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Mark Albright | On Retail

Macy's job cuts to alter Florida fashions

Buried in the recent headline that Macy's is eliminating 7,000 jobs nationally is news the department store chain also will gut its Florida regional headquarters in Miami.

While the cutback equals five jobs of 150 per store, the demise of Macy's Florida is a bigger long-term deal that will play out in less obvious ways in the Tampa Bay area.

The 600 jobs whacked in Miami are the people who custom-tailor Macy's selection to the whims and weather of Florida. For Tampa Bay area stores, that job shifts to Macy's massive national buying organization in New York. To keep some of the Florida flavor in its selection, it will use information gathered from 46 merchandise staffers who will work out of the district offices being set up in Clearwater.

Instead of basing decisions solely "on instinct and spreadsheets, we're localizing decisionmaking closer to the stores," said Jim Sluzewski, a spokesman for Macy's Inc. "This gives us new ears in the aisles to spot local trends and points of difference you can't find in a spreadsheet."

It's the last step transforming a merchant once rooted in catering to regional tastes into a chain run from a national platform like JCPenney, Kohl's or Sears. It could be the end of a huge advantage for the chain in Florida, dating back to its origins as Burdines in Miami and Maas Brothers in Tampa — to customize what it stocks to the state's far different climate, fashion seasons, colors, fabrics and diverse population. Also vanishing: Macy's regional headquarters in Atlanta and San Francisco.

It also recognizes people don't shop department stores as they once did, fashion may have been nationalized like pop culture, yet even within Florida style is hardly universal. One knock on Macy's Florida is that its focus is a little too South Florida flash to the exclusion of more conservative tastes in the Tampa Bay area. So getting more local while relying even more on national buyers will be a touchy transition in a fashion universe that critics complain already is afflicted by acres of the same stuff.

"It's critical department stores like Macy's change and reduce their expenses, but they risk further homogenizing their selection," said Bart Weitz, director of the University of Florida retailing program.

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Need evidence practical is in and ostentatious dazzle is out in the designer fashion world? Consider what Anna Wintour, editor/style dictator at Vogue, told the Wall Street Journal:

"There has been too much product, too much copy catting, and probably too much consumerism," she said. "I don't think anybody is going to want to look overly flashy, overly glitzy, too Dubai (in this economy)."

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Loyalty programs are rarely more than discount coupons dealt in return for permission for stores to track your buying behavior and sell access to it.

So it's encouraging to see Costco use customer data for something beyond selling more stuff. The wholesale club used recorded phone and e-mail messages to alert 1.5 million shoppers to peanut product recalls. The addresses and numbers came from loyalty club purchase history based on dates shoppers actually bought affected products.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Macy's job cuts to alter Florida fashions 02/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 11:50pm]

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