Customer Knows Best: Is Self-Service the Future of Retail?

This hasn’t been a banner year for Macy’s. After shutting 66 of its stores last year, the retailer admits that they will likely cut another 34 over the course of the next few years. What’s more, Macy’s expects sales to continue to decline in fiscal 2017, with total sales projected to fall anywhere between 3.2 percent and 4.3 percent. Understandably, the retail chain is feeling the pressure to revamp its processes in an effort to quell its rapid decline. That may be why they’ve recently announced a plan to expand their “open sell” concept; a test which started about a year ago at the retailer’s smaller stores, which will now be implemented in their medium-sized locations.

The term “open sell” is shop talk for ‘self-service’. Keeping the focus on their shoe section (for now at least), Macy’s is opting to have customers pick out their own stock from racks of shoes rather than have a dedicated staff member run back and forth between selling floor displays and the backroom. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because this is a strategy usually employed by off-price retail chains, like T.J. Maxx and Nordstrom Rack.

[Don’t] Do It Yourself?

This is a particularly noteworthy move simple because high-end department stores like Macy’s have a long-standing reputation for offering premium, tailored services and experiences to their consumers.

When shoppers enter these stores, they expect a level of service not typically found at your average boutique. Will suddenly having to do everything turn off for Macy’s shoppers? Macy’s CFO Karen Hoguet doesn’t think so. “Having sufficient staffing […] is sometimes challenging,” she told analysts at a recent investor conference. “Many customers don’t want that level of service anyway. Lots just say, ‘Leave me alone, let me get the shoe I want and move on.’”

But still, this is a risky move by the retailer, as off-price competitors steadily take bigger and bigger bites out of the department store market share. You know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, join’ em… but a move like this may confuse Macy’s shoppers. This move has potential to position the store in consumers’ minds as just another discount department store. If that becomes the case, where will the consumers looking for catered experiences go? Elsewhere.

Don’t get us wrong, self-service isn’t an inherently bad approach. In fact, paired with a few key retail technologies and perhaps a dash of customization, self-service may very well be the future of brick and mortar retail. It’s all about knowing your audience. A shopper used to being waited on when they step into an upscale store may not appreciate this approach, but an omnichannel consumer on-the-go may be more than happy with the ease of service.

Dayana Cadet

Dayana Cadet

Dayana’s love affair with writing spans all manner of content. As the Content Specialist at Hubba, connecting people to the things they love is where she thrives.

Follow her at @D_isforDayana
Dayana Cadet