year while Lane Bryant has been working to reverse steep sales declines. “We continue to invest heavily in the concept of Ashley Stewart,” Rhee said, “its main product being community, confidence and safety.”

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Seth Goldman, Executive Chairman, Beyond Meat. — Beyond Meat

Spreading the fake-meat phenomenon to food service and foreign markets

Seth Goldman, Executive Chairman, Beyond Meat

From beefless burgers to chickens hatched in a petri dish, food disruptor Beyond Meat will continue to milk the surging demand for faux meat via multichannel retail expansion, as consumers opt for food they deem healthier eats.

Building on its distribution in supermarkets and mass merchants from Whole Foodsand Krogerto Target, the plant-based protein startup whose mega-successful IPO made headlines last year, is penetrating warehouse clubs, spurred by a “positive” test in Costco, and expanding further in convenience store like Wawa and Sheetz, Seth Goldman, executive chairman of Beyond Meat, told CO— following his NRF session.

The foodservice channel is also a key push, as is international growth.

The company is expanding its "P.L.T" meatless patty test with McDonald’s, just as Beyond Meatball sandwiches roll out to Subway stores in Canada. And it’s setting up production in Asia to serve that market, too, Goldman said.

Another priority this year is raising Beyond Meat’s brand profile, and the company has plucked a new chief marketing officer from Coke to do just that, he told CO—.

Goldman isn’t fretting over the incursion of food giants like Nestle and Perdue treading on its animal-free-meat turf. “It hasn’t impacted our sales,” he said during the NRF session.

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Published March 02, 2020