January 25, 2005

News & Opinion: Business Blog Book Tour - Category Killers

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 8:27 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

800-CEO-READ is today's stop on the Business Blog Book Tour. The book on this month's tour is Category Killers by Robert Spector. Here is a taste of what Robert gets into in the book:
Today’s shoppers are—depending on your point of view—either blessed or cursed by an overabundance of merchandise, amassed under one roof, in a retail concept that has had a profound impact on the consumer culture: category killers. Over the past two decades, category killers have dramatically altered our buying experience, becoming the most disruptive concept in retailing—and in everything that retailing touches.

Also known as “big-box” stores because of their mammoth footprint—twenty thousand square feet to more than one hundred thousand square feet—these retailers specialize in a distinct classification of merchandise such as toys, office supplies, home improvement—while offering everyday low prices and wide and deep inventories. They earned the sobriquet “category killer” because their goal is to dominate the category and kill the competition—whether it be mom-and-pop stores, smaller regional chains, or general merchandise stores that cannot compete on price and/or selection.

Category killers and Wal-Mart, the general merchandise retailer, have helped expand and upscale the “mass market” by aggressively driving down the prices of goods and services, and making affordable what were once upscale products such as laptop computers, big-screen TVs, or designer apparel. Today, virtually every one of us—regardless of income—is part of the ever-expanding mass market, where the differences among stores—Dollar Stores to Kmart to Bon-Macy’s—are measured in slight gradations. Consequently, loyalty to a particular store has become a casualty of our changing consumer culture. At one time, shoppers used to identify with a store, just as they identified with the make of the car they drove. Today, many of us simply want more and better goods, and we will shop the retailer that provides those goods at a price that we consider “affordable.”

'Toys ‘R’ Us created the template for category killers. The company presented to consumers bigbox stores with an emphasis on selfservice, big selection, low prices, and lots of parking. It conditioned baby boomers to a different kind of retail experience. The kid whose parents were buying toys at Toys "R" Us in the 1950s and 1960s eventually grew up to buy books at Barnes & Noble, power saws at Home Depot, printers at Staples, and pet food at Petco, and the shopping experience felt perfectly natural. Although the product categories were different, the approach was very much the same.

What we are going to do today is run an series of excerpts from the book over on the Excerpts Blog. They are all on the topic of bookselling. This is something near and dear to our hearts. I found some of Robert's stories about how big-box has changed publishing really interesting. I thought you might too.