Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bargain Basement for Filene's Basement

How sad that Filene's Basement, a once-bustling outlet with an upscale "treasure hunt" feeling, has lost its cachet and changed hands once again. The flagship store, which used to be right in the middle of Boston's busy downtown shopping district, has long been closed for renovations; it sounds like any reopen date will be far in the future.

The entire off-price business has suffered as retailers over-expanded--which dramatically increased the amount of "quality" merchandise needed to fill the stores--and soft-goods manufacturing and branding evolved. IMO, off-price was never intended to be a mass business. Shoppers who checked Loehmann's and Hit or Miss--two early off-pricers--never knew what they'd find, and had to stop in regularly to catch shipments of favorite designers or special sizes. Corporate buyers never knew what off-season merchandise or odd size merchandise a manufacturer might have for sale on any given day. It was a business of opportunity for buyers and sellers alike.

Now that special sales or limited-time offers are as close as the click of a mouse, the bloom is off the off-price brick-and-mortar retailing rose. If Filene's Basement can be saved, it will need to focus on sharpening its differentiation and giving consumers a compelling reason to patronize its stores, again and again and again.

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