Vera Bradley: No Longer Your High School Sweetheart

We know Vera Bradley as those printed cotton lunch bags that the popular girls brought to school or the lanyards you stuck your college ID in, but Vera Bradley doesn’t want you to remember her that way.

Vera Bradley CEO Rob Wallstrom has a five-year plan that will completely makeover the brand as you know it, and he wants you to do a double take when you see it at the five-year high school reunion. With their segmentation analysis crowning the “daymaker” as their muse, Wallstrom is making headway into what is one of the biggest rebrandings in the fashion industry that I’ve seen in a while. Who is the “daymaker” you ask?

Daymakers are idealists, go-getters, and “choreographers” who are able to “balance 1,000 things” well for family, friends and themselves, he said. They also love to host others and are “joiners,” not loners… She appreciates femininity and beauty in color and prints and thoughtful details and in her relationships. And that’s what’s important. It’s not just beauty as something you acquire, it’s also beauty as in something you are and something that you do. – CEO Wallstrom, March 2016

Vera Bradley’s fresh marketing campaign launched this past week, with the brand tagline “It’s good to be a girl.” The marketing campaign includes influencer posts, social media, print ads, as well as digital audio on Spotify and Pandora. The move is intended to follow the primary audience as they age from high school and college into the working world, where printed cotton bags aren’t chic, and young professional women yearn for something more grown up.


The new logo

The changes are gradual but seem sudden – cotton bags used to make 90% of the brand’s collection but the refresh has pushed that number down to 50%, replacing the jaded prints with leather and similar materials. In an effort to compete with other premium brands, Vera Bradley has increased its assortment available in department stores, where being merchandised next to its peers should highlight the value-boasting prices of Vera Bradley (about $200). In addition to upping the handbag materials and styles to keep up with its graduated audience, Vera Bradley added more jewelry in July and increased its collection of scarves in addition to home products and perfume.


The new Vera Bradley

What do you think of the rebrand? Do you think that it will make the brand relevant again?

Celebrity Collabs

Lately, we’ve been seeing a ton of mashups among brands and celebrities or other designers:

The list goes on..

It seems like big brands that have been around for a while are venturing to find someone “current” that can help rejuvenate their brand for them and make the brand relevant to what is hopefully a strategic target audience. Often, these collabs get a good amount of media attention for a short bit, but then get forgotten. Before I go on further, I want to emphasize that I’m talking about celebrity collaborations, which result in a unique product, not celebrity endorsements which serve as promotion for an existing product. There are so many questions that many in the industry are still figuring out:

What makes a celebrity collaboration successful? How similar does the celeb’s brand and following have to be to the retailer brand? Is it better to have a one-off collaboration or an ongoing line? What’s the spectrum of the celebrity’s involvement in the creation of the collaborated product: full-on sketching the designs or is their name just slapped on? Is there a threat that the celebrity’s name on your product will cause an increase in sales and buzz that will then die down once the collab is over?

What’s a celeb collaboration that, in your opinion, failed? What’s one that’s just pure genius?


Is “web-lash” a thing?

“Web-lash” :a mashup of “backlash” and the web. WHAT? I’ll explain. It’s a concept introduced to me by Gary Ambrosino of Time Trade, in his article on WWD. Gary explains web-lash as “a backlash on online shopping and an increased focus on the store,” which, when I read it, hit a note for me. I’ve gotten into discussions with several people who opine that pretty soon, all shopping will be done digitally. There are many exhibits in modern culture that could seemingly support that: Amazon PrimeNow and their drones; Instacart, subscription services, and clothing subscription services like Le Tote. That’s where the future of retail is heading, but is that where the end is?

Retailers are currently going crazy about the huge increases (like even some 200% increases) in mobile and digital purchases during Holiday 2015. “Everyone’s buying online; let’s focus on online” seems to be the general sentiment. Why the web-lash and imminent refocus on brick-and-mortar?  To summarize Gary’s points, it’s due to the lackluster shortcomings of online shopping that leave consumers returning to physical stores. “Physical interaction with products is impossible, pages can be difficult to navigate, there is no instant gratification, and there is a distinct lack of knowledgeable assistance available,” he declares of digital shopping. Soon enough, retailers who currently have their eyes on the shiny e-commerce thing will realize that it will never replace the ironic comfort and convenience of physically going into a store and browsing for your purchases. Millennials, for one, are increasingly demanding more personalized service and “artisanal” experiences, and the current state of most shopping websites don’t allow for much more than a generic and mediocre experience for all.

Arguably, there are some things that are better suited to thrive on e-commerce while some categories will always perform best in brick-and-mortar. For example, a simple item that can be judged by reading a few reviews and the specifications section (like a phone case, or USB cord) will continue to be predominantly transacted on the internet, but others (like cashmere scarfs and engagement rings) will continue to be sought after in traditional stores. The main gap between online and brick-and-mortar shopping (and thus the web-lash) is due to the experience. To finish off, here are some steps (some Gary’s, some mine) that retailers can take to ensure that their response to the web-lash is ready:

  1. Reduce waiting time and get closer to instant gratification by making sure employees are at the ready to checkout customers or answer questions. Gary suggests to allow customers to make their shopping appointments ahead of time so that they can have a seamless shopping experience.
  2. Train store associates to offer personalized service to customers.
  3. Educate associates on the products (“Is this lipstick cruelty-free?”) and the store’s policies so that questions like “Do you price match Amazon?” can be easily (and hopefully happily) answered without the customer having to sort through your Site Map on his/her cell phone.
  4. Celebrate the omnichannel experience of today’s shopping environment by providing free WiFi to your customers without them having to check a bunch of boxes.
  5. Lastly, invest in your in-store experience and ensure that your website is a seamless part of your service.


Essie: not the same everywhere

I love Essie nail polish. I jumped on the Essie bandwagon a bit late – I got my first Essie polish this past November, but their colors and the longevity of the color instantly made me a fan. Today, in my Marketing capstone class, we were discussing distribution strategies and someone mentioned Essie’s strategy:

Essie distributes different polishes to its different categories of retailers. Get this- salons and beauty supply stores like ULTA and Sally Beauty Supply get the “real” salon-quality Essie, while the likes of CVS and Walmart get “inferior” Essie products. Both products are sold as the same line with the same color names, but the quality (and price points) are different. The story goes as so: Target asked to sell Essie nail polish but they wanted to be able to sell it at a lower price point. Essie had been acquired by L’Oreal then, and L’Oreal saw a huge potential market share gain for its new nail polish brand if it sold at mass retailers. To acquiesce with Target’s choice, Essie updated its formula so that it would cost less. In addition, Essie updated the packaging to a more economical one.

What’s the difference between the two, and how can you tell them apart?

The salon-quality Essie is the one that salons use, and it boasts a longer-lasting formula and better quality product. Both categories of Essie are still, of course, “Essie.” The “lesser” Essie comes in a cheaper glass bottle with a clear sticker which spells “Essie” on it in white. The more “expensive” Essie comes in a higher-quality glass bottle and the brand’s name is embossed into the thicker glass bottle.


How game-changing is Walmart’s new Savings Catcher?


Working at Target, it seems fitting to be biased against our competitors. A personal lesson I’ve learned throughout life is to look up to competition as inspiration and motivation, not as an enemy. Walmart’s new savings tool went live yesterday throughout its stores across the United States. Let me warn you: it sounds fierce. This highly-talked about new tool is Walmart strutting its extremely-low-prices ability. It’s called Savings Catcher, and it basically was created to boast how low Walmart’s prices are compared to all the other stores in your area.

How does it work? After a Walmart shopping trip, the customer goes to either the site or through the Walmart app on her phone, and then enters the receipt number and date. The apps allows for an easier user experience with the ability to scan the code on your receipt instead of manually entering it in. Savings Catcher then takes its time (up to 72 hours) to see all that you bought, and then compares your purchases’ costs to advertised prices at Walmart competitors near you. Savings Catcher is localized in the way that it compares only items which appear in circulars/weekly ads of stores near the Walmart you purchased from (for example, in Minneapolis, it might scan the ads of Cub Foods, whereas in Houston, it would see what HEB nearby is advertising to you). If Savings Catcher finds that something you bought is cheaper at one of these other stores (again, advertised cheaper), the price difference is debited to your account. The customer can then collect this difference in the form of a Walmart eGift Card.

This sounds amazing, doesn’t it? You see that milk is cheaper at Kroger this week, but everything else you buy is usually cheaper at Walmart, so why make a separate trip for that gallon of milk when you can save that money through Savings Catcher? Of course, Walmart isn’t just giving away free money. They were smart about it – the eGift Card can only be redeemed at Walmart, and of course, you will spend more than the amount on the card (you’ll have to; otherwise you’ll always have money leftover on the gift card). Voila!  Instant incremental sales!

Walmart has tried to close as many loopholes as it could think of. The FAQ page on the Savings Catcher site says that when comparing prices for the products at Walmart’s competitors, the advertised prices must currently be being advertised (not just a low price that is occurring, but isn’t being advertised). In addition, the ads must be valid at the time you made your Walmart purchase and include a specific item price. To stack on conditions even further, there are more caveats for Savings Catcher. To sum it up, here is a list of what doesn’t count towards Savings Catcher: store brands, deli, bakery and weighed items like meat, electronics, media and gaming, toys, sporting goods, housewares, small appliances, home décor, bedding, books and magazines, apparel and shoes, jewelry, furniture, office supplies and seasonal products, tobacco, firearms, gasoline, tires, prescription drugs, optical and photo products and services, or products that require a service agreement such as wireless, automotive or financial products. Wait, so what can I save money on?

Apart from all the hoops you have to jump in order to make the most money out of Savings Catcher, it truly is a gutsy and clever concept. The pervasiveness and hands-on interactivity of this tool is generating a lot of media, especially consumer-generated. Since Savings Catcher is essentially Walmart’s confidence statement of their unbeatably low prices, it will keep Walmart’s image of affordability sustained in consumer’s perceptions. Shoppers already know that Walmart is the retailer for budget shopping, and this move only solidifies the 1st place spot in Price. Planet Retail remarks that the Savings Catcher tool “enables the retailer to collect much-needed shopper-level data. We expect the mining and implementation of shopper analytics could create a more powerful Walmart.” That sounds scary: “A more powerful Walmart.”

What are your thoughts of the new Savings Catcher tool? Does it bug you that you get a Walmart eGift Card back? Does the Savings Catcher make you want to shop at Walmart if you usually don’t?