Na, na, na, na, na na, they say it's my birthday. Like Anthony Michael Hall's Farmer Ted serenading Molly Ringwald's Samantha in John Hughes' seminal Sixteen Candles, today is worth celebrating. So, in honor of my own birthday, I decided to buy myself a present. It's rare for a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker like me to enter retail establishments in the Real America, but I did it. Since it's my birthday and I don't feel like getting bogged down in a numbers-based piece or yet another epic argument over Tesla's (TSLA) valuation (it is still wildly overvalued) today. Here are a few observations from retail land.
The consumer is strong. You probably know that already, but there is absolutely no doubt from my store visits that the U.S. consumer is rockin' right now.
In terms of individual stores:
Amazon (AMZN) Go. Before I left NYC I stopped by one of these retail outlets on Lexington Avenue near my office. It only takes a few seconds to download the Amazon Go app and the tech that senses what you buy after you pass through the turnstiles by using the app is really cool. It's also really unnecessary especially in NYC, where most blocks have at least one bodega, which are beloved by true New Yorkers. The offer at Amazon Go is overpriced (I actually laughed out loud at a $12.99 sushi container) and full of packaged items that Americans are increasingly spurning in flavor of fresh, locally produced fare. Amazon Go would work in an airport, where there's no price competition and speed is key. In Midtown Manhattan, though, it's useless and there were only a handful of curious tourists there when I visited during a normal lunch-hour rush. As you can see from the price of AMZN stock Jeff Bezos doesn't fail at much, but Amazon Go is a dud.
Walmart (WMT) . The recurring question for me is why do Walmart stores have to be so much like...Walmart stores? I love the concept of Walmart -- and it pains me that our feckless local government has effectively banned them from NYC -- but invariably, when I walk into a WMT store I am taken aback. There's a concept in retail called merchandising, and Walmart stores -- at least the ones I have visited -- show no evidence that any such action is ever undertaken. I always buy more than I intend to at WMT -- good for margins -- but then when I look for a cart to ease my burdened arms, I have to ask myself... should I pick that loose one that appears as if someone has been living in it and it has been parked in the same aisle for some time? Walmarts don't have to be so messy, but they are. Again, I am no fan of government intervention in any form, including minimum wage laws, but WMT management might consider making its current $12/hour pilot wage program a permanent thing. Somehow they need to incentivize their employees to spruce things up a bit. No one is expecting Tiffany (TIF) when walking into a Walmart, but no one wants to spend any extra time in an environment like that.
Seemingly a world away from Walmart, although only 400 yards where I was shopping, is Target (TGT) . It is such a pleasant experience. I am so happy that Target is invading Manhattan, where they compete not with bodegas, as Amazon Go does, but with other established chains like Walgreens' (WBA) Duane Reade. Out in the real world, though, the box is much larger, and the store is that much more fun. I decided to switch my cellphone carrier while in a TGT and the employees could not have been more helpful or knowledgeable. Then I was able to set up my new phone while sitting in the Starbucks (SBUX) location located in-store. To top it all off, The Smiths were playing on the PA system. Call it tar-zhay, call it whatever, but my sizable Red Card bill would show that Target is my favorite retail experience.