Overcoming Marketing Challenges

WITH the advent of AI those who market online are going to have to step up to the challenges that this new year will bring. Marketing will need to be tweaked in order to attract buyers as the marketplace will become more competitive. Your team needs to effectively communicate amongst themselves and ultimately to the consumer.

MORE than ever, content is king. Online users are looking to be entertained and educated before they are sold on merchandise. Many are interested in social issues, which can be a double-edged sword if you take a stand. Be careful when you back ideas and ideologies. Just keep BLM in mind. Started off seemingly good and turned into a fiasco. Same with Bud Light. Oftentimes well-intentioned plans go awry and can cause losses to your business.

RESEARCH your buyer. Know what interests them and learn how to reach them and resonate with them. See what is relevant to them and target market to them. When you create content for your platforms make sure that you are generating leads. This is one of the most important functions of marketing. Increasing your company’s bottom line is the key. It’s wonderful to post about saving the environment, but you need to introduce your product line that is doing just that. Always be selling is the mantra for online marketing. You have a very limited window to keep the attention span of today’s consumer which means that you have to capture their attention and get them to take out their credit card within a paragraph or two!

Driving Sales on Social Media

THESE days retailers understand that successful sales must co-exist with social media marketing. It is just a fact whether we like it or not. Social media will become a $100 billion market within the next year, up almost 30% from this year. This presents marketers with a huge opportunity if they play it correctly.


THE biggest question is how to capitalize in this quickly changing market. Social media is no longer just for connecting to one another socially. It has become a real experience for users and one that is also driving merchandise sales. TikTok, while complained about constantly, has over 1 billion users and marketing companies have taken notice.


SOCIAL media sites still have a distance to go as most people are not going on their sites to make purchases. When an influencer on a site promotes a product and it is done with sincerity (although doubtful), sales can increase as much as 50% or more. While purchases are not expected on these sites we are seeing that Meta and TikTok are aiming their sights at changing that dynamic. The way they are improving the experience is by providing seamless transitions from the posting to the purchasing. These social commerce sites are also able to disseminate statistics on buyers much better and more accurately than any other platforms.

TIK-TOK aims to reach $10 million in sales a day by the end of this year. Yes, I wrote a DAY! This is an incredible goal and from the growth they are having daily it appears to actually be achievable.

THIS year you will see many social media platforms gearing up more towards retail sales and connections. Your company will need to be part of this revolution in order to reach the younger buyers (if that is your market). This will be accomplished by providing specific experiences to the users and then integrating your products.

Shein Take A Shine to Forever 21

AUTHENTIC brands has been extremely busy making deals with retailers from the past and now has announced a gigantic deal between Shein and Forever 21. Authentic has built a $30 billion business that owns some 50 of the world’s best-known brands. This new arrangement with Shein, the global online fashion and lifestyle retailer, for its Forever 21 brand will have Shein design, manufacture and distribute a line of Forever 21 apparel and accessories. The collection will be sold exclusively online on Shein’s sites in the US as well as part of Europe and Australia.

THIS deal comes shortly after the news that Shein had acquired about a third interest in SPARC Group, a joint venture between Authentic and Simon Property Group. SPARC is the core operating partner of Forever 21 in the US, At the same time, SPARC became a minority shareholder in Shein.

WHILE the Forever 21 deal is seen as a potentially highly lucrative one, it is the start of something even larger. This is the start of building brands within an e-commerce platform.

FORVER 21 already operates a fleet of physical stores and has an online presence but this deal will bring the company onto the Shein platform, which boasts over 154 million users, There is amazing market penetration that will be achieved by this move.

ALTHOUGH the deal is for online, it will be more far reaching because of Shein’s investment in SPARC. Shein installed a pop-up shop in the Forever 21 location in Ontario Mills in Ontario, CA and saw over 7,000 people walking through the space in it’s four-day stay, with comparable store sales up 62 percent over the prior year. To be sure, there will be more pop-ups and we will see many more old brands renew themselves in the near future.

Claire’s Adds Kohl’s To New Expansion

THE once chapter 11 and now returned Claire’s is adding to its growing retail presence through a new partnership with Kohl’s that will see an assortment of the brands, jewelry, accessories and cosmetics featured in Kohl’s stores in time for this holiday season.

CLAIRE’S activation began rolling out early last month and will be live at around 700 Kohl’s stores across the country by the end of this month. Kohl’s joins Claire’s growing list of over 40 retail partners which include Macy’s, Toys R Us, CVS, DSW and at least 10 grocery partners around the country.

SOME of the highlights of the Kohl’s rollout is attracting the Gen Alpha crowd with jewelry, hair accessories and cosmetics. A display targeting the more mature Gen Z audience will also feature those products. And finally, a display positioned near the checkout counter that will feature seasonal items as well as novelty products.

CLAIRE’S growing presence in partner stores sits alongside its 2,750 owned stores worldwide, which include a store expansion in Europe and a next gen Parisian location that showcases its partnership with fashion designer Nicola Formichetti and V Magazine.

FOR the last three years the 62-year-old brand has been undergoing a massive transformation effort to reintroduce itself to today’s younger consumers through metaverse interactions and the creation of their new loyalty program.

TRULY, for those of us in this industry who have been around long enough, this is a prime example of what was old can become new again!

Most U.S. Employers Want Wage Hikes

ABOUT 75% of U.S. organizations agree that the federal minimum wage should be increased, according to a new report from Payscale. Although opponents insist that an increase would hurt small businesses, the report indicates that small organizations with fewer than 100 employees tend to be more in favor of the policy than larger counterparts.

TO offset the complaint that wage increases have a negative impact on hours, prices and the overall economy, it was pointed out that businesses that have raised their wage floor above minimum wage have offset the costs with a reduction in turnover and increased engagement and morale. They say that all of those have led to a better business.

THERE is a push towards a $15 minimum wage which has been driven by fast food workers. Around 27 million workers would be affected by this sea change of the minimum wage. Supporters argue that it will reduce poverty, address income inequality, decrease gender and racial pay gaps, ensure fair compensation and stimulate the economy by increasing incomes and spending power.

MAJOR employers have been increasing their wages on their own. Walmart increased its minimum wage to $14 recently. They have also announced other programs for their employees including college degrees, health insurance and training opportunities.

WHILE we find the study interesting, we also understand some of the nuances that would affect small independent retailers. While some of the big box stores can do the volume to make up for the increased pay scale, small stores have a real problem keeping up with mark-downs and being competitive. We also feel that the argument of increasing wages to stimulate the economy is not a great one because with increased wages come increased prices at retailers and fast food. Remember, the dollar stores are now $1.25. So, if you got a 25 cent raise at work you’re spending more when you shop. All things considered, the minimum wage was designed as an entry level pay for entering the work force – not as a career salary or one that was designed to support a family and adult lifestyle.

Selling On Social Media Platforms

THERE is no way to avoid it, Insta, FB, Tik, and all the rest play a large part in the retailing community with many of our younger shoppers. With the advent of AI, which will probably result in the end of our civilization (just saying!), we all need to be on the top of our game when it comes to marketing and selling using social media platforms.

ONE of the big changes with social media is that they are relying more on what is called micro-influencers than celebrities. Users also need to have a seamless shopping experience once they decide to make purchases. One very interesting development is that consumers are searching for products and reviews on social media rather than using traditional search engines as they have done in the past. This is true for about 25% of consumers in the ages of 18-54. Gen Z consumers find that the number rises to 36%. This is a big shift in search patterns when it comes to retailing goods.

INTERESTINGLY, almost 40% of young people, when they are looking for a place to have lunch, are not going to Google Maps or Search but instead going to TikTok or Instagram. Who knew? Up till now many of us thought those apps were just for idiots posting videos!

AND believe it, TikTok has taken notice of this and recently has been testing new features to drive search traffic. Younger consumers want more visual responses and that is where traditional search engines have to step it up. Who cares about the allegations that TikTok transmits our personal data to the CCP – it will show us where to eat lunch! (What has happened to us?)

WITH the new ChatGPT there have already been over 1 billion monthly visitors and over 100 million active users. Want to stay in business for the next decade, either learn these platforms or hire someone to run your social media campaigns. It is no longer enough to post a sentence or two on Twitter or Facebook. If you want remain competitive, it’s your move.

AI To Change Retailing As We Know It

IF you have been following the recent uptick in AI development you are probably as alarmed as we are about unleashing this unregulated and potentially dangerous technology. But untested and dangerous has never stopped us before when it comes to rolling out things that will potentially harm us and our civilization. But that is just my humble opinion after doing some research on AI. Of course, those who tout it will extoll the wonderful virtues that it has. And it does have some useful benefits.

RECENTLY the National Retail Federation shared a report that Artificial Intelligence will change retail. The article assures us that the benefits will outweigh the worst-case scenarios and that the reality will be different! Well, I feel better already.

LEVI Straus, remember this company that lost a giant market share this year with their woke marketing and firing of CEO? They tell us that AI is already changing retail and that they would be working with customized AI generated models. American Eagle also said that they are using AI for inventory tracking. Wait, is this the same American Eagle that removed a bracelet from their line because it emulated a slave bracelet? That was five years ago so the company is probably all-knowing now about things. Puma company is also starting to use AI for their personalized customer styling. Wait, isn’t Puma the same company that had Australians in an outrage earlier this year by going “vegan” and denouncing kangaroo leather? Google it. So, here are three major companies using AI who have all made, in my opinion, bad business decisions, but we are told everything will be OK.

AI will be used to help with company’s models to offer more diverse body types and use AI models in place of live people in their offerings. Yes, I want to dress like that robot with the creepy eyes, thank you.

THE companies claim all of this will help the consumer feel more comfortable about what they are buying and make business operations more efficient. One executive said that “they are listening to the conversations” and want to understand the full power of AI. They are hoping that the technology will help optimize pricing, forecasting and marketing. These retailers along with groups like NRF are busy discussing and advising legislators. That should make all of us feel assured.

THE reality is that it’s going to happen whether we like it or not. The government proves time and again that they are incompetent and incapable of managing and even understanding technology. Time to start building your bunker!

Retailers Struggling To Survive Inflation

Like covid wasn’t bad enough to destroy our independent retail businesses over the last two years, the administration continues bad policy that has been devastating to our industry. I get it, covid came and it was scary – but then we started to understand more about the virus and especially saw that the lock downs and masking was only adding to the problems. But that didn’t stop our government and health “experts” from doubling down and enforcing even more restrictions over the last two years. I am not a conspiracy theorist – I am realistic and react on how these regulations have been killing our businesses.

So we got past covid and those of us still standing have had the last year getting pounded by inflation, supply chain issues and higher production costs. This did not just happen because of the Ukraine/Russia conflict, although that has intensified the problems. From Jan 22 we have suffered through deliberate policy to inflict higher prices and shortages. We have shot ourselves in the foot, ON PURPOSE. You cannot close down oil pipelines without a penalty. I am all for alternative energies but any idiot knows that you do not shut down your electric box until you have the windmill hooked up! This is simple. With increased oil and utility pricing our small businesses have had issues keeping up.

Zoom ahead to today where we are seeing rampant inflation. This is effecting everyone and especially small businesses whose margins have shrunken dramatically. Is there an answer to these problems? Of course there is but we have people in charge who are purposefully leading us in the wrong direction. I am not a political person – I am an entrepreneur. I need my business to survive so my family can survive. Small businesses have long been the backbone of our country – and I am afraid that our backs are breaking and no one in power is caring!

Recovering After Covid

Retailers around the world have suffered for the last year under many archaic shutdowns and restrictions imposed by their local governments. We are all for safety and ourselves have followed the science, but the overreach we have seen has devastated our industries.

Finally we have pushback by the citizens and stores and businesses are quickly reopening. Some are under restrictions but those who have been able to ride things out will soon be back to full swing and capitalize over the next quarter.

There has been a pent up demand for shopping. Online shopping did increase and it will continue to grow, however people want to get out to the stores and physically shop. So get your store in gear. Redecorate and make your space inviting to the shoppers who will soon be flooding the market.

Here at Forum we have stood side-by-side with our fellow businesses and will continue to support and promote our industry. It’s good to be back!

Retail Apocalypse – You Can Pretend It’s Not True!

It’s a tough statement to make as someone who has been in the industry since 1981 – but like everything that started in the 80’s – we had a great run for a long time but when technology moves inand changes happen we just cannot expect things to last forever. And now I read daily the articles and missives from the industry genius’ that retailing is alive and well and going to be great!


So I dug into these optimistic words of wisdom and contacted many of the writers to see what they are basing their statements on. Of six authors only two bothered to even respond to defend or at least explain their positions. And those two were more disturbing to me than the non-responses. They were so disconnected to the independent retailer that it was alarming. Their articles were geared towards a couple of the largest retailers in the industry. Public traded companies who bleed money even when their sales increase. The articles of optimism certainly are not geared towards us independents.


One of the information providers for malls around the country published an article this week stating that MALLS ARE NOT DEAD… The Retail Apocalypse Never Happened! So I read with great interest to see what the article was based on. And, sure enough the writer explained that malls are being “re-imagined” to include health clubs, restaurants, medical centers and INDOOR SKY DIVING! Well, that really helps us small retailers, doesn’t it! All that we know is that small retailers have had to leave the malls because of lagging sales and the malls have to fill the spaces. They are doing what they need to do, but do not confuse an occupied mall with success for the retailers. They are success for the landlords who filled vacancies. Nothing here is helping the independent retailer.


So I continued to try to understand the other writers who claim retailing is not suffering. While a few articles stated that numbers are down, they have actually put the blame on the small retailers by not engaging the shoppers! According to them you can turn the downward trend around by giving better customer service and experiences. Put unique products into your stores and that’ll save the say.


I have heard that song and dance for years now and have to respond (again). I don’t care how many salespeople you have following around a shopper – this is not going to change the trajectory. Also, new products? Seriously? Every retailer is always looking for the new next best thing to cash in on. Do you really think you are going to get the scoop on buying the next hot product before the big box stores or online retailers? It’s not like the old days of the 80’s and 90’s – we have something called the internet! Not only do products move at the speed of light we now also compete directly with the online China sellers who happily sell directly to our customers. And as we learned many of our customers are willing to wait 3-4 weeks to get the hot item in the mail from China at a fraction of the cost we could sell it to them. So, the item is warm not hot when they get it – we still lose a great amount of business to this.


So to all the pundits claiming that retail is alive and better than ever – hey, I have an idea, why don’t YOU open a local store and rather than sit at a desk in an office and spew inaccurate info and ridiculous “tips”.


My dear retail store owners, you are not doing anything wrong. You are not missing out on any resurgence of wealth for small stores — You are churning out a living and having to reinvent the wheel every day you open your store. You are in retailing because you love the notion of being a shopkeeper.


I wrote this to assure my fellow retailers that most of the articles about our industry are bull****. We live the industry daily. As you also know, things are all not gloom and doom – we do have business, just not as much as we had. My advice for fellow retailers is to stock lighter inventory to keep liquid and include as much variety in your merchandise selections as possible. Start or upgrade your website because e-commerce will be a factor in keeping your business rolling along. If you have the energy to create in store experiences as the pundits expound on, knock yourself out. Personally, I’m not putting on a clown suit and expending all my energy to bring in one or two browsers to my store!