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One retailer's trash is another retailer's treasure

Retailing excellence is centered around creating extraordinary, engaging experiences for shoppers. I recently read a survey by Wharton University in collaboration with the Retail Council of Canada which defined five points that contribute to great shopping experiences; or WOW moments. These were defined as engagement, executional excellence, brand experience, expediting and problem recovery.

Those innovative and industrious souls who put a unique spin on these attributes and, in the words of American Idol, “make it their own” always fascinate and inspire me. Here’s a couple of my favourites from recent experiences in the “deal hunters” category.

On the hunt

Earlier in the year I visited a concept that I simply loved, Ross Dress for Less and it gave me a flashback to my youth. I spent my early formative years being dragged around by my mum to flea markets and garage sales seeking out bargains and curiosities. My mum had a knack for a find a bargain (sometimes quite lucrative, but often not) and I am mentally scarred by the flashbacks of when she would dive into the hordes of women fighting over the “red light special” at Kmart. A red light special for those who aren’t familiar was a box on wheels that was transported around the store at random, unexpected times and the light turned on for 5 minutes while an “immediate call to action” was offered.

“Good morning shoppers, we have a special in the ladies department today. You can get any 3 pack of white undies for $5.00. Yes that’s right, you heard it just $5.00”. Mentally. Scarred.

Ross Dress for Less

Ross stores provide a much more positive experience along the same theme. They are effectively a branded treasure hunt. These big box off-price department stores are now the third largest in the US. All their products for sale are branded goods which are traditionally sourced from other retailers as opportunity buys, interestingly not from the branded source of manufacturer. So the buy could be big or small, but always a branded product where a deep cut can be applied.

What a bargain. Tommy Hilfiger bag for $20 down from $55.

On my visit I bought a Samsonite wheelie bag for a cool US$50 which was an essential purchase to transport the additional shopping that had mysteriously ended up in my possession.

This amazing retail model sees stock shipped from warehouse in record time, daily, to store and then out on the trading floor within four hrs of receipt. All products are pre-ticketed, leaving the teams to focus on unpacking, adding a security tag and getting the product out to sell. In-store fixtures are basic, versatile and easily moved by one person.

Nothing like a bit of gamification to get punters engaged.

So they operate a footprint that needs to be enormously elastic. They might receive luggage, shoes, toys, homes wares, women’s clothing or lingerie, with no idea what is coming next.

And no two stores are the same. It’s a bargain hunter’s delight. Each store management team is given guidelines to drive sales around seasonal products. The average lifecycle of a product through to kill pricing is just 6 weeks.

A sea of treasures

Get more for less

These guys do little advertising beyond social media and word of mouth through their sweet spot shopper of a 25-45 year old woman. It’s a delight to simply wander the store and revisit often; who knows what you will find?

Costco – Keeping it simple

Whilst in Seattle I was fortunate to meet Richard Galanti, executive VP and CFO of Costco, easily one of the most down to earth pleasantly focused and passionate retailers I have encountered. Costco are an enormously successful business who have stuck to their knitting; high quality, low price products, eliminating costs and driving volume at every part of the operations. Smart, efficient, focused.

As the second largest retailer in the US (Total sales over $107 billion), Costco is the fourth largest retailer in the world in total retail sales and back closer to home in Queensland I was lucky to be a part of a retailer group given access to the new North Lakes store just north of Brisbane. The store manager talked through the stats; $146 average basket, sales $3.2-3.5m/week, a full satisfaction guarantee. The average Costco store size hovers around 15,000sqm with a range of 3500ish products and a clear ranging policy of bulk and multi-pack.

As a membership model, you pay an annual fee to enjoy the benefits of shopping with the group. And even though these are massive stores with an unbelievable depth of categories there may only be one or two different types of product per category; this toilet paper or that. This helps drive the trading terms and efficiencies.

To say Costco are obsessed about driving prices down is an understatement, and what they are best known for in the industry. A little surprising and more impressive is their genuine focus on their employees. Costco pay above average wage, offer great benefits with an “open door policy” that keeps retention levels high and shrinkage low.

Retailing experiences like holidays and trips to the zoo

Why not pop in for some tyres on the way out?

And for a change of pace, a quick mid-blog quiz for you.

Q. Who is 4th largest international retailer of diamonds?

No it’s not Michael Hill.


The 4th largest retail of diamonds in the world is Costco.

Yes that is a $499,000 diamond ring you can pick up with your hot chicken & mesculan salad.

The surprises don’t stop there. The more your wander the store the more treasures you find. I got the Jamie Oliver Comfort Food cook book for $20 (retails currently for $50). On the day I visited I was delighted to see optical services alongside hearing aids, tyres to complement your cheap fuel, kids toys galore, giant pizzas, hot cooked chickens and what looked like half a cow, branded jeans, Calvin Klein undies, designer label sunglasses, sunscreen, holidays and …well just about anything really.

Not the prettiest experience but certainly function and engaging in its own way.

Both Ross Dress for Less and Costco have an authenticity to their curation. They are immersive experiences unlikely to win awards for beautiful retail environments but they work and they work hard. They are both smart retailers who continue to innovate in their own way and undoubtedly connect. And a WOW experience is what they deliver in their own “explore and hunt out a bargain” style driving repeat visitation and brand loyalty beyond reason.

How else do you sell a $50,000 Cartier watch alongside a 2 litre tub of mixed mesculan salad for $5.00?

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