What consumers really want, retail experts say, is to walk into a store, stop and have whatever they want right there, within reach.
And retailers, searching for a merchandising pot of gold, keep trying to figure out how to make shopping as effortless as possible.
Joining in that effort, San Francisco-based Macy's West revealed plans Friday for a new South Coast Plaza home store--the first in Orange County--that will clump together merchandise by household room, allowing customers to buy everything they need for a single room in one area.
And in another uncommon touch, the first level will include kitchen gear; a demonstration kitchen where Macy's says "local, notable chefs" can whip up recipes; and a collection of eateries, including perhaps a cafe and coffee and ice cream shops.
Macy's West trumpeted the plan as a breakthrough in department store merchandising and said the new store will be different from any others operated by Macy's West or its parent, Cincinnati-based Federated Department Stores Inc., which also owns Bloomingdale's.
While not everyone agrees the plan is groundbreaking, industry experts say the retailer's strategy is one more example of a merchandising trend that involves pulling products together by room theme, to save steps for shoppers.
Though the smaller specialty home furnishing stores have been organizing merchandise similarly for years, Macy's Home would be different partly because of its 189,000-square-foot size, which will allow plenty of space for the wide range of products the store intends to offer. (It will be considerably smaller, though, than the 300,000-square-feet Ikea scheduled to open next year between the San Diego Freeway and South Coast Drive, just east of Harbor Boulevard.)
The merchandising plan could help separate Macy's from its department store competitors, said retail expert Gregory Stoffel in Irvine.
"In terms of Macy's, this concept is definitely a couple of cuts above where they have been," he said.
If nothing else, the store should be a bonus for South Coast Plaza, which is pouring money into a massive face lift for the former Crystal Court, where the home store will be built at the corner of Sunflower Avenue and Bear Street. A 42,000-square-foot Crate & Barrel home furnishings store opened late last year at the opposite end of the annex. Macy's Home is scheduled to open in August.
The second floor of the store will be geared to living and dining rooms; the top level will focus on bathrooms, guest rooms and home offices. Once the home store opens, the main Macy's at South Coast Plaza will cease carrying home furnishings.
If the company has truly hit on a concept that will make shopping more efficient, it will likely be copied by others, experts said.
"But if they're trying to put a new face on the same old same old, consumers will see through that very quickly," said Chris Cooper, vice president of America's Research Group in Charleston, S.C.
Retail experts had varying opinions about whether Macy's is pushing the retail envelope with its in-store eateries. Some said it won't be that much different from the traditional department stores with full-service cafeterias or restaurants. The new spin would be the brand names and the differing look of each food outlet, Cooper said.
But Antoinette Job, director of interior design for Stoutenborough Inc., Architects and Planners in Newport Beach, liked the concept.
"That's unusual for that kind of department store," she said. "I think it's a great idea."