MACY'S WILL ADD CARTS SOME WORRY CHANGE WILL SPOIL SHOPPING ATMOSPHERE.
With sales slumping and customers trickling away, Federated Department Stores unveiled a plan Tuesday to get rolling - literally.
The upscale chain operator, parent of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, announced that it will introduce shopping carts and a host of other features into its stores, part of its campaign to modernize its image.
The plan will affect nearly all of the firm's branches, including Rich's, Bon Marche, Division, Lazarus, Burdines and Macy's stores in Glendale, Sherman Oaks and Thousand Oaks. The locals, along with 39 other spots nationwide, will get the fix-up by mid-November, preparing the chain for what analysts predict will be a tough holiday season.
Though hybrid chains like Sears and discounters like Kohl's and Target have successfully introduced carts into their stores in the past, this marks a profound change for Macy's. According to retail expert Kurt Barnard, the change could have profound implications for the business as a whole.
``The department store industry, Federated included, needs a drastic dose of rejuvenation,'' said Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report. ``Clearly, it's taken Federated many years to wake up to that reality, and finally, they're following through. I'm quite sure May (Department Stores), Dillard's and Nordstrom will all begin to understand the department store model of 50 years ago is defunct.''
Nordstrom hasn't embraced the concept yet, however. While its off-price offshoot Nordstrom Rack's aisles lend themselves to carts, the full-line stores won't be welcoming the wheels anytime soon.
``We have no plans to add them,'' said Deniz Anders, a spokeswoman for the Seattle-based chain. ``Our salespeople are there to make sure the shopping's as easy as possible and we have a concierge where people can leave their packages.''
Sears, on the other hand, embraced it after a successful test run in 2000.
``You don't see too many stores in the mall that have shopping carts,'' admitted Sears spokeswoman Peggy Palter. However, ``we introduced shopping carts a couple of years ago, and they've been doing very well. So well, in fact, we're bringing out new ones.''
Rather than the small, stroller-esque version similar to Macy's new introduction, Sears is now moving to a scaled-down version of a grocery cart. With an eclectic mix of housewares, clothes and tools, the store's mix lends itself well to carts.
But at a premium spot like the Sherman Oaks Macy's, shoppers were cool to the concept.
``Shopping carts?'' said Sandy Breindel, a Toluca Lake resident, arching an eyebrow in displeasure. ``I don't like it. I think it lowers the quality of the shopping environment. If I'm going to buy designer clothing, I want personal customer service, not a throw-it-in a basket atmosphere.''
Burbank resident Karen Eldridge shared her sentiment.
``Think about it. You see people taking their shopping carts and doing their laundry in them. You see them at grocery stores. You don't buy a $200 duvet and throw it in a shopping cart.''
With the new plan, currently focused on either high-volume spots or stores currently undergoing remodeling, Federated will revamp its signs, add electronic price checkers throughout departments and expand the juniors and young men's sections. Fitting rooms will also be fixed up, with lounges, televisions and Internet stations outside for customers waiting. Barnard suggested the change was modeled on Kohl's successful layout, with the most significant factor being the addition of centralized checkouts near the escalators and exits.
While Macy's West spokeswoman Rina Neiman acknowledged the move should bolster the image of the flagging retailer, which reported same store sales were down 2.9 percent for the year Aug. 14, she said it was part of a long-term plan.
``Department stores have to stay competitive,'' she said. ``I don't know if this is related to Kohl's, because we've been doing this for awhile. You're constantly evaluating what makes it easiest for the consumer.''
According to Aubie Goldenberg, a partner with Ernst & Young's Los Angeles office who follows the retail world, consumers do appreciate amenities like carts, long a staple of the grocery and discount world. With a premium store such as Nordstrom, once a direct competitor for Macy's, the carts would have little impact. But as the latter chain adapts to shoppers' tastes, Goldenberg said the concept would work.
``If you went to Nordstrom and you were buying enough items that you needed a shopping cart, the sales person would hold them for you until you checked out,'' he said. ``At Macy's, you carry everything around because there's no one to help you.''
And though shoppers may be tentative about pushing a cart, Neiman said the sleek design of the mesh-basketed carts would complement the chain's upscale image.
``I thought it was odd when I first heard of it, but they're not grocery carts. They're small, they're black, they're fashionable,'' she said. ``I don't think this is changing the image, it's just making things easier.''
(1 -- 2 -- color) Lisa Present, Macy's West spokeswoman, shows off new Macy's shopping cart scheduled to be in use by mid-November at Macy's in Sherman Oaks. Other stores will soon follow. All Macy's West stores, including one in Sherman Oaks, will centralize cash registers and offer shopping carts to stimulate sales.
Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer