Re­tail­ers tak­ing sides in Ama­zon, Wal­mart bat­tle

An­a­lysts say some brands might not be able to sur­vive alone

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY ANNE D’IN­NO­CEN­ZIO As­so­ci­ated Press

Store chains feel­ing the up­heaval in re­tail are mak­ing strate­gic al­liances — and that can mean pick­ing sides.

Kohl’s shop­pers can find Ama­zon de­vices at some stores, and re­turn items they bought from the on­line re­tailer. Nike has made some of its sneak­ers avail- able through Ama­zon. The owner of Sears is sell­ing Ken­more­branded ap­pli­ances on Ama­zon in some mar­kets. And Best Buy is team­ing up with Ama­zon for voice shop­ping.

Mean­while, Wal­mart, which has the most store lo­ca­tions, is as­sem­bling a coali­tion of its own: buy­ing smaller on­line brands and be­com­ing the high­est-pro­file part­ner to Google in voice shop­ping. And the dis­count chain that touts low prices an­nounced a web part­ner­ship Mon­day with high-end depart­ment store Lord & Tay­lor.

“When you are in an his­toric un­charted chaotic sit­u­a­tion, you of­ten see these strange bed­fel­lows,” said Joel Bines, co-head of AlixPart­ners’ re­tail prac­tice and a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at the firm.

Since the be­gin­ning of the year, sev­eral re­tail­ers have filed for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion, in­clud­ing well-known names like Toys R Us. And re­tail­ers have an­nounced thou­sands of store clos­ings, with more ex­pected. An­a­lysts say some brands re­al­ize they might not suc­ceed alone.

“You have to be chal­leng­ing ac­cepted norms. So you might find part­ners that you nor­mally wouldn’t have considered,” said Wendy Lieb­mann, CEO of WSL Strate­gic Re­tail. “This has ex­ploded be­cause of the ur­gency to change. You look at re­tail­ers who are clos­ing or strug­gling.”

So as Ama­zon moves even fur­ther into fash­ion, home elec­tron­ics and gro­cery stores, and ce­ments shop­per loy­alty with its $99-a-year Prime mem­ber­ship, stores are de­vel­op­ing part­ner­ships with the on­line re­tailer to in­crease cus­tomer traf­fic or ex­pand their of­fer­ings on­line.

At the par­tic­i­pat­ing Kohl’s stores, shop­pers will find 1,000square-foot Ama­zon ar­eas that sell Echos, Fire tablets and other gad­gets. Peo­ple can also ar­range to have an Ama­zon em­ployee visit their home and in­stall a de­vice or rec­om­mend smart home prod­ucts to buy. And some stores pack and ship el­i­gi­ble Ama­zon re­turn items for free. Kohl’s hopes the ar­range­ment brings in shop­pers who might pick up clothes or home items.

An­a­lysts say other depart­ment stores, fac­ing the same

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