Professors suggest 'the less change the better' when Marshall Field's stores become Macy's

Professors suggest 'the less change the better' when Marshall Field's stores become Macy's

When it comes time to change the Marshall Field’s department stores to Macy’s, “the less they change the better, at least initially,” is the advice two University of St. Thomas marketing professors would give to the stores’ new owners.

Dr. Lorman Lundsten and Dr. Dave Brennan of St. Thomas’ Institute for Retailing Excellence base their advice on results of a recent survey conducted in the 13-county Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

The institute's fourth annual survey on holiday spending included an extra question this year on how the upcoming change from Marshall Field’s to Macy’s would affect respondents’ plans to shop at the largest department store chain in the Twin Cities.

About one in five respondents, or 19.5 percent, said the change will result in a moderate to substantial decrease in plans to shop at the store. Only 3.6 percent predicted a moderate to substantial increase. Some 45.3 percent said the name change would not affect their plans to shop at the store, and 31.5 percent said they never shop there anyway.

When Lundsten and Brennan compared respondents’ answers to their demographic characteristics, two themes emerged: the older you are, the less likely you shop at Marshall Field’s, and the lower your income, the less likely you shop there.

Another finding is that of the 23.1 percent of respondents who said the change in store ownership will affect their plans to shop there, the percentage who said they will decrease their shopping outnumbered the percentage who said they will increase their shopping by about five to one (19.5 percent to 3.6 percent).

This five-to-one ratio was consistent over all demographics, they said.

“One thing that is driving this ratio is fear of the future, or really a fear of change,” Brennan said. “As our survey responses indicate, there will be some shoppers who are not comfortable with change, or the aspect of not knowing what change will bring.

“If that’s the case, the best strategy for Federated would be to have a steady hand when it switches the Marshall Field’s stores to Macy’s stores. They should maintain a similar level of product assortment and quality, customer service, merchandise presentation and promotions; in other words, don’t shake people up. That fear factor will dissipate in time.”

Last summer Federated shareholders approved an $11 billion purchase of May Department Stores Co., which owned Marshall Field's. Federated later announced that the Marshall Field’s stores would become Macy’s stores, and that Minneapolis would be the headquarters of a regional division called Macy’s North. Ten of the 62 Marshall Field’s stores are located in the Twin Cities. Federated said the Marshall Field’s stores will be renamed by fall 2006.

“It is by far the largest department store chain in the Twin Cities,” Brennan said. “In terms of number of stores and square footage, none of the other chains … like Herberger’s, Nordstrom or Bloomingdale’s … is even close.”

At least in the Twin Cities, the change from Marshall Field’s to Macy’s likely will be less traumatic to shoppers than the switch, four years ago, when all of the region’s Dayton’s stores became Marshall Field’s stores.

“Shoppers in the Twin Cities don’t have a 30-year tradition of shopping at Marshall Field's,” Lundsten said.

Lundsten and Brennan see it as a good sign that Macy’s will have regional centers like the Macy’s North headquarters that will open in Minneapolis.

“It will help them stay better connected to the local shoppers,” Brennan said. “We could see, for instance, that the one Macy’s store that has been at the Mall of America for the past 13 years will become more like our Marshall Field’s stores, than the 10 Marshall Field’s stores will become like the current Macy’s at the Mall of America.”

About the survey

The question about Marshall Field’s and Macy’s was in a larger survey that was mailed in the fall to 3,000 Twin Cities-area households in 13 counties, including two counties in western Wisconsin. The households were selected to match the demographic characteristics of Twin Cities residents, including age, income, education, religion and location.

The researchers received 339 completed and usable surveys. The demographic characteristics of those who returned the surveys matched the characteristics of the original sample, and in turn, the characteristics of a cross section of Twin Cities residents.

The researchers

Lundsten and Brennan are both longtime members of the St. Thomas College of Business faculty.

Lundsten is a professor of marketing and chairs the university’s Marketing Department. He holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan.

Brennan, who holds his Ph.D. from Kent State University, is a professor of marketing and co-director of the university’s Institute for Retailing Excellence.

The Institute for Retailing Excellence, part of the St. Thomas College of Business, conducts research and offers educational programs for those who work in retailing.