Monday, December 13, 2010

Sometimes Smaller is Better

Retailers suffered through the last two years with low or declining sales as typical consumers struggled with an economy in the doldrums. Some of these retailers experimented with cost cutting and discovered an innovation for customers.

As retail demand fell, some retailers decided to reduce the size of their stores and cut their inventories to fit the smaller market they were facing. One company, Anchor Blue, put in temporary walls and cut its selling space in half. This certainly saved them money. It also provided a big surprise. Anchor Blue found that its foot traffic rose by 7% and sales increased by 23% after the remodel.

As other stores had the same experience, bigger chains began their own small-is-beautiful experiments. Bloomingdales and Nike are both trying smaller stores. Retailers are reducing their inventories by removing the slower moving items. These changes enable their customers to find, choose and pay for their products faster. In other words, the smaller stores are a Convenience innovation that customers seem to like.

We seem to be reaching a limit in the retail world. For the last generation, retailers grew by increasing Functions in ever-larger stores. (See the Perspective, “When to Compete on Features” on They added categories and assortments to increase customer choices. These Function innovations demanded more space. More choices and space added to the time customers had to spend at a store. The Convenience innovation of the smaller stores suggests that customers have reached saturation points with the larger stores offering more choices. Sometimes smaller is better. (See the Perspective, “Is Bigger Really Better?” on

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nokia Makes a Bet in the Smart Phone Market

Nokia has a big problem in the smart phone market. It has to do something to change its outlook. It just made a bet with the choice of its pathway to the future.

Nokia produces both the hardware and the operating system for smart phones. Its hardware is the handset and its software is either the Symbian or MeeGo operating systems. The company uses the Symbian software with its less advanced smart phones and the MeeGo system for the more advanced and more expensive phones.

Nokia is losing market share rapidly, especially to phones using Google’s Android operating system. Over the last year, the Symbian operating system’s market share fell from 45% to 37% of the market. In the meantime, Android has garnered 25% of the market, up from less than 4% a year ago. Nokia developed the MeeGo system to counter the flowing tide to both the Android and the Apple operating platforms. These platforms from Apple and Android have nearly shut Nokia out of the high end smart phone business in the U.S.

Nokia has decided against adopting the Android operating system for its phones. It is afraid that the adoption of Android would leave it competing in an increasingly less attractive hardware market, while the profits go to the operating software manufacturers. Nokia is undoubtedly right here. (See Video #3: Predicting the Direction of Margins” on The question is, can they catch up fast enough?

Nokia is working hard to get the MeeGo system up to speed for developers. Today, the developers feel that the MeeGo operating system is in its early stages. It is attractive, though, because this operating system supports a number of different products that consumers use, including tablets, televisions and phones. And Nokia has acquired and developed software, called QT, that enables software developers to write an application once and have it work on a number of hardware products.

Nokia has time to get this right. The smart phone market is still a high-end, Performance Leader, product. It will take time for the mass market to adopt the smart phones and their operating systems. Nokia has a large base of customers using its phones and operating systems. Most of these customers would prefer not to leave a supplier they have come to know and like. If Nokia can pull its act together quickly, it can be a strong performer. And, certainly, there will be room for three operating systems in this market. In fact, if Nokia does well, it could still end up the long term leader, a position it has owned in the cell phone market for the last several years. Failing that, it has a reasonable chance to beat out the Apple operating system over the longer term. To accomplish this, Nokia must develop and use its superior economies of scale to price its products aggressively to take share again. (See Video #53: Productivity and Economies of Scale in Hostility” on

But, there is a lingering question. Why not hedge the bet by developing Android phones as well? They could maintain good economies of scale and keep handset profits if their software bet fails.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Abercrombie - Recovering in a Falling Price Environment

Nearly two years ago, we began a series of blogs about Abercrombie & Fitch (See Blogs HERE, HERE and HERE). Abercrombie & Fitch had been in a Leader’s Trap, where the company held prices high despite the onslaught of discounting competitors, including Aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters. (See “Audio Tip #119: A Price Umbrella” on The discounting competitors gained share while Abercrombie & Fitch lost it, sometimes in handfuls. In fact, all throughout 2008 and 2009, sales at stores opened at least a year declined.

We predicted in the original blog that Abercrombie would have to come out of its Leader’s Trap and discount its prices to keep its competitors at bay. (See “Audio Tip #118: The Leader’s Trap” on In the spring of 2009, the company did begin discounting its prices to stop its share loss. These discounts gradually brought business back to the stores so that stores opened at least a year began to see sales increase rather than decrease during 2010. In fact, the company has found that, while it cut its prices by 10% or more, it still generated higher sales because the growth of unit volume made up for the price cuts.

The company was judicious in the way it went about reducing its prices. It discounted its prices in the United States to narrow the price gaps it had with its competition. On the other hand, it held its premium price position in its overseas markets. Prices for the same item of clothing are 30% to 50% higher in London and Tokyo stores than they are in the U.S. Abercrombie & Fitch’s international customers can not take advantage of the low U.S. prices because they can not reach the U.S. domestic internet sites of the company. Instead, international buyers searching on the internet for the company’s online stores are automatically redirected to their local company web sites of Abercrombie & Fitch.

We liken the task of pricing in a falling price environment to a game of darts. In the game of darts, the circular dart board is broken into several pie-shaped areas. The players must aim for a particular area that changes with each turn. Within each of these areas on the dart board, the more narrowly the player can target his dart, the more points he accumulates on the turn. Of course, the dart is the vehicle to hit the target area with precision. In pricing, the target area is a segment of customers. These segments reflect particular competitive situations the company faces rather than needs of the customers themselves. The darts are the components of price that the company can use to hit the target segment with precision. These price components include the set of benefits in the product, the basis of charge for the product, the list price of the product and several optional components of the price. The combination of the segment and the component of price the company uses to hit the segment limits the scope of the price reduction to those customers who absolutely require it. This precision pricing reduces the impact of the price reduction on the company’s margins. (See Improve/Pricing on

Abercrombie reduced U.S. prices to meet U.S. competition. It did so by reducing some list prices and introducing new, lower priced, products to compete in the U.S. market. Overseas, however, it held its prices high because competitive conditions allowed it to do so.

Now we will wait to see whether Abercrombie regains the market share it lost to its discounting competitors in 2008 and 2009.