Features, Retail Insights

Macy’s Big Story is Bigger than STORY

What’s the story? And I don’t mean what’s up? STORY has launched as an experiential miracle on 34th Street. Not to mention 36 stores nationwide in 15 states (five each in California and New York; four in New Jersey; three each in Florida, Ohio and Texas; two each in Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington; and one in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada and Washington D.C.). My article last year speculated about STORY’s promise. This article celebrates its promise and potential.

CEO Jeff Gennette said, “STORY itself is not going to move the (revenue) needle.” But put that in context. It’s not a negative judgment, it’s part of an overall strategy and one more initiative toward the achievement of Gennette and teams’ larger vision to elevate the customer experience. These guys are enhancing the customer’s journey across Macy’s entire fleet, as well as online. Gennette understands that as Gen Z shoppers become dominant shopping more online and less in store, that he and his team have to place a priority on creating compelling experiences, strong enough to move these young consumers off their phones and into Macy’s stores. This is a major issue for all physical legacy retailers as they struggle to transform and align their business models with savvy tech-armed consumers and the new digital ecosystem.

True to the prescience of this vision, Gennette acquired STORY about a year ago, and with it, the founder, Rachel Shechtman who was given the title Macy’s Brand Experience Officer. So, Macy’s gets Shechtman’s creative brilliance to reimagine and redesign the shopping experience across the entire fleet, as well as integrating the STORY “swing shop” concept that could be shaped and installed locally in select Macy’s locations. Note: Shechtman’s role is much larger than simply launching and heading up the STORY shops. Given Gennette’s larger vision, I believe that STORY is just the first step for the new Brand Experience Officer.

What is STORY? I visited the debut shop at Herald Square, and it is a refreshing jolt in the Macy’s environment, both aesthetically and product-wise. Think revolving narrative themes: color, culinary, music, holidays, and so forth, changing every few months. Think theme-curated products (many local artisans), both serious and whimsical. Think theme- created events. Think all of this as surprising and compelling story experiences within a shop in Macy’s called…well, STORY.

STORY reinforces Genettes’s larger vision of innovation and a customer experience of discovery. STORY’s merchandise is impulse driven, driving both the customer experience and building traffic. He said, “Number one, it’s fun and unexpected. Second, It’s a magnet to attract new partners and generate new ideas. STORY gives new customers a fresh reason to visit our stores and gives the current Macy’s customer even more reason to come back again and again throughout the year.” He also notes that the STORY process provided a learning experience for the internal management teams that put it together, as a lesson in innovation, and an important template going forward. It required agility, speed and an open mindset to new processes. He commented that the STORY model, its infrastructure and launch concept in 36 stores only took eight months. My opinion on that comment? Gennette is making a major statement about what is going to be required to accomplish his broader vision of building an experiential Macy’s: innovation, agility, speed and seamless collaboration.

As a part of the learning experience, Shechtman explained the complexity of building systems and processes, as well as staffing and different training methods to marry hundreds of small vendors to the giant Macy’s platform. Shechtman told WWD, “The idea behind the launch and opening with 36 stores (in 15 states), is to really focus on making sure we cover communities across the country … another vital thing is to deliver an amazing narrative-driven experience for our customers.”

She said a dedicated STORY team was developed, including regional managers, 36 store managers, and over 250 sales associates (AKA “storytellers”). They went through a “know and tell” training program to learn about everything from building fixtures to customer engagement and event production.

Shechtman said, “The STORY at Macy’s experience feels a lot like a real-life version of scrolling through Instagram. You discover things you weren’t looking for but are inspired by all the fun finds – the second you see it, you need it! We aspire to create that feeling with the breadth of the narrative-driven merchandise edit we are bringing to life with the launch of STORY at Macy’s across the country. Think about a magazine or digital media company. Our version of editorial is merchandise curation…and event programming,” said Shechtman. “One thing that was important, and that we learned over the years at STORY, is to create a model that is relevant. We are doing something that will appeal to 5-year-olds…and 40- and 50-year-olds.”

Interestingly, this launch was no small “soft” test. Whammo! On the same day, STORY is up and running in 36 markets. As quoted in WWD, Macy’s President, Hal Lawton said, “We didn’t do the deal just to go small with it. We want it to be part of the Macy’s experience.” Lawton said STORY has been given “A-plus” spots in the 35 other Macy’s locations, mostly on the first floor of the stores and by escalators and entrances. The other locations are among the retailer’s top-performing units, including regional flagships and so-called “magnet” stores. “Go big or go home,” added Shechtman, characterizing the STORY game plan. “I’m kind of all-or-nothing. Action speaks louder than words.”

Finally, noting Gennette’s broader expectations of Shechtman, he said, “Bringing Rachel’s perspective to the table will help create more enriched and engaging in-store experiences and brand activations. We are committed to growth in 2019, and this is one important step along the way.” It’s another innovation, along with “Market@Macy’s,” (where a select group of exclusive or unique brands, pop up on a rotating basis) and the partnership with B8ta, (a space that not only sells the latest electronic devices, but also has an At Your Service counter in all stores for order pickups and returns).

If Jeff Gennette and his competitive peers across the legacy world can get the experience “thing” right in their “big boxes full of stuff,” they will have a huge advantage over the digital purists. Amazon knows this and will continue to pursue a major brick and mortar presence. So, STORY is a bold leap for Macy’s, and we’ll be on the watch for Shechtman’s next bold experience concept — and another, and another and another.

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