Retail Predictions for 2015

As part of the Retail Dead Pool, here are my predictions for 2015:

  1. Look for the stores opening early on Thanksgiving. Opening on Thanksgiving can be a bad omen.
  2. Sears and Kmart will continue their slide into oblivion. When will hedge funds realize that sending good money after bad always results in destruction?
  3. JCPenney will shutter more stores
  4. Kohl’s will shut some stores but will continue struggling against Target and Wal-Mart
  5. Target and Wal-Mart may realign some stores to stop red ink
  6. Best Buy looks like it has turned around, but let’s see what happens in an economic downturn
  7. RadioShack will close more stores or go completely out of business. It all depends on the cell phone market and pre-paid options like Straight Talk. If Wal-Mart can get a larger share of the cell phone market, RadioShack is finished.


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Has it been 25 years since the Berlin Wall came down?

Today is Sunday, November 9, 2014. 25 years ago on this day, Communism began its fall when East Germany allowed its citizens to cross into West Germany without visas. Once this happened, people from East Germany poured over the Berlin Wall. East and West Germany reunified in late 1990. A lot has changed in Berlin since that time.

A lot has changed in the world since that time. Here are some examples:

  • The Cold War is now the War on Terror
  • The US has been fighting Iraq almost continuously since 1990
  • The World Wide Web now connects the world
  • The US elected its first Black President
  • The US House impeached a President for the first and only time in the 20th century
  • The world is much more connected via satellite and other means

2016 also marks 25 years since the end of the Soviet Union. While the pendulum has swung towards freedom for Russia, it is starting to swing back under Putin. While we don’t know what the future brings, 2025 might be a pivotal year for us since 1945.

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The Last Business Day of the Year

In my varied experience, I have noticed that the holiday season is the worst time to start or work on a project. In the US, the holiday season starts on Thanksgiving Day and ends on New Year’s Day. There is a day when you should have your projects done except for those where you or your team have direct control.

This magic day is the Friday before Thanksgiving Day. While business continues, I call this magic day the Last Business Day of the Year. Why is this day magical? In many businesses, Thanksgiving and the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) are paid holidays. This means that Thanksgiving Week is only three days long and people start taking vacations. My experience has shown when a project is being worked during the holiday season, something comes up and requires a certain individual’s assistance. This someone could be in purchasing, accounting, administration, or engineering, and the required person is out on vacation. While it is worse during the week of Thanksgiving and the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s, the weeks in December are times people will take off from work.

My thought on this idea is that one should complete their projects as much as possible before the magic day. If that is not possible, have tasks requiring outside assistance get completed or deferred by the magic day and complete the tasks that are under your control or your team’s control.

While every business is different, this magic day applies to retail in a much different way. In the case of retail operations, everything pertaining to the Christmas shopping season should be completed before the magic day. While some businesses are slowing down during the season, retail is another story.

Next time you are scheduling tasks for a project, make sure to keep locus of control and the Last Business Day of the Year in mind for scheduling purposes. You could get a lot of things done and make your December one to remember.

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Apple Pay and retailers react

The recent introduction of Apple Pay did not come without controversy. A few days after the introduction, two retailers turned off the NFC features of their payment terminals. Business Insider has an article detailing the reasons why CVS and Rite-Aid shut off NFC access.

It has to do with a consortium of several retailers and their development of a QR-based payment system. Unfortunately, it all boils down to money and the big reason for the shutdown was the use of Apple Pay and payment of fees to card issues such as MasterCard and Visa.

Could this action cause customer defections to rivals? It depends on how vocal Apple Pay users get and how fast other retailers adopt Apple Pay as a payment option. It also depends on how many individuals use NFC-based phone payments at retailers. If people are still using the swipe card because that is the most convenient option, then the actions of CVS and Rite-Aid won’t make a difference. But if Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and Softcard catch on, then CVS and Rite-Aid will have to reverse their actions.

Only time will tell.

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iPhone 6 Plus – Steve Jobs is rolling in his grave

Last night I had the chance to check out the iPhone 6 Plus and compare it to my current Galaxy Note 3. One of the things I noticed about the iPhone 6 is that the user interface is the same and the only real difference between the   iPhone6 and iPhone 6 Plus is that the icons are larger on the iPhone 6 plus. The iPhone 6 Plus is also about the same size as the Galaxy Note 3 and has larger rounded corners.

Here’s the reason for my title – the iPhone 6 Plus feels cheap and doesn’t feel as solid as the iPhone 4s or even the iPhone 5 models. I’m sure this version of the iPhone would not pass Steve Jobs’ aquarium test. There are a few spots on the back where the phone feels squishy and I can see where the phone can bend. Also, I foresee a lot of cracked iPhone 6 Plus screens because the lip around the edge of the phone is missing. A case is required with this phone.

Meanwhile, the Note 3 feels very solid even a year after purchase. While I did put on a case, the case is not necessary. The Note 3 hasn’t slowed down at all even with two major software upgrades.

The S-pen on the Note 3 is phenomenal. Writing notes on the Note 3 is very easy. I have experienced stylus issues on the iPad too with disappointing results. I figured that the iPhone 6 would have a stylus to compete directly with the Note 3. I don’t think the iPhone will ever come with a stylus.

But one of the big things Apple hyped about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is the ability to make payments with the phone via ApplePay and NFC. First, we won’t see ApplePay for a few months and we do not know what form it will take. Second, Softcard and Google Wallet with NFC have worked for the past 18 months. Can you go to McDonald’s and pay for a Big Mac with your iPhone? No, but you can with any Samsung phone starting with the Galaxy S3! The iPhone may help boost NFC usage in the medium term as iPhone users start testing and using NFC payments. Remember that we are 13 months out before the big credit card liability shift takes place. I do see Softcard adding more cards and banks to compete with ApplePay.

I don’t know what will happen with the iPhone 6 in 2015 but I’m sure of one thing – Steve Jobs would have never approved this device. This device was built after his death and it really shows.

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How to know you live in Irvine, California

Now for a lighter post.

You know you live in Irvine when:

  • Seeing Fire Engine 51 is a daily occurence
  • You can give directions to at least three Starbucks, one Coffee Bean, and one Boba place.
  • You have a favorite parking place at one of the following places: Fashion Island, South Coast Plaza, or Irvine Spectrum.
  • You’ve sampled any of the following without leaving the city limits: Pho, dim sum, Taiwanese noodles, sushi, thai food, or Korean barbecue.
  • Seeing a Tesla, Ferrari, or a Bentley is a daily occurrence.


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And the result is…

No, by a 10 point margin. The final result was 55% to 45% in favor of Scotland staying in the union. Now the question is whether or not Scotland receives all of the promises offered by PM David Cameron.

I think the answer is the same as the vote – no.

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And here we go

The polls have closed in Scotland for the independence vote. The BBC reports over 90% turnout in Scotland  and Sky News reports some areas with 100% turnout.

We should get an idea of the early returns tonight and a final result sometime thereafter.

Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a fun ride if the vote is YES.

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Is Irvine Office Space in a bubble?

While a few observations do not make a trend, I do see a lot more “Space Available” signs in front of office buildings. I counted three new ones on Barranca between Irvine Center Drive and CA 133. Plus, there is a new 20-story building under construction at Spectrum and Irvine Center Drive. I don’t know if businesses are letting leases expire and consolidating operations, but I’m almost positive that prices per square foot for Class A office space around here are dropping.

I’m watching this development closely.



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Is RadioShack the tip of the iceberg?

I perused this post over at ZeroHedge concerning the current retailing environment. We’re at the end of the school buying season and getting into fall. Six years later we are still feeling the effects from the 2008 financial crisis. The author if the post commented that Kohl’s still had a lot of summer inventory available even a few days ago.

School buying was a very big deal when I was young. I would get dragged to Sears for school clothes and the Toughskin jeans. Then I would get dragged to another store for school supplies. 30 years later Wal-Mart is the place to go and Sears is an afterthought. Why go to so many places when you can get everything in one place?

If one looks at the retailers that were big 30 years ago, the big three at that time were KMart, Sears, and JCPenney. All three are now in contraction. KMart and Sears are going down together in terms of store closings since 2000. JCPenney is in contraction too. It looks like Kohl’s is not far behind it older competitors.

The main metrics to review for any retailer are same-store sales and foot traffic. If same store sales are declining 4% over the previous year, that is a sign of trouble. If the trend continues, we’ll see a lot more “Space Available” signs at these large big-box locations.

We’ve visited South Coast Plaza several times since our initial visit in 2012. Based on my own observations, there are not as many shoppers in the mall as in the year prior. This mall is favored by foreign tourists with most of them coming from China. I see more tourists than locals on any given day. While I’m not proclaiming the death of the shopping mall now, I think malls will have to change.

But if you’re a retailer depending on lots of foot traffic, I’m afraid that declining sales are the norm now for quite some time.

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