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The Art of Retail

It’s report card time again. Not only are my kids winding down the school year but now that the fiscal year has ended its time for our annual report of the consumer technology retailing scene.

The TWICE Top 100 CE Retailers Report presents a snapshot in time of winners, losers, movers and shakers among the $130-billion-plus tech retail space. Senior editor Alan Wolf and research partner Bob Tancula and the Stevenson Group started diving into the previous year’s results before we even had time to catch our breath from CES.

They analyzed, they estimated, they tweaked and tweaked some more, and then analyzed some more. What they produced is a deep dive behind the numbers of doing business as a merchant in 2016.

But it’s not just the facts, ma’am. The key enhancement to this year’s report is the addition of “Our Take,” where we comment on the good, the bad and the ugly for each ranked retailer. The report encompasses about 90 percent of all CE retailers in the U.S.

So what did we learn?

Well, this year’s snapshot is a similar picture to last year. Brick-and-mortar continues to suffer at the hands of online and digital sales. Amazon is still the new Death Star, with a tractor field effect on the rest of the landscape. hhgregg got sucked in more quickly than anyone could have imagined, and Sears and Kmart are abandoning weaker-performing areas and girding for the next shot.

But the retail scene is far from bleak. Retail tech sales grew again last year. The macroeconomic indicators are pointed straight up. Consumer confidence is higher than any time since the Recession hit in 2007. Employment levels remain strong. Credit applications are way up and average personal savings continues to shrink, indicating that consumers are spending more, planning to spend even more in the future, and are less worried about the implications of opening their wallets.

In addition, the apocalyptic whispers surrounding brick-and-mortar are somewhat overblown, as most retailers with physical stores are also selling online, and customers loyal to their brand have a choice in how to patronize them.

What is setting the winners apart from the losers can be summed up with two words: customer service.

If just having a ton of stores and a good selection were the key to success in this business, we’d all be bowing to our RadioShack overlords. Instead, we spent the last two-plus years watching them die, resurrect themselves, and die again.

Meantime, the buying groups and their rosters of strong independents are filling the vacuum and earning some of that share. They’re doing it by concentrating on the unique characteristics of their local customers, using data and digital marketing in new and inventive ways, and working with manufacturers to train their floor workers to best serve their customers.

A steady stream of new, innovative technology products continues to flow from the manufacturers. Getting them into the hands of consumers is easy, but treating those consumers with care is what brings them back, Good luck in 2017!