Shopping wasn’t good so The Bay makes it better

As millions of time-strapped women who juggle family and career know, shopping isn't good and in many cases it isn't even fun. Women want style, fashion and quality in whatever they buy, but often can't afford it when they find it.
Gord Sonnenberg, VP of marketing at The Bay, says women in focus groups relayed this information.

As millions of time-strapped women who juggle family and career know, shopping isn’t good and in many cases it isn’t even fun. Women want style, fashion and quality in whatever they buy, but often can’t afford it when they find it.

Gord Sonnenberg, VP of marketing at The Bay, says women in focus groups relayed this information.

‘They were very time-pressed and found it somewhat difficult to meet all of their needs. Most of them didn’t really ever feel shopping was great. We thought it was appropriate to make a change and to talk about some of the things we offer that maybe we didn’t express as well previously.’ (The Bay changed agencies in July 2001 when Padulo Integrated replaced its Toronto-based AOR Wolf Group of Canada – now Flavour.)

So now, after two years of trying to tell us ‘Shopping is Good,’ the store has changed its tune, in part to battle Wal-Mart, believes Maureen Atkinson, a retail analyst with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group. ‘Wal-Mart is taking business away from everybody, particularly general merchandise [stores],’ she says.

Wal-Mart’s inroads into Canada’s $17.2 billion apparel market began with a 4.2% share in 1998. It recorded a 7.1% share for 2002 ending in June, according to the latest figures from Toronto-based syndicated market research company, NPD Group Canada. Its competitor Zellers went from 8.0% to 7.1% in those same years.

David Howell, VP of NPD Group, says The Bay has also lost some of its apparel share to its rival Sears. The Bay had 8.5% share in June 1998. By 2002, that number had dropped to 6.5%. Meanwhile, Sears’ share went from 7.9% in 1998, to 10.0% in 2001 and 9.7% for 2002.

But The Bay is fighting back with a new theme line, ‘More Than You Came For’ and some strategic moves from Sonnenberg, who replaced Neil Fedun earlier this year. Sonnenberg was previously VP of stores and says that The Bay’s evolution began with some changes he made in-store, such as introducing centralized cash desks and changing rooms so shoppers will always know where to find help. He’s also beefed up the staff in full-service departments such as shoes, cosmetics, jewelry and major home fashions.

The merchandise assortment, particularly in the fashion departments, has been expanded to range from everyday value and private-label brands to high-end fashion.

‘We know from our research that our customer gave us credit for leadership in style but thought that perhaps we didn’t have affordability,’ says Sonnenberg.

‘For the past few years, we’ve been working to ensure that we have a product assortment that sits within [our customer's] price range. We’ve brought budget brands into the store, and more modestly-priced product targeted to her level of affordability.’

The retailer’s current brands are also getting a boost via a new three-year deal with New York-based Federated Department Stores, parent of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. The Bay’s budget brands Market Square and Outline, its moderately priced Bay Value and private labels Mantles and To Go will be joined by exclusive new brands this fall and into 2003. These labels include INC and Style & Co. for women, Clubroom menswear, and Tools of the Trade housewares.

The Bay’s new campaign launched earlier this month. One of its goals, says Sonnenberg, is to create awareness that there has been a significant amount of change in-store, that it’s got great style and affordable product every day. The advertising was developed to speak to its core customer, women aged 35 to 54, with kids, a full- or part-time job, a mid-range household income of $50,000-plus – and a tight budget. The secondary target is a slightly older woman with higher income, full- or part-time job and more available discretionary dollars, who is looking for more high-end style.

The multi-media ‘More Than You Came For’ campaign spans TV, radio, print and flyers. Padulo handles TV and radio creative, while print and media buying is handled in-house.

The broadcast executions use the internal monologue style popularized in film and TV by Ally McBeal, Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The TV spots are episodic, each featuring the same everywoman revealing those little truths we normally don’t speak out loud.

On back-to-school shopping for the kids, she says: ‘One false move and I could seal their little future just like that. The wrong shoes, the wrong pants and they’ll never be cool. Not for one day. I have the right store. I have the power. I have enough to get one of each. They will be cool. I will be cool.’

Although focus groups said they want more for less, the woman in one of the radio spots has her own take on that insight:

‘I don’t think I buy into this less is more hooey. I think more should be more. I think my whole life should be like the perfect shopping trip. Everything I want and everything I need beautifully laid out. I can see and touch more, afford more. Obviously whoever came up with less is more, doesn’t shop enough – at The Bay anyway.’

NPD’s Howell says The Bay will use private-label brands and the narrowing of the price gap between itself and Wal-Mart and Zellers to make it more of a horse race with Sears. He points out that The Bay’s recognition of the 35-plus market – and that size 14 is about the average size for Canadian women – is also a positive step.

‘The plus-size business in Canada has gone from about 12% or 13% of the dollars to almost 25% of the dollars in the last five to seven years,’ he says. ‘One of the things we’ve seen and preached to [The Bay] is the demographics in Canada now. The birth rate continues to decline by 1.5% a year. When we look at the customer base, retailers and manufacturers are both guilty of [continuing] to focus on a youth market.’

The Bay’s measured media spend in 2000 exceeded $52 million according to ACNielsen.