STORES Trends: February 2017

STORES Trends is a monthly roundup of fresh retail ideas from STORES Magazine.


Elk in aisle 1

We’ve all heard the expression “a bull in a china shop.” And there are plenty of instances where a storefront is home to a lovable cat or dog. Still, one Colorado gift shop owner had an animal escapade that will be hard to top.

Pratiq Shakya, owner of Water Wheel Gift Corner in Estes Park, told Fox 31 in Denver that he had the front doors propped open for customers on a Saturday when he saw the large bull elk standing in the doorway.

He was set to call 911 when he saw police officers already outside, trying to lure the elk away with some apples. Initially, the plan seemed to work, but the elk came back a few minutes later and lingered in the store for 45 minutes.

Video of the elk’s shopping soiree shows him standing around inside the store among the hats, sunglasses, stuffed animals and other trinkets. Shakya told Fox 31 that he was worried about whether his insurance company would cover “acts of elk,” but that worry was for naught. The elk remained calm and did not cause any damage in the store. 


Start ‘em young

Conventional wisdom suggests “starting while they’re young.” To teach children good manners, “please” and “thank you” should be reinforced from the earliest months. Looking to instill good habits? Make sure hands are washed before meals and teeth are brushed at least twice a day.

But how can parents and caregivers ensure their precious peanut is exposed to science, technology, engineering and math concepts — long before those topics become more complex?

Time to sign up for a monthly subscription to the newly launched STEM Club. The program delivers hand-picked, top-quality science, technology, engineering and math toys for $19.99 plus tax per month. Subscribers receive one age-appropriate, high-quality STEM Club toy designed to encourage children to learn through play.

The toys have been vetted by Amazon toy experts working closely with top trusted brands; all the toys are either recently launched on Amazon or exclusive to the website.

Amazon is not a newbie to the STEM trend: The Seattle-based retailer debuted the STEM Toys & Games Store in spring 2015 as a single destination for discovering products designed to help children of all ages develop skills in STEM. The introduction of the STEM Club cranks up the knob on convenience.

The subscription concept has ebbed and flowed of late, but shoppers seem to stick with the ones that make the most sense for their daily lives. Does keeping a child inspired and engaged in learning elevate this subscription to “keeper” status? Given the variety and the tailoring of products by age, it just may cultivate loyalty. 


A cheery outlook

Feeling optimistic about the future of your business? Retailers sure seem to be upbeat.

A recent survey conducted by TD Bank found that more than half of the retailers surveyed are not only optimistic about the future of their business, they’re predicting that their revenue and their employee head count will grow in 2017.

What’s at the root of their optimism?

Nearly half of respondents cited strong consumer spending as the top growth opportunity, and a nearly equal amount of survey participants believes the new presidential administration will positively impact their business. Fifty-nine percent broadly called out “technology” as a top investment for 2017; other areas earmarked for capital outlays included cybersecurity (42 percent), employees (42 percent) and business equipment (35 percent).

The only hiccup: Respondents expressed concern about the potential impact of rising interest rates (28 percent) and supply chain management (26 percent) on their business in 2017.

A short time later, TD Bank pollsters posed a few additional questions to a select group of industry executives in attendance at NRF’S BIG Show, held in New York last month; again, the mood proved buoyant. Nearly three quarters of retail executives said they believe sales will increase in the next 12 months — which is impressive, given the fact that 81 percent reported meeting or exceeding revenue goals in 2016.

Not surprisingly, TD Bank pollsters were looking to get a read on consumer financing programs. More than one-third of retailers indicate that a credit promotional finance program is extremely or moderately important to their business, with 46 percent noting that the Generation X demographic — typically 35 to 54 years old — are most likely to be seeking financing options when purchasing products. 


Pick a winner

Mention the Super Bowl and a bunch of things pop into one’s head — buzzy commercials, big screen TVs, chili, beer, nachos … the list goes on and on. For lots of people, it’s not the big game without a grid of boxes pitting friends against friends.

Well, it’s 2017, folks, and picking squares just went digital.

Yahoo is teaming up with Pizza Hut to launch Squares Pick’em, a first-of-its-kind digital game on Yahoo Sports. Sports fans can sign up through the Yahoo Fantasy app or desktop experience, fill out the Pizza Hut-themed boxes on the 10x10 grid, then invite friends to play. Each square represents a possible score at the end of each quarter of the game. Picking the square that matches the score at the end of the quarter wins bragging rights — maybe more if users tweak the rules.

In 2016, the Super Bowl marked one of the highest-traffic days of the year on Yahoo Sports — a major contributor to the nearly 30 billion minutes a year users spend playing fantasy sports on Yahoo. On the retail side, Pizza Hut set a digital sales record during last year’s big game, as fans tapped into the brand’s variety of digital ordering options.

Squares Pick’em is another example of a noteworthy collaboration that has the potential to be memorable for both the brands and consumers.

And just for the record, calling dibs on the corner boxes is perfectly acceptable if you’re the first in your group to set up a grid.


Buyer beware

In the hours after the Super Bowl, Tom Brady told reporters that his jersey had been swiped. Frustrated, the quarterback for the champion New England Patriots speculated, “It’s going to be on eBay soon, I guess.”

Brady’s jersey was eventually recovered — along with another jersey, missing from Super Bowl XLIX. His initial response, though, and the inference that it would end up online is both sad and telling. Athletes are all too familiar with coveted mementos being stolen and counterfeit merchandise emblazoned with their name littering online marketplaces.

Before clicking the buy button on a Patriots jersey to celebrate the team’s historic overtime win, consider this: Red Points, a company dedicated to combating counterfeit and piracy online, recently released data about the top sites that they have found selling counterfeit sports paraphernalia. The data was pulled throughout 2016 and is a sampling of counterfeit products mimicking 10 prominent team brands in Europe.

The top sites promoting counterfeit items are: Taobao (13 percent), AliExpress (13 percent), Facebook (11 percent), iOffer (10 percent), Amazon (9 percent), DHgate (9 percent), Twitter (4 percent), Instagram (2 percent), eBay (1 percent), Tokopedia (0.4 percent), Bonanza (0.2 percent), Redbubble (0.2 percent) and Alibaba (0.1 percent). The highest percentage, 27 percent, came from websites with less recognizable domain names.

Red Points protects brands and content in the digital environment through a proprietary technology which employs machine learning algorithms to scan the Internet and identify violations and infringements. The company then employs technical and legal expertise to ensure that all infringing data is removed or deindexed.

Once again the admonition applies: buyer beware!


How did you guess?

Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Regardless of whether you’re feeling especially amorous or are thinking of skipping Cupid’s day, there’s a good chance that someone in your life — your mom, maybe — deserves a little something that shows how much you care.

Don’t worry: GWYN has got your back. GWYN is the designation for’s personalized online gift concierge, powered by IBM Watson (her name is an acronym for Gifts When You Need), and she is a pioneer of sorts in the conversational commerce realm.

GWYN guides shoppers through an interactive experience to help them purchase the perfect gift for an occasion. This will be GYWN’s first Valentine’s Day, though she has been building online relationships since late February of last year; Jon Mandell, vice president of marketing and customer experience at, says she’s up for the challenge.

“The speed of adoption has been faster than we anticipated and we’ve learned a lot along the way,” Mandell says. “Conversion rates have exceeded expectations, which is really a testimony to how GWYN is changing the way consumers interact with and how comfortable consumers are becoming with conversational commerce.”

Data finds that shoppers are willing to spend more time identifying the right gift when using GWYN; around five questions are posed per interaction, with shoppers taking up to two minutes to interact with GYWN. Importantly, 80 percent say they would use GWYN again.

Based on IBM’s recently acquired Fluid’s Expert Personal Shopper software, which uses the IBM Watson’s Question Analysis API, GWYN can interact with online customers using natural language. A customer might type, “I’m looking for a gift for my mother,” and GWYN will be able to interpret their question and then ask a few qualifying questions about the occasion, sentiment and who the gift is for, to ensure an appropriate, tailored gift suggestion for each customer.

So, what are you waiting for? GWYN is ready to help you remember Mom this Valentine’s Day — and stay on budget. Moms love that.


Super hero ski team

You might remember the words to the iconic theme song:

When Captain America throws his mighty shield,
All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield
If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due,
Then the red and white and the blue’ll come through
When Captain America throws his mighty shield.

But what does a super hero like Captain America have in common with the U.S. Ski Team?

Both possess strength and amazing abilities — and both wear colorful suits.

Ski and performance brand Spyder has embarked on a two-year collaboration with Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media for an action-packed line of ski performance products inspired by iconic Marvel Super Heroes. At the FIS Alpine World Cup Championship in St. Moritz this week, members of the U.S. Ski Team will be outfitted in race suits recalling Marvel’s Captain America and Captain Marvel.

Athletes wearing the race suits include World Cup skier Jared Goldberg, four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso and Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Marvel in bringing their Super Heroes to life with the U.S. Ski Team and beyond,” says Brady Collings, vice president of marketing at Spyder.

“Given Marvel’s inspirational impact around the world, we have an extraordinary opportunity to celebrate the U.S. Ski Team as well as our ambassadors in a broad-reaching way in St. Moritz.”

The full apparel performance collection is set to make its retail debut in the fall.


Cheesy wedding gifts

Young people are more inclined to register for electronics than fine china, and they prefer to spend on experiences rather than possessions. All of which explains why a pizza-themed wedding registry might just be the perfect choice for couples making the trip down the aisle in 2017.

Domino’s Wedding Registry is ideal for those who prefer the more momentary pleasures in life and already have their fill of towels, blenders and kitchenware. The registry was created “for couples who prefer delicious melty cheese to crystal gravy boats,” providing gift givers the option to sponsor anything from the bachelorette party (“Dance like somebody ordered pizza,” $60) to the “Post-Honeymoon Adjustment to Real Life” (“Because washing dishes is the worst,” $25).

“Our customers constantly tell and show us on social media how pizza plays a role in their wedding, whether it’s for the bridal party, a late-night treat for the reception or other day-of experiences,” says Kate Trumbull, Domino’s digital marketing director.

“We wanted to make it easier for people to request something fun they’ll get excited about. Who doesn’t love pizza?”

Couples can register online and select what they want from a list of gift sets ranging in price from $20 to $100. Once selected, the pizza gift is sent to the couple as an e-gift card.

Let’s be honest: nothing says “I love you, I understand you and I wish you all the best” better than a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. It may be unconventional, but it’s likely to be enormously popular. 


Fashion, IRL

There’s been no shortage of talk about the potential uses for augmented reality, and now Los Angeles-based Drawsta is bringing the technology to your favorite T-shirt.

Similar to those ubiquitous Snapchat filters, customers who purchase a Drawsta T-shirt can then use the free app (available on iTunes) to experience many different digital designs layered on the T-shirt. The company’s “IRL” and “Random” tees come with several default animations, with a new one appearing on the app each week. The “Statement” line of tees allows the consumer to choose their own message and color palette.

The genius behind Drawsta is how easily it allows wearers to customize and share the digital experience of wearing the animations across their social networks. The immediacy of customization means wearers can express themselves in the moment without having to purchase a new garment.

As Drawsta founder Heather Lipner sees it, with the continued adoption of augmented reality devices such as glasses and contact lenses, we can expect to see digital layers of content floating everywhere soon, from buildings to products to, yes, clothing.


The Force is with Nordstrom

Favorite restaurants can change on a whim, and the same could be said for a favorite brand of jeans or top binge-worthy show. But the most recent Market Force Information poll of nearly 11,000 shoppers finds Nordstrom’s fan base is as fervent as ever.

For the fifth year running, Nordstrom ranked as the nation’s favorite fashion retailer in Market Force’s annual retail industry study. Nordstrom ranked first among retailers studied with a score of 64 percent, up 6 percent from 2016. Dillard’s gained 16 percentage points to rank second and was closely trailed by off-price retailer T.J. Maxx.

What sets one retailer apart from another? Nordstrom got high marks for value, atmosphere and ease of finding items, while Dillard’s was recognized by respondents for creating a look and the ability to find correct sizes. Ann Taylor landed in the top three in all of these categories, while T.J. Maxx and Ross Stores were cited for merchandise selection and American Eagle received a nod for fastest checkout speeds.

The study found that consumer confidence is high, with 40 percent believing the economy will strengthen in the next year. Still, approximately 70 percent of consumers expect to spend the same amount on apparel and footwear this year compared to last; just 11 percent plan to spend more.

The data indicates bricks-and-mortar shopping is alive and well: 80 percent of those polled have shopped at one of their favorite retailers’ physical stores at least once in the past 90 days, and more than half have shopped at least three times in the past 90 days. Value is by far biggest deciding factor in choosing where to shop, followed by service, atmosphere and the ability to purchase merchandise on a retailer’s website.

Over the same period, 42 percent of consumers visited their favorite retailer’s website and 68 percent made a purchase. The most purchased merchandise online included casual clothing, shoes and accessories.

Turns out physical and digital can co-exist. How refreshing!


Charged up

The DieHard brand is synonymous with Sears — consumers have trusted the brand for its batteries since 1967. Hoping to steer some of that positive energy toward a new venture, Sears recently opened a first-of-its-kind DieHard Auto Center. Designed to meet the ever-changing needs of today’s driver, the San Antonio-based store leverages interactive in-store merchandise displays and advanced diagnostic technology.

A suite of services and amenities are offered, including DieHard 360° Vehicle Assessment, which provides customers looking to buy or sell a used car with a comprehensive 120-point inspection to assess the vehicle’s condition, and three DieHard Edge Maintenance Plans.

Also on tap is a Digital Tire Journey, essentially a web app that relies on IBM Watson’s Natural Language Classifier service to help customers identify the appropriate tires to fit their driving preferences. Customers can use in-store touchscreens to access the Digital Tire Journey.

“The new DieHard Auto Center Driven by Sears is another example of how we’re unleashing the power of the DieHard brand,” says Brian Kaner, president of Sears Automotive. “It offers state-of-the-art technology and services in a contemporary, comfortable setting that, combined with our experienced associates, can help today’s drivers make the right choices for their vehicle’s needs.”

“DieHard is America’s most trusted automotive battery brand,” says Tom Park, president of Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard brands. “In 2016, we introduced DieHard tires, which have been well-received by our customers, as we have continued to see positive, strong sales since their introduction. As we have also expanded the brand into automotive consumer electronics accessories, it’s a natural evolution to extend the brand to automotive service.”

One store won’t turn this ship around, but if they can drive this concept into the fast lane, it might be a shining light for Sears.