If you want to know why Macy’s (m, +2.26%) needs to reinvent itself—why the department store giant wants to change, and why doing so will be so challenging—you could start by comparing two of the most recent circulars that the chain sent to shoppers.
One brochure is a snappy mini-catalog for the all-important holiday season, a centerpiece of a new marketing campaign. Called “Gifts We Love,” it features 125 items—a tiny, strategically chosen slice of the tens of thousands of products Macy’s sells. It uses lush, high-quality photography and elegant fonts to showcase offerings like a cozy Ugg robe and a $180 Star Wars drone. And there’s not a single mention of a discount, not one “Extra 40% Off” or “30%–75% Off Storewide” bubble to be found. If anything, the brochure looks like something a higher-end retailer, a Nordstrom or a Saks, might produce.
It also looks almost nothing like Macy’s previous circular, which came out just days earlier. That one touts canyon-deep discounts pegged to the end of daylight saving time—a flimsy excuse for a shopping event if ever there was one. (One such deal: 65% off Tommy Hilfiger sport coats.) The brochure looks cluttered, almost like a supermarket coupon mailer. It gives off a whiff of desperation.
“Gifts We Love” represents the future to which Macy’s aspires. It’s part of a far-reaching effort by the nation’s largest department store chain to regain its former mantle as a tastemaker among better brands at its 664 stores nationwide. The daylight saving discount-orama, meanwhile, represents the reality Macy’s is struggling to transcend—a circular firing squad where big retailers that offer very similar products can lure shoppers only by slashing their prices.