Posts Tagged ‘California’

Retail reflections from the Road – part two

June 26, 2009

I’m back again with some comments about my experiences as a consumer in the home of consumerism – the USA (California specifically).

Firstly, I can (finally) speak with first hand experience about the monster of all retailers – Wal-Mart.  I popped into one of the stores on the outskirts of a relatively innocuous mid-size town.  It was a pretty underwhelming experience, not overly different to an Aussie Big-W or K-Mart.  The merchandise was certainly cheap, but it was also pretty cruddy.  I wouldn’t be heading there for much more than some brand name essentials that I might buy in bulk.  The vibe was very much indicative of the spartan practices of the firm.

Of course, this is exactly what this firm trades on.  Much of the sources of competitive advantage come from cutting the fat out of the customer interface and all other aspects of the value chain (see much more discussion of that here). The latter is not likely to be obvious to the casual visitor.

There is one other aspect worthy of note in both Wal-Mart and numerous other large-scale retailers we’ve encountered. We are frequently served by elderly sales assistants, male and female.  This segment of the labour force is rarely employed in such roles in Australia.  Presumably turnover amongst them would be much lower than among the usual troops of high school and uni students enduring such employment down our way.  This springs from significant differences in industrial relations laws and the like.  It would be intriguing to know whether such variation is viewed as a further barrier to these US firms entering Australia.


Retail reflections from the Road – part one

June 24, 2009

Blogging hasn’t been front of mind for me over the past 10 days of so.  Indeed, I have been fixated on consuming burgers, seeing sights, reading roadsigns and booking hotel/motel rooms as I traipse down through California towards San Diego.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d take this opportunity to relate my an early experience in my travels to previous posts on this here Blog.

In San Francisco I had the opportunity to experience Aussie shopping centre giant Westfield‘s US expansion.  They had done a fine job of branding and delivering a suitably slick real estate and retail offering.

There were a couple of Aussie retailers on display (Napoleon Perdis and courier-bagsters Crumpler), as well as the expected mix of US and international chains.  I was disappointed by Zara and H&M‘s offerings (their clothes didn’t seem quite as flashy yet utilitarian as they do in Europe).

I was more impressed by the offerings of Martin+Osa, a fashion house that it turns out is a brand extension from the more ubiquitous and mainstream American Eagle Outfitters.  These two brands serve as a strong reminder of the sheer size and scale of the US market and the limited need for US retailers to internationalise.  American Eagle is yet to spread its wings beyond Canada, while Martin+Osa only has stores in 17 states.  Nevertheless they are able to offer decent quality clothing at their respective (surprisingly low) price points.  Australia-only fashion retailers would simply not be able to compete at that level.

The presence of Perdis and Crumpler remind us that Aussie retailers really do need a neat point of difference to justify tackling the US scene (and beyond).

More on retail in the coming days…