2019 got off to a bumpy start for Macy’s, as holiday sales slumped when they were expected to soar.
“The holiday season began strong – particularly during Black Friday and the following cyber week – but it weakened during the mid-December period, and did not return to expected patterns until the week of Christmas,” Macy’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette said in a statement.
At the time, Gennette also announced the retailer’s multi-pronged plan for getting back on track: opening more backstage locations; bulking up high-value areas like fine apparel, clothes and jewelry; adding new in-store technology investments and launching more pop-up shops. In February, Macy’s noted plans to double the number of pop-up shops within its stores.
Whether the 36 Story at Macy’s shops went live in nationwide locations last week will count toward the doubling is unknown, though the store-within-a-store location with its varying themes and experiential focus certainly feels like a pop-up shop.
Macy’s acquired STORY about a year ago, when it was a New York City retail location known for varying its theme (or story) every few months. Apart from selling items, STORY installations were designed to build buzz around concepts. Each theme is sponsored by a company such as American Express or Intel, and all the in-store advertising is tied into the chosen theme.
Macy’s plans for the shop are now emerging, as it has added the 1,500-square-foot Story shops nationwide in popular, high-traffic urban locations.
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,” Gennette said of the launch of the new mini-stores, which will rotate inventory every two months and bring in different local brands throughout the course of the year.
The first theme is “Color” – and based on PYMNTS’ visit to the Downtown D.C. Story location, it is undeniably colorful.
The location has received some mixed reviews. Forbes, while praising it for its inventiveness and coziness in a large department store setting, wondered if Story seemed “out of place.”
An employee, who asked to remain nameless, noted that as far as he could tell, being out of place was kind of the point. The shop had been open about a week when we were there – and, as he noted, it came as a complete surprise to anyone who wasn’t working for Macy’s. Most of their early customers had no idea they were going to a Story location, or what the shop was all about. But its overall technicolor styling – with monochromatic, bright displays in orange, lime green and candy apple red – tends to be eye-catching. Story, the employee noted, tends to stand out from a far distance, driving a lot of people to come in and ask, “What is this?”
The employee we spoke to was happy to explain each item in the colored displays, including the local vendors they came from and which products were popular with customers. In downtown Washington, D.C., incidentally, local favorites include royal blue fortune-telling bath bombs, champagne and rose-flavored gummy bears and a product called “unicorn snot” – which, as far as we can tell, is extremely glittery slime.
The mini-store, the sales associate noted, has been particularly popular with children, who have often been the force bringing their parents into the shop. That wasn’t surprising, given Story’s rather eclectic offerings.
“Think about a magazine or digital media company. Our version of editorial is merchandise curation … and event programming,” said Rachel Shechtman, the Macy’s executive who has been the driving force behind Story, in an interview with CNBC. “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 five-year-olds … and 40- and 50-year-olds.”
Color, it seems, has been a particularly effective theme for children and their parents.
Will it drive foot traffic to Macy’s?
So far, it seems customers don’t know enough about the concept to be drawn in by it. According to the employee we spoke with, traffic has been strong on weekends – particularly Saturday mornings, when the cosmetics department is busy – but a week in, the shop is still a surprise discovery for most people. While PYMNTS was there on a weekday, we saw about three customers drift in over an hour, none of whom purchased anything or asked any questions, though two did take pictures.
Which means for this new offering to live it to its potential, Macy’s needs to get the story out about Story. Customers like the alcohol-flavored gummy bears when they happen to come across the shop, but as of yet, no one is seeking it out.