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Amazon Almost Killed Target. Then, Target Did the Impossible

In 2017, everyone was laughing at Target.

Sales had continued to slide. Stores were in disrepair. And company leaders were struggling to adapt to the changing behavior of consumers–many of whom were shopping more and more with online retailers like Amazon.

As fellow retailers Macy’s, J.C. Penney, and Gap collectively shuttered hundreds of stores because of similar struggles, analysts said Target should do the same.

But Target executives, led by CEO Brian Cornell, had a different idea. The key to revitalizing Target, they said, was to go on the offensive.

So, in March 2017, Target made a huge announcement: It planned to invest over $7 billion in a turnaround strategy that would include:

  • remodeling existing stores (and opening smaller ones in urban areas);
  • introducing new, private label brands; and,
  • enhancing its digital shopping experience.

Wall Street thought the plan was a disaster. On the day of the announcement, Target suffered its largest stock plunge in almost a decade.

But fast-forward to today, and Target is thriving. First-quarter results for 2019 beat analysts’ expectations. The store’s private-label lines are exploding. And as comparable store sales continue to rise, the stock price is trading at an all-time high.

How did Target do it?

A close look at the company’s brilliant turnaround strategy reveals some major lessons for businesses of any size.

Here are some highlights:

Think long term.

When Target announced its turnaround plan, Cornell expected backlash. He knew investors would hate the idea of stuttering profits for the foreseeable future.

But he held fast to his plan. “We’re investing in our business with a long-term view of years and decades, not months and quarters,” Cornell said at the time.

Cornell knew this reset was necessary because so many Target stores had fallen into disrepair over the years. And while the company was making efforts in e-commerce, it simply didn’t have the infrastructure to deliver.

Contrast that with today. Target has remodeled hundreds of stores, and it has built a hundred “mini-stores” in urban areas like New York and on college campuses (with plans to open dozens more of these every year for the foreseeable future). The company also invested heavily in its e-commerce operations to great benefit. (More on this in a minute.)

By focusing on the long-term health of the company instead of short-term financial performance, Cornell took a page out of Jeff Bezos’s playbook–and it clearly worked.

Leverage your strengths.

Target’s e-commerce infrastructure needed a complete revamp. But could the company really compete with Amazon and Walmart, which were years ahead of the curve?

It could–by doing things a little differently.

Target execs knew that as popular as e-commerce has become, the majority of retail shopping still takes place in physical stores–especially when it comes to clothing.

So Target chose to focus on a model that would maximize its strengths. Known as “ship-to-store,” Target’s e-commerce platform turns physical stores into mini warehouses for online customers. That makes it possible for customers to order a product online, and then pick it up in a store on the same day.

Ship-to-store reduces Target’s shipping and handling costs, and takes advantage of already existing space in physical stores. And if a customer decides to do some shopping while already there at Target, the benefit is two-fold.

Fill a gap.

Consumers had once affectionately referred to Target as “Tarzhay,” an ode to products and style that were affordable yet a step above those offered by competitors like Walmart. Over time, though, Target had created too many labels that were clear misses.

“Tarzhay” had lost its cachet.

But nobody had stepped up to fill that gap of stylish, exclusive clothing for lower prices. So, in an effort to rebuild its reputation, Target doubled down on its exclusive brands. The company has launched 20 private-label lines over the past three years, including brands for modern furniture, kids’ clothes, electronics, and home goods.

The investment paid off: Six of Target’s private-labels each do more than a billion dollars in annual sales. These labels, together with other brands sold exclusively at Target,  contribute nearly a third of the company’s overall revenue (and an even greater percentage of profits).

In addition, Target has worked hard to fill gaps left by unsuccessful competitors. For example, when stores like Toys “R” Us and the Sports Authority went bankrupt, Target saw this as opportunity: market share begging to be gobbled up.

Yes, Target has definitely gotten its groove back. It did so by bucking analysts’ advice, and instead returning to basics:

Thinking long-term. Leveraging strengths. Filling gaps.

I guess Target got the last laugh after all.

By: Justin Bariso Author, EQ Applied

Source: Amazon Almost Killed Target. Then, Target Did the Impossible

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MacKenzie Bezos Is Now Worth $36.1 Billion. But Who Is She?

MacKenzie Bezos was not fussy, which was helpful, as there was no time for fussiness at Amazon headquarters in early 1996. She shared her office with a junior employee in a space that doubled as the company kitchen. For 12 hours a day, as workers squeezed by to use the microwave, she presided over the accounting. At night she headed to the warehouse to pack orders.

She “was a huge contributor,” says Mike Hanlon, Amazon’s seventh employee. “She really is a talented person in a way that I think gets lost when you’re the billionaire’s wife.”

The mystery around MacKenzie, 49, seems carefully cultivated. She largely slipped into anonymity after Amazon’s early years and has granted no interviews since January, when her split from husband Jeff became public. The couple finalized their divorce in July, with MacKenzie getting 25% of his Amazon stock. That stake is currently worth $36.1 billion, enough to put her 15th on this year’s Forbes 400.

“She should have gotten 50% of the company,” says Nick Hanauer, one of Amazon’s first investors. “MacKenzie was an equal partner to Jeff in the early days.”

In keeping with character, MacKenzie wouldn’t talk for this story. To shed some light on her, we spent weeks contacting more than 100 friends and former classmates and coworkers; even that yielded only a hazy picture, one of an intensely private but talented woman who has, quietly, excelled at every stage of her life.

MacKenzie grew up in San Francisco, a middle child with two siblings. At 6, she wrote a 142-page book called The Book Worm. Her parents, a homemaker and a financial planner, sent her to Hotchkiss, the Connecticut boarding school, where she graduated a year early. She studied at Cambridge, then Princeton, where she majored in English; Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison was her thesis advisor. “She was generally a very poised and a quiet and brilliant presence,” says Jeff Nunokawa, one of her English professors.

After graduating, she took a job at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw, where she began dating Jeff Bezos, who left to found Amazon in 1994. From the outset, MacKenzie was heavily involved. “No one really had job titles . . . so she did just about everything,” says Tod Nelson, another early employee.

MacKenzie pulled back around the time Amazon went public, in 1997, to focus on fiction writing. She kept a low profile until 2005, when HarperCollins published her first novel, The Testing of Luther Albright. Morrison deemed it “a rarity.” MacKen­zie followed it in 2013 with Traps.

The more recent chapters of her life are largely unknown. In 2018 she and Jeff committed $2 billion to fight homelessness and support nonprofit preschools. In May, as their divorce neared completion, she signed the Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half her wealth. True to form, she hasn’t said a word about where those billions will go.

Get Forbes’ daily top headlines straight to your inbox for news on the world’s most important entrepreneurs and superstars, expert career advice, and success secrets.

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I’ve been a reporter at Forbes since 2016. Before that, I spent a year on the road—driving for Uber in Cleveland, volcano climbing in Guatemala, cattle farming in Uruguay, and lots of stuff in between. I graduated from Tufts University with a dual degree in international relations and Arabic. Feel free to reach out at nkirsch@forbes.com with any story ideas or tips, or follow me on Twitter @Noah_Kirsch.

Source: MacKenzie Bezos Is Now Worth $36.1 Billion. But Who Is She?

990K subscribers
A new book about Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, “The Everything Store,” is not receiving positive feedback from Bezos’ wife. John Blackstone reports.

How Leading Enterprises Are Building Blockchain Innovation On AWS

Blockchain hype—led by cryptocurrency headlines—obscures powerful enterprise applications of the technology. We aim to change that. In this series, we’ll bring you insights from Amazon Web Services customers and partners who are using blockchain to change the world.

The world grows more interconnected every day. Businesses collaborate across the globe. Transactions increase in volume and intricacy. Organizations that share sensitive information across public networks risk information leaks and the possibility of sophisticated cyber attacks.

Traditional methods of storing, verifying, and securing transactions struggle to keep pace with this rising complexity. Massive inefficiency results from the need to process and verify information spread across entities. Entire industries exist only to serve as trusted intermediaries between parties. Attempts at automation create fragile webs of APIs.

Blockchain and digital ledger technologies solve these problems by storing transactions in ways that are transparent, immutable, and verifiable. And they allow multiple parties to transact in a trustworthy and efficient manner, with or without a centralized authority.

Many exciting use cases are possible. Manufacturers could build track and trace ledgers that unify data from multiple systems, enabling faster identification of the reasons for product defects. Consumers could see the history of goods from raw materials to last-mile delivery. Insurers could pay claims in seconds. The time it takes to issue a bond through a securities exchange could shrink from months to minutes.

Companies are working to reap the benefits of blockchain, such as greater speed, efficiency, and reduced risk. For example, Gartner calls blockchain one of the top 10 strategic technologies of 2019. Eighty-five percent of enterprises in a Deloitte survey said they invest $500,000 or more annually in blockchain technologies.

Yet few have deployed these systems to production. Significant challenges hamper the transformative potential of blockchain. Businesses cite regulatory issues, technical barriers, security threats, uncertain ROI, and lack of in-house skills as the biggest barriers.

Many of our own customers, such as Nestlé and Singapore Exchange, have told us about the complexity of building scalable enterprise applications on blockchain. Setting up the hardware, networking, and software can be daunting, even before getting to the experimentation phase. This delays potentially life-changing innovations.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) solves these issues in two major ways. First, we built Blockchain on AWS—a set of massively scalable blockchain and distributed ledger services in the cloud. If all you need is a centralized ledger that immutably records all application data changes, there’s Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (Amazon QLDB). If you need to build a distributed application with ledger capabilities and the ability for multiple parties to transact without a trusted central authority, there’s Amazon Managed Blockchain.

Second, we collaborate closely with leading enterprises to speed innovation. From global manufacturers to finance-industry cornerstones, these companies are creating a more scalable, secure, efficient future. For example, they’ve demonstrated that blockchain delivers throughput to handle U.S. securities trading. Others have built solutions to connect small-scale farmers with consumers thousands of miles away.

We’ll highlight these and many other exciting use cases in the coming weeks. We’re thrilled to bring you along on the journey.

For 13 years, Amazon Web Services has been the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform. AWS offers over 165 fully featured services for compute, storage, databases, networking, analytics, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), mobile, security, hybrid, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), media, and application development, deployment, and management from 66 Availability Zones (AZs) within 21 geographic regions, spanning the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Sweden, and the UK. Millions of customers—including the fastest-growing startups, largest enterprises, and leading government agencies—trust AWS to power their infrastructure, become more agile, and lower costs. To learn more about AWS, visit aws.amazon.com.

Source: How Leading Enterprises Are Building Blockchain Innovation On AWS

 

Amazon Reportedly Has a Warning for Sellers Who Offer Products on Walmart.com for a Lower Price

It’s not really a surprise that Amazon wants to offer customers the overall lowest prices on the products it sells in order to capture more sales. And it has created an incredible marketplace for third-party sellers to grow and thrive. But that’s not the entire story. It turns out that the company could also be keeping a close eye on companies that also sell their products at other sites, such as Walmart.com.

That’s according to a recent report by Bloomberg that says that when Amazon finds Marketplace sellers that offer the same product elsewhere for less than the price on Amazon’s site, the company sends those sellers a warning “via a web platform they use to manage their Amazon businesses” and often makes it harder to find the product on its own site. Effectively, the message is: Raise your prices, or else.

Really, there are two aspects of this story that are worth paying attention to.

Play by the rules.

The first is the amount of control that Amazon exerts over its sellers. The company has policies that even dictate how third-party sellers should design the packaging for their products. It also determines how products are displayed and how easily they are found by customers.

Additionally, Amazon runs the third-largest advertising platform, which many sellers find themselves resigned to pay for, lest their products go unnoticed.

Ultimately, Amazon’s would likely prefer sellers to lower their price on its site, however many sellers tell Bloomberg that they have been hit by so many fee increases that the only real course of action is to raise prices elsewhere.

In fact, those same sellers report that when you include advertising, Amazon takes as much as 40 percent of every marketplace sale on the site.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to my request for a comment, but according to Bloomberg, a spokesperson said in a statement that “sellers have full control of their own prices both on and off Amazon, and we help them maximize their sales in our store by providing them insights on how to be the featured offer.”

That isn’t exactly a denial that it sends the warning.

I think it also takes a little liberty with the meaning of “help them maximize their sales,” especially if “providing them insights” really means “make sure your prices aren’t lower anywhere else.”

The risk of building on someone else’s platform.

The second lesson here is about the risk of building your business on someone else’s platform. The two happen to be more closely related than they might seem.

When your business is selling products online, Amazon certainly has one of the most desirable platforms, considering its vast reach. It makes sense, then, that a business would want to make its products available to as many people as possible. That’s why many sellers list products on a variety of sites like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.

But at what cost?

If you build a business on someone else’s platform, you allow them to exert considerable control, since you have to be willing to put up with the rules and policies created by that platform. Those rules could change at any time, and your only real option is to change your business or leave. Often, neither is ideal.

As an entrepreneur, it can be tempting to make decisions that help you greatly as you grow, but you should consider what effect those choices will have down the road. Are you able to run your business the way you want, or will you be at the mercy of another company that makes the rules with its own interests first?

Pay close attention to those rules. After all, the one who made them is probably paying close attention to you.

 

By: Jason AtenWriter and business coach @jasonaten

Source: Amazon Reportedly Has a Warning for Sellers Who Offer Products on Walmart.com for a Lower Price

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