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Pier 1 Imports still considering need for a mobile app as share price goes off the end of the pier

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 13, 2017
An omni-channel retailer that is still thinking about the 'pros and cons' of having a mobile app. Pier 1 Imports isn't exactly at the bleeding edge of digital thinking.

Over the course of this year we’ve paid a lot of attention to digital transformation initiatives across the retail sector. Some of these have been successful, some have been slugglish. Only a couple have shown no signs of life.

Then there are those firms that are well behind the curve. One such name on that list is home decor retailer Pier One Imports. Yesterday the beleagured brand saw its stock price crash by around 24% after reporting another drop in sales, the eighth in the past ten quarters. That share drop comes on top of a fall of around 32% across the year-to-date.

There were lots of excuses on offer - the storms in Texas and Florida, “deeper-than-expected promotional activity”, yada yada yada - there are also some clear suggestions that Pier 1 hasn’t got its omni-channel act together in time or to its most optimal capability.

So while the company could point to one bright spot of e-commerce sales growing 27% year-on-year to make up 26% of total sales, compared to 20% a year ago, it's worth remembering that in the second quarter those numbers were 35% growth year-on-year and a 27% share of total sales.

Then there are the obvious gaps in capability. Try this out - there’s no mobile app.

In an age of digital retail where the most successful firms have plunged huge sums into making sure their mobile game is up to scratch, Pier 1 is still thinking about the idea. The best CEO Alasdair James can offer on the subject is:

We are absolutely talking about that.

Talking is one thing, doing is quite another. To be fair, James does appear to realise that there’s a big problem here:

I’m very clear that 60% of my customers are using a mobile device whilst in our stores, and therefore, the opportunity for us is clear. We haven’t had an app historically, as you know. But I do think, that [is a] scenario that we are [thinking] through very carefully at the moment to understand the pros and cons. My personal view we should probably have an app, but a team of experts here is taking me through it.

And that’s that. No timeline, no promises, seemingly no work underway - or none that was announced at least - and an idea floated that there might be ‘cons’ attached to mobile app. This is not exactly what you’d call particularly bleeding edge digital thinking.

ZIP code retail

Another trend we’ve seen this year has been the recognition and ongoing relevance of the offline store as part of the omni-channel mix. On this front at least, Pier 1 does get the idea, although again there’s a lingering sense that this might be more by luck than design. James says:

We're altering the way that we’re looking at our overall business so that we understand online sales if you like as an adjunct to our stores business…looking at our business from a ZIP code or sort of an area of profitability, and then analyzing our profitability by location.

So, to give you an example, it may not be sensible for us to have stores in Manhattan because of the rent payment versus Manhattan. But by having stores around the outside of Manhattan [and] the delivery online business being able to deliver into Manhattan more effectively makes a ton of sense for us. So we are in the process of building an assessment which looks at our business as a genuine omni-channel platform rather than looking out it as a stores-versus-online solution.

The key question for me there will be, [where are] those areas of the country where we are less profitable than others and what we need to do from both an online and the stores perspective in that area to get products to the consumer and that way that she is choosing in those particular locations…that’s the plan we’re sort of taking forward.

My take

Behind the curve. But then, not all exemplars are positive ones. Earlier in the year I noted that the retailer had some rather strange ideas about digital being the enabler to change the demographic of the customer base, with James stating:

The core Pier 1 Imports customer is 45 years to 60 years old. We believe there is an opportunity for the brand to appeal to millennial’s between 30 and 40 years of age.

Leaving aside the (possibly unintentional) implication that the existing customer base is too old, the idea that Pier 1 will attract its longed-for Millennial shoppers without having an app is frankly bizarre.  The time for talking is over.

NRF - 2018 - big show


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