Retailers see innovation, speed as keys to growth

on January 12 2010 2:00 PM

Retailers are using a host of strategies in adapting to the downturn -- from improving their products to expanding their e-commerce businesses -- which they hope will better position themselves for a rebound in the economy.

J Crew Group Inc Chief Executive Millard Drexler said on a panel on Monday that even though technology is changing the retail environment more rapidly than ever, creativity and good products remain the key to success.

At the end of the day, I think the franchise lasts as long as the creative product gets flown through. You can talk all day long about anything we do ... but last year told us to be better than we are, to be more creative. I don't think that's ever changed.

James Fielding, president of the Disney Store retail chain , said that during the most recent holiday shopping season, consumers across the globe responded to newness, quality and then value, when it came to shopping at its stores.

We were smart in our pricing, but we led with quality and newness, Fielding said.

For British billionaire Philip Green, owner of the fashion retailer Topshop, speed to market is just as important, or more important than the price of an item.

How we turn our stock and how quickly we can get to market is more important than saving 20 cents and hoping the goods arrive, Green said on the same panel, hosted by investment banking firm Financo Inc.

He added that quality has also become more important than ever, due to the sheer information available to the consumer, via the Internet.

Our Internet business has to act just as another store. It has to be better than another store, purely because consumers can visit it before they leave their house.

EXPANDING ON THE NET

In an era when teenagers spend more time socializing online than they do at malls, Hot Topic Inc Chief Executive Betsy McLaughlin said there are three reasons her teenage customers will go to the mall -- must-have product, competitive pricing, and a special in-person experience.

You can buy whatever you want online, but if you want to meet your favorite singer or if you want to meet your favorite star from a movie, you absolutely can't do that online, you've got to be there in person, McLaughlin said. Establishing that loyalty has never been more important. You have to have one of those three things going on at all times.

Regarding e-commerce, the executives all agreed that it was a critical tool in broadening demand for their products.

Drexler said J Crew currently sells its merchandise online in the United States and Canada, and that he has plans to expand that to Britain next year. Still, he stressed that he was in no hurry to expand the capability too quickly.

I don't know what the rush to be big is for ... For us, bigger is not better, better is better. We're in no hurry.

Green, who recently opened the first U.S. Topshop store in New York City, said his company's website sells merchandise in 18 countries. In the U.S. he said it should grow as he nears his goal of having 10 or 12 flagship U.S. stores, but he said he would be selective about where he opened them.

I've never quite understood the shopping mall business in America because in half these places you never see any people, Green said. We like High Street. We understand the High Street. I'm personally a bit nervous about the shopping malls in America. We want to be on Main Street in major cities.

Meanwhile, Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco PLC , is looking to capitalize on a host of trends, including a growing consumer emphasis on health, convenience and climate change, to grow its business in the next year, said its chief executive, Terry Leahy on Tuesday at a conference hosted by the National Retail Federation.

He also said that globalization and the opening of new markets is bringing more opportunities to businesses both within their domestic markets and abroad.

There's a huge demand ... for people to have a better material life and businesses like ours can respond to that, Leahy said.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller)

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