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Department store ups and downs; Amazon marches on: The BloomReach Relevance Report

They say the days are getting shorter, but actually they don’t get any shorter at all. You still have plenty of time to read the BloomReach Relevance Report. Dig in.

Department store fortunes are compartmentalized

Macys future

Maybe you’ve been reading about the trouble with department stores. Maybe you’ve been living the trouble with department stores. Foot traffic is down, comparing same-store sales is giving retail execs stomach aches, etc.

But the truth is, not all department stores are created equal. Look at this week’s news from JCPenney vs. this week’s news from Sears, the two stores that competed wildly for share of our parents’ sneaker wallet when we were growing up (while all the cool kids were getting Converse). Remember Jeepers? Of course you don’t.

Anyway, Penney had a good week. In fact, JCPenney is killing it. Bloomberg reports that the chain says that only 10 of its 1,000-plus stores are not profitable. That’s a far cry from Sears, which lost $395 million last quarter and has been closing stores like crazy. (More than 160 in the past 10 years according to a chart accompanying the Bloomberg story.

Closing definitely seems to be the thing to do. Macy’s, you may recall, just announced plans to close 100 stores.  But to paraphrase our dear mother, JCPenney figures that when fate closes a store, it opens a window.

The retailer has been negotiating with mall operators who have lost anchors in the Sears, Macy’s etal bloodbath, Bloomberg says, and landing good deals to move in and start doing business.

The retailer has also taken a good look at its core customers and sharpened its focus on “beauty, home goods and special sizes,” Bloomberg says. It will also up its e-commerce game and improve its customer service, the news service says.

The glowing report seemed unlikely only a few years ago when former Apple stores guru Ron Johnson took the JCPenney helm and did away with discounting among other things. His reign is pretty much recognized as a disaster for the retailer.

That was then. This is now. Stay tuned.

Ikea is the new Comedy Central

Ikea store

Ah, Ikea, you slay us. First, it was the BookBook and now, now it’s stars of the Ikea catalog.

The Swedish retailer just keeps rolling out hilarious advertising campaigns, this one listening in to the hopes and dreams of the people who stand among the hard-to-build furniture pieces for sale in Ikea’s product catalog.

The retailer is definitely an industry leader when it comes to using content to attract customers and encourage shoppers to buy. One key to Ikea’s success is not taking itself too seriously and tapping into cultural touchpoints.

The BookBook schtick is a spoof on Apple’s inclination for self worship when it comes to products.

The stars spot is another laugh-out-loud promotion starring sober and self-absorbed actors celebrating their big break of being in Ikea’s big book. We admit it makes us want to run out and buy a Gronadal rocking chair.

The retailer’s embrace of humor seems to inspire its customers. Sure, it’s an old favorite, but this user-generated video not only gives Ikea’s polished ads a run for their money, it might actually be funnier. Enjoy.

And no, we didn’t write this whole item just so we could get the “Hey Donna” video into the BRRR again. OK, yes we did.

Amazon eyes book-stacker of the world for next brick-and-mortar outlet

Amazon bookstore

Amazon’s brick-and-mortar empire apparently has its eye on Chicago as the next territory it intends to conquer, the Chicago Tribune reports.

You’re no doubt familiar with the Seattle behemoth’s back-to-the-future strategy of selling books out of little shops that you can stroll through and touch stuff. It was a thing back in the day.

Now, there has been some back-and-forth about whether Amazon is really going to open 400 stores and Amazon doesn’t say much about anything it’s doing — anything. It opened its first store in Seattle nearly a year ago.

And even though The Everything Store is opening stores that have books in them, they are not exactly like ye old book stores, as Fortune points out. The physical stores make plenty of use of data, which Amazon has plenty of. The New York Times Nick Wingfield took a tour of the place, if you want a better idea.

Forbes chalked the Amazon idea up to the current thinking around combining online and offline shopping and experiences into one seamless shopping excursion, which a lot of retailers are working on and struggling with.

And the fact is, given Amazon’s vast pile of data on most of America, the e-commerce giant might find some creative answers that are applicable to all sorts of retailers. That’s the good news.

The bad news: Amazon will find them first and scale them up at dizzying speed, potentially leaving the other retailers wheezing and collapsing on the race to the top.

For now, though, Chicago. The newest store, which as with most things Amazon, is a rumor, will open in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood — a very long fly ball from another throwback: Wrigley Field.

Holiday shopping will be more digital than ever

Macy's holiday

Are you ready for the slew of news stories about the holiday shopping season? Spending is up; it’s down; holiday has gone mobile; the store plays a role; the store is irrelevant. Yeah, we’re not ready either.

But here’s an early blast: Marketing Daily reports that Kantar Retail is expecting a 3.8 percent increase in holiday spending this year, which is in line with predictions for last year’s growth.

That’s newsy, as news goes, but the real news is that Kantar, a big consultancy, says that e-commerce will grow 16 percent over last year during the holiday season. A boost in digital commerce is hardly a surprise, but what’s interesting is the rate of growth.

E-commerce is growing fast.

Still not impressed? Bloomberg reports that by some measures, e-commerce now makes up 14 percent of retail spending — breaking the double-digit barrier that e-commerce hovered around but never cleared.

At any rate, there are a lot of signs pointing to a robust holiday season, including Internet Retailer’s report this spring. The only thing with all that? Predicting  holiday spending can be a tricky business and sometimes reality falls short of early hype.

There will be more predictions in the coming months. It will be interesting to see if they are in rough alignment. And then it will be interesting to see if they were right.

Quote of the week

“Now, from one retailer to another, our customer bases are quite different, so when your customers swear at my little old lady customers, who are just trying to come in to buy an album to protect their war time treasures, it’s a bit of a problem.” — Melbourne shop owner Charlotte Knightley on Facebook after traffic to her store was blocked by fans waiting to get into Kanye West’s pop-up store.

Photo of Ikea store by Seth Werkheiser, Amazon book store by Len Edgerly and newspapers by  Jon S published under Creative Commons license. Photo of Macy’s and holiday decorations by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.