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Macy’s Is Testing Self-Service at More of Its Shoe Sections

March 8, 2017, 7:30 PM UTC
Inside Macy's Inc. Department Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Shoppers walk through a Macy's Inc. department store in New York, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Michael Nagle — Bloomberg via Getty Images

If you want to buy a new pair of shoes at Macy’s (M), odds are growing you’re going to have to fend for yourself.

The struggling department store, looking for ways to cut costs while maintain customer service levels, is turning more of its shoe departments into “open sell” environments, industry speak for self-service.

Traditionally, Macy’s staffs its shoe sections with a salesperson who runs back and forth between the selling floor and the backroom. But at the locations in this test, customers grab their own size and colors themselves from stacks of shoes, more of which will be on the floor now. In addition to J.C. Penney, (JCP), which is also testing “open sell,” this way of presenting shoes is similar to practices at off-price chains like TJX Cos’ (TJX) T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, as well as DSW(DSW).

While Hoguet didn’t address the cost savings implications of this approach, or the risk of customer service blowback, she said that no other part of the store required having dedicated staff to go fetch merchandise from the backroom, and that meeting customer requirements was tougher at smaller stores that are hard to fully staff throughout business hours.

“Having sufficient staffing to do that is sometimes challenging,” Macy’s Chief Financial Officer Karen Hoguet told analysts at an investor conference on Wednesday. And many customers don’t even want that level of service anyway, she added. “Lots just say, ‘Leave me alone, let me get the shoe I want and move on.”

The open-sell shoe test, begun about a year ago at some of Macy’s smaller stores, is being expanded to medium sized locations.

And there could be lessons for Macy’s as it revamps its beauty section. The department store chain, eager to win back market share lost to Ulta Beauty (ULTA) and Sephora (hundreds of which are located inside Penney stores), is trying out the open sell- selling in its beauty areas. But more areas, including jewelry for obvious reasons, don’t lend themselves to this approach, Hoguet said.

These tests are part of a broader attempt by Macy’s to snap a painful two-year sales slide that the company itself expects will persist in 2017 while it re-tools: Macy’s expects comparable sales, which fell 2.7% in the holiday quarter, to drop between 2.2% and 3.3% this year, adding urgency to its attempts to update its business model, and cut costs.