Ten years ago Walmart superstores opened everywhere. Over the past three years, Target stores added groceries to their already large product assortment. Best Buy became the ultimate electronics store stocking everything from TVs to electric scooters. The theme? Large stores offering anything a consumer might want in a single location and on every street corner. These giant superstores were not only opening in major metropolitans, but expanding into smaller cities and towns. The big-box stores began threatening mom and pop shops, leading to an outcry in communities about the economic impact a huge retailer such as Walmart creates in their cities. The reasons were numerous including the threat to the local business community, as well as Walmart’s notorious reputation in regards to overall employee welfare.
After years of growth, the retail landscape is in the midst of major change. In March 2011, Walmart announced plans to open hundreds of “Express” stores in both rural and urban communities. The new stores are expected to tailor their product offerings to the local markets. Walmart Express stores will be approximately 15,000 square-feet compared to the company’s superstores, which average 108,000 square feet! The company hopes to open these stores in key markets such as New York, San Diego, and Washington D.C.
Other retailers including Target, Office Depot, and Best Buy announced plans to introduce smaller store formats. Target will call its new stores CityTarget and will offer food, fashion, and apartment essentials. Like Walmart, Target’s goal is to offer a more urban-friendly store format.
Office Depot, whose stock value has struggled, plans to regain strength by listening to customer complaints about difficult shopping experiences and lack of sales help. The office supplier will open new stores that have smaller formats and will offer the chains’s best-selling products, emphasize printing and copy services, and technology.
Best Buy, the US’ largest electronics chain, plans to open 150 smaller stores by the end of the year. Best Buy’s main objective: to focus on more profitable and fast growing categories such as tablets and smart phones.
The main point of all of this is that less may be more these days when it comes to retail. Consumers don’t necessarily want to walk through a gigantic superstore to pick up a few items. The continuing growth of the e-commerce channel and its more than abundant breadth of products have only increased the speed of this transition. The choices and selection in stores may have possibly reached a point of too much.
This less is more concept is creeping into other industries as well. The ink supplies industry is seeing significant changes with the hopes of striking a balance between offering enough choices, but not an overwhelming selection that only leads to confusion.
HP reduced the number of current ink products drastically over the past several years. Yes, you still see well over 100 HP inks in that daunting ink aisle at the store, but only a handful of those are “new” with the majority falling into the legacy ink category. HP’s current lineup consists of three individual ink tank families with the: hp564, hp920, and hp940 inks; and two dual ink cartridge families with the hp60 and hp61. The more limited SKU count and easier-to-follow naming structure shopping significantly easier. HP maintains its ink number and adds “XL” to designate high capacity, rather than a completely different name.
Others including Epson are also making changes. Prior to its latest ink lineup, figuring out what cartridge was high or standard capacity in Epson’s ink assortment was rather difficult. If you ask a stranger with no knowledge of the ink industry which one has more ink in it: the T068 or the T069, what do you think they would say? I bet everyone answered the T069. However, Epson’s standard ink family for this printer engine is actually the T069 and the high capacity tanks are the T068s. Confusing a bit? Yes! So, with its latest ink lineup, Epson made things a whole lot easier. The ink manufacturer simplified the naming structure: the T124, T125, T126, and T127. Logically, the T124 has the lowest capacity and the T127 has the highest.
Lexmark took things down a notch or two as well. Lexmark had one of the largest ink assortments of all brands, and even debuted 16 new inks in one product announcement in March 2008. This “robust” line of inks was announced with only five new printers, creating confused consumers. To add fuel to the fire, Lexmark had one of the most confusing naming structures in the industry. Many high capacity inks had no logical connection to their standard counterparts. As a result, Lexmark was notoriously known as one of the most expensive printer ink companies around.
And then, with one announcement, Lexmark changed its product assortment and, in turn, its reputation. In 2009, Lexmark announced a new fleet of inkjet multifunction printers and its first individual ink tank system with the lex100 inks. The ink family includes four standard yield tanks (black, cyan, magenta, and yellow). The high capacity inks were given the name designations of lex100XL, removing any confusion between standard and high capacity inks. This system also included one specific SKU that has helped change Lexmark’s reputation almost single-handedly. The manufacturer announced the $4.99 lex105XL BK, which offered a black cost per page of only one cent. Lexmark did it right, giving consumers choice of standard and high capacity inks, a less confusing purchasing process, and low cost.
It is not to suggest that one flavor is right for everyone. The less is more strategy must include enough choices to appease the company’s different target audiences. Kodak joined the inkjet printing game in 2007 with a single ink series, No. 10. When first introduced, Kodak offered only one capacity of its 10 black and 10 color cartridges. Since then, the company added the high capacity black tank, appealing to small and home offices, as well as everyday consumers that want to make fewer interactions with their printers. Kodak maintained its naming structure and made it very clear that the 10XL BK was a high capacity version of the 10 black tank.
This year, Kodak expanded its ink assortment adding another two-tank system with the No. 30 inks. Kodak offers the standard 30 black and color, and high capacity 30XL black and 30XL color. The new ink system brings distinct differences from the No. 10 system, relieving consumers of the ever confusing and seemingly never ending aisle of ink choices. Kodak’s No. 30 inks are compatible with its new line of inkjet all-in-ones including the ESP C310 and ESP Office 2170. The 30 color cartridge contains cyan, magenta, and yellow inks compared to the cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and clear coat that are included in the 10C color cartridge. That difference is representative of the more simplified print engine of the new line and is intended for budget-conscious consumers.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, for starters, retailers are physically reducing the amount of shelf space available. Less shelf space equals greater competition between manufacturers to secure that invaluable real estate. A manufacturer won’t necessarily be able to get all of their products on a single retailer’s shelf. They must create products that are focused on particular customer types and make sure that those products have clear marketing.
In a world that has been pushed by the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” and the onset of more technology and more choice, it seems that at least some industries are taking a second look. The internet has provided the ultimate in “more” with an ever expanding library of information on any subject one would ever want. With the age of information overload upon us, many are now seeking some kind of limit. We want choice, but how many choices are too many?
With shopping shifting to cyberspace and limited budgets, retailers must pick what they feature on that precious shelf with more scrutiny than ever before. As the old advertising adage goes, we want what we are told we want. Likewise, printer manufacturers are looking to de-complicate the purchase process of the ever-criticized ink cartridge. They are realizing that sometimes less…is simply more.