Turn a brand into… a HOTEL experience?

So … upscale home furnishing retailer Williams Sonoma will step into the boutique hotel biz? Intriguing!


Puts them into same family as West Elm and Restoration Hardware – so that ‘home-away-from-home’ will feel more like ‘home-home’, for the 1%ers.


A fine illustration of research: eg on

  • how far you can stretch a brand
  • profiling the habits (eg travel) of your customers

But it’s also a strategic move that’s part of the much larger trend -to maximize the ‘experience’ component of ‘product-based’ brands.

And it’s a fine example of the critical need for a SWOT analysis to include indirect competitive threats! Think about how – some years back- alarm installation firms should have seen Rogers as an upcoming threat – though not at all directly involved in ‘home alarms’ at the time, Rogers’ then-business model meant they already had customer billing info and had wired millions of customers’ homes. They already had bundled product presence in those homes and, presumably, consumer trust.

Lego is now not just a product line but also Legolands & travelling flash exhibits; Marvel is now amusement park rides; National Geographic isn’t primarily a magazine but speaker tours, travel tours with professional guides/photographers, etc.

Can’t wait to see the next unexpected shift of a product-based firm into the experiences category!



What does it take for a new platform to become the norm?

Some fine lessons here on why 3D TV – after an exciting start 7 years ago- has expired without ever becoming ‘the new normal’.


To make that critical shift, a new platform must have a ‘certain magical mix’ of:

  • improved performance or experience over current/new breaking formats;
  • a sufficient, unique supplier content feed;
  • premium but affordable pricing (delicate balancing act!);
  • doesn’t hurt if it gets positive ‘buzz’ eg celeb support; and
  • ..is relatively free from inhibiting negative news/reviews.

3D didn’t cut it, but 4K just might. Consider why betamax, LaserDiscs, Digital tape etc failed to become the norm, but CD’s did. Why Clean Diesel seems doomed to lose out to hydrogen /hybrid engines. Streetcars seem posed to lose out to ‘clean buses’. Why Natural Gas replaced Oil home heating furnaces. Why Netflix replaced Blockbuster-type video stores. Why Blackberry smartphones lost out to those by Apple & Google. Why AltaVista, WebCrawler & Yahoo search lost out to Google. And why Bing hasn’t got Google shaking in its boots.


To buy well, apply classic considerations, not passing fashions

News that Kate Spade is potentially up for sale should trigger some interest;


Brick & Mortar enterprises remain relevant, especially in fashion, and Kate Spade may be better off -and more successful- if not a solo act eg as a part of Coach, Michael Kors, PVH, VF Corp, or another firm. Who might be interested in buying, and why? Those are 2 separate questions, as different suitors (given each of their own unique situations) may find different aspects of KS to be appealing and different aspects of KS’s shortcomings to be of concern.

One might think of a Buying Analysis as a score-sheet: after a suitor reviews one’s own strategy, cash situation & ‘organic’ growth potential vs their expected grossed-up potential with KS added in, then they should also consider:

  • what is  the Buyer-Target synergy & skill-set fit? (in this case eg Buying savvy; global expansion savvy; the contacts & expertise for strategic, low risk Licensing in other categories, etc);
  • the incremental customer potential;
  • the global sales growth potential;
  • circumstances (media, markets- malls, cities, regions, nations), demographic or psychographic targets…) where the combined assets give a firm ‘next step up’ critical mass in eg operations, manufacturing, negotiating, talent acquisition/management, etc.

Of course, this simple list conceals a ton of ‘due diligence’ complexity- eg some Suitors may be better able than others to get supplier leverage or licensing leverage for KS; some may be better able to house KS as a co-brand within existing real estate; etc, etc, etc.

Still, though each Suitor’s score-sheet will value the same acquisition differently, imo an EXTRA step a suitor should consider is: What happens if I don’t buy it, but a direct or indirect competitor does? That may sound dog-in-the-manger immature, but it’s a worthy exercise, and especially worth objectively looking at ‘What If’ scenarios. For example: LinkedIn allowed Microsoft buy Skype – imo a major miss –> LinkedIn lost a chance to facilitate Business connections & MS immediately won an appealing instant following & credibility. Apple let former Apple staffers create the Nest thermostat, then let Google buy Nest, effectively leaving the usually visionary Cupertino firm in last-in status in Home Nerve Center category. On the other hand, when Nokia was seeking a Suitor, Microsoft’s competitors rightfully snickered when MS bought them, since Nokia had no proprietary/property edge and since its brand equity & following were consumer focused, not business focused —> just buying hardware will not instantly evolve a B2B marketer into an end consumer marketing expert….

Which leaves me asking: if you can assess a scenario in which a potential competitor buys an asset, can you also create a sense of inflated value, or hype, etc to get a competitor to waste attention & resources on a lame duck? Or can you convince them that your ‘Star’ or ticket to growth, is in fact a lame duck? [ I’m going to put this thought on ‘pause’ and re-watch 2014’s underappreciated and seemingly unrealistic sports film, ‘Draft Day’]


Is Uniqlo unique enough to make it?

Japanese giant clothing retailer Uniqlo is arriving in Toronto’s Eaton Center.


It’ll be intriguing to see how they go about carving out a slot for themselves. Whether their USP resonates with enough customers, is yet to be verified. In the GTA, imo

  • Fast Fashion is owned by Zara and H&M.
  • Classic style by Michael Kors, The Bay.
  • Elite designer style by Nordstrom, Saks, Holts.
  • Discounted ‘badge’ apparel by hr2, the Rack,  Marshalls, Winners.
  • Men’s quality affordables? Moores, TipTop (they sell Calvin Klein!).

Uniqlo is destined to be a provider of durable, well constructed ‘new classics’ in multiple colour shades; in the GTA market, they may be in a similar space as Joe Fresh or perhaps Le Chateau. A step above Reitmans or TipTop or Moores. And what about Simons? Arriving (in Mississauga this past March) this savvy Quebec-based banner has a proven ability to offer quality in-style pieces, and decades of success servicing our (more style-conscious) brethren in so-French Canada.

Watch this market battle closely! I don’t expect Uniqlo to mess up inventory selection and logistics the way dearly departed Target did, yet, even with superb execution, Uniqlo’s success is not a foregone conclusion.

They need Marketing impact; watch for them to select homegrown Canuck celebs & to generously bulk up next year’s TIFF swag-bags. What if they were to play a role as primary investor bringing back the defunct World (formerly MasterCard) Fashion Week, to Toronto? THAT would certainly buy them some goodwill and be an attention-getting move for a style-conscious audience.



Privacy Issues Front & Center this week

Security- image via Vectors Market (the noun project)

Security- image via Vectors Market (the noun project)

TWO articles today highlight the need to treat personal data with care.



  1. Ontario Hospital workers face ‘stiffer’** penalties for again spilling patient information; they sold New Mom’s hospital records to a firm pitching Registered Education Savings Plans (an iffy ‘savings’ vehicle at best of times, given how the tax system treats them and the ‘varied’ morals of firms pitching them). Prosecuted in Ontario- penalties included house arrest, community service, probation, fines.
  2.  Questionable data ‘security’ practises at Ashley Madison’: eg iffy accuracy of security logos shown, iffy data security precautions, holding onto ‘unsubscribed’ member data, apparently to leverage further fees for the privilege of leaving this dubious service. Prosecuted in USA- final penalties TBD.

In both cases, customer data was easily compromised. This is the second recent  breach by Ontario Hospitals staffers, raising questions whether adequate penalties exist for those with the privilege & burden to hold customer data. Canada is home to global telemarketing firms, online gambling sites, weight loss & nutraceutical sellers who play fast & loose with claim substantiation, charities that enrich the charity’s administrators. Many firms locate here due to weak investigation staffing and weak penalties for those who are caught. When was the last time White Collar crime in Canada resulted in actual jail time?

**Ontario’s government recently signaled more support to the Ontario Security Commission, more teeth to prosecute breaches & enforce data privacy. Justice Caldwell’s penalties in this case are less wimpy than what has sadly become the norm here (eg just fines, for the Rob Ford case). Stronger signals indeed, but more is needed! (perhaps stiffer federal standards, Mr Prime Minister?).

Despite Canada’s reputation as an ‘equal’ society, folks committing ‘white collar’ crime rarely face a weighty deterrent. Some Canuck fraudsters (a certain newspaper mogul?) are prosecuted only after their crime affects American victims. On behalf of customers whose data is ‘out there’ in trust, Thanks to the USA for having the guts & the will to give teeth to white collar standards of conduct. The USA is hampered by some frivolous 1 on 1 litigation & class action suits, but they don’t shield ‘upper class’ criminals from jail. America knows ‘nonviolent’ crime does harm individuals and undermine trust in customer-based organizations.


two sides of retail

fyi – a couple thought-provoking links on #Retail and on #etail this week.

One is in Metro on Impulse shopping:


and a McKinsey forum on why etail hasn’t altogether replaced Retail:




Price & the Law: e-commerce forces a review

Thought-provoking article in today’s Toronto Star (from NYT’s DavidStreitfeld) on Price & The Law. https://www.thestar.com/business/2016/07/04/amazon-gradually-eliminates-list-prices-from-site.html

‘Sale’ prices used to require an actual reduction vs regular prices; the mere word onsalenowliftarns-CC‘sale’ makes some consumers salivate. Now, Amazon is rethinking its ‘permanent sale’ approach; it’s selectively removing some ‘list’ or MSRP prices, against which it shows consumers their ‘savings’ or ‘sale’ discounts. Amazon’s own suppliers’ sites ( eg Breville)  and other etailers pricing practises have laid waste to ‘regular’ or ‘MSRP’ prices’ relevance.

A ‘Manufacturer’s Suggested List Price’ was always fraught with credibility and enforcement issues; the Law says a supplier can’t FORCE a customer to resell for the MSRP price. Many suppliers are initially delighted when resellers sell for less than MSRP, as long as that boosts short term unit volume more than it undermines brand value credibility &/or causes conflict? flashback with other retailers who helped the supplier by bearing the risk to carry an item first (loyalty matters!) &/or carry more overhead or expect higher unit margin, to offset what they invest in selling it (eg resellers who ‘add value’ with merchandising, displays, personal sales staff, etc).

If discounting is everywhere, though, then discounting is … no where. A sale was only a great idea for the short term, and in select situations.

UpShot? The word ‘Sale’ has lost some value; Consumer  Protection Law needs to be updated to re-set the rules on if/when a situation calls for the word ‘sale‘; or else it will be used to mislead ie especially to beguile the naive.

Steven Litt

Brexit’s a big lesson in poll power

You’ll be unable to escape this topic in Research circles this week, this summer, this year.  What happens if conduct research, yet aren’t open-minded to the outcome? As per my video ‘When To Do (and not do) New Primary Research’: if you’re NOT prepared for the consequences, don’t do Primary Research. The British government waived ‘representative democracy’ (we presumably elect qualified people to focus & thoroughly assess /investigate complex  long term decisions), instead opting for  ‘poll/plebiscite democracy’, wherein potentially uninformed masses cast their views and wherein every votes is an equal vote.

Now you need not be a dictionary devotee to see ‘democracy’ and ‘demon’ share a word root. Researchers saw it coming; we know everyday consumers don’t handle (understand, consider, evaluate) complex New Product/ Service proposals well in ‘impromptu’ research situations. When we seek consumer input on complex new ideas, we warm’em up, inform them, focus their attention ie get’em ‘zoned in’. Then we typically deploy an array of detailed response options, such as scales, rather than blunt polar opposite forced choice.

We ensure we have consumers’ undivided attention and we aim for maximum understanding in advance. We provide them complex audio-visual concept description tools before we ‘pop a question’.  And we’d then STILL hesitate to used a forced choice ‘Buy or No Buy’ – there’s richness in asking an array of detailed response queries eg – identification, uniqueness, intent to buy within next X weeks, etc.

Wise to distrust  the use of a straight-up ‘ Stay-Leave’ – surely a blunt instrument forced upon uninformed respondents. How uninformed? The day AFTER the vote, a 250% jump in Google search queries in BRITAIN for: “What’s the E.U.?” 


Brexit by GDJ

Brexit by GDJ- CC 2016

‘Nearby’ or not, how will the data be used? Ready or not, here it comes.

Blog – ‘Nearby’ is a sign that location based will revolutionize targeting, messaging, offers. http://www.eweek.com/mobile/androids-nearby-feature-debuts-helps-users-find-whats-nearby.html

This tech is going to be huge- but it’ll raise tons of issues

  1. Privacy issues, EVEN THO most consumers will inevitably ‘opt-in’ this type and level of personal-location data is going to tempt requests for access by eg disgruntled employers, spouses in divorce cases, legal defense and prosecution, etc.
  2. Storage! Storing this location-based data will multiply the need for storage, much of it inevitably cloud based
  3. Security: firewalls for cloud firms and for retailers downloading it to use. The temptation (& commercial upside) to hack it, will be huge.
  4. Competitiveness: Jury’s out whether this will help big retailers dominate, or allow small nimble retailers to better compete. But if you don;t play, you certainly won’t win.

One thing seems certain: inevitable winners will include consulting firms, beacon makers, Apple/ Google platforms, cloud storage firms.

Read it and weep- we know where you are (and where you go, and when you’re close, and when you pause, and …).


Pays to know competitive threats

Biggest #strategy – related news story in Canada this week imo is the Canadian chartered banks doing the deal with Apple pay.

Apple is both partner and threat to the chartered banks. A bank holds your trust and your funds, assists with your transactions. Apple can do all of that – and imo  the key consumer ‘trust’ relationship is more with Apple, than with the bank. for PCBank (President’s Choice) consumers are essentially unaware which (private label supplier) bank is behind the curtain.

A bigger GLOBAL issue is the prospect of more secret peer-to-peer fund transfers – a real potential threat to national security and tax sovereignty.