Hal Lawton Jumps from eBay to Macy’s to Fix a Bigger Mess

Image: Macy's | Herald Square Flagship, New York
Image: Macy's | Herald Square Flagship, New York

Hal Lawton, previously Senior VP North America eBay, left the company last week to start a new career at Macy’s Department stores as President of Macy’s. eBay made the announcement yesterday morning of Lawton’s departure, and Macy’s announced in the afternoon his hiring as President.

He will be responsible for all aspects of the Macy’s brand, including merchandising, marketing, stores, operations, technology, and consumer insights and analytics.

The technology chops and consumer knowledge in eCommerce are exactly what Macy’s needs to gain direction in digital commerce and marketing.

HAL LAWTON’S TIME AT EBAY

Image: eBay | Devin Wenig, CEO
Image: eBay | Devin Wenig, CEO

Lawton joined eBay in 2015 to be part of the executive team led by Devin Wenig, to navigate eBay’s separation from PayPal. A decision announced by then CEO John Donahoe in 2014.

Wenig already worked at eBay before being named CEO of the new company. PayPal was the cash cow of the combined company, and under CEO John Donahoe, eBay pretty much alienated or annoyed many sellers.

Often, decisions made at the executive level during the Donahoe years seemed disjointed, not well thought through, and poorly executed. As long as PayPal was raking in cash, it seemed the marketplace side of eBay was an afterthought.

It’s not entirely fair to say that Donahoe’s direction on the marketplace side was wrong. But the implementation of the changes in direction lacked clear focus and strategy.

The company would say one thing, and almost incredulously do something else or violate its own terms and rules. In many eBay seller’s minds, it was good riddance when Donahoe left.

RE-ESTABLISHING TRUST JOB #1

Wenig and his team had to re-establish trust and change a culture at eBay that seemed to have a hint of arrogance. And this was no small feat, particularly since sellers moved away from eBay and started to sell on Amazon.

Amazon was growing, and while not every seller was happy with Amazon policies either, the company brought sales and innovation to the marketplace sector made them money.

NORTH AMERICA FIRST

Image: Adobe Stock | North America
Image: Adobe Stock | North America

Hal Lawton being the head of North American operations was on the front lines to implement the new direction set out by Wenig.

Lawton did something that was highly unusual at that point for eBay, he went to meet sellers at conferences, and he engaged with sellers online.

In an October 2015 blog post on eBay Lawton said, “In the near-term, we are completely focused on rejuvenating our relationship with our sellers. That means building your trust in us, and making sure that we are collectively set up for success as we head into the busiest time of year…and beyond.”

Furthermore, he made engaging sellers a high priority. “The updates that we rolled out in September were a direct response to the feedback that we got from you, so please keep it coming. My team and I have been active on social channels and have prioritized face-to-face meetings with sellers so we can continue the dialogue and shape our go-forward strategy with you at the table.”

As with any turnaround, there will be hiccups, and some ideas don’t scale or implement as easy as planned. But overall, Lawton was successful in overhauling seller standards, developed and released a new Seller Hub, made changes to the fee structure that provided for more free listings and promotions, and gained trust.

But eBay had to fix other issues. Google Search was hobbled in 2014 and required a rethink to re-establish high visibility for eBay listings on Google.

Delivery speed and competitive price points were also areas that required change. Even if some sellers don’t agree with recent policy changes, they are in the right direction to stay competitive.

And of course, Seller Hub was a major redo to give eBay sellers more data and analytics to sell more products at the right time. This tool was continually updated to provide more customer insight.

IT TAKES A TEAM TO BUILD A NEW VILLAGE

With all the changes eBay made in the last two years and more innovations that are still in the pipeline, Lawton was a key figure in getting much of this off the ground.

He worked with various in-house development teams to transform the eBay experience for sellers and buyers. Bring new ideas and innovations to life.

And he took the job of eBay’s communicator with sellers so that they would learn about changes at conferences or even on his own social media posts.

Lawton had a way to engage with people. And since so many eBay sellers are not corporate types, but mom-and-pop operations, he could communicate with sellers at their level.

Just watching the videos from eBay Open 2017, it is pretty clear he is the best executive level communicator the company had.

IS THE TRANSITION OVER AT EBAY?

With all the praises about Lawton, and while his leadership and communications skills will be missed, eBay’s turn-around is a team effort led by Devin Wenig. So eBay sellers should not be afraid of the future.

Expect some changes in style and tone as the new team settles in. But overall the company is on a path to continue to provide more opportunities for sellers than ever before.

MACY’S, THE COMPANY WITH NO DIRECTION

Macy's Logo

Now Lawton enters Macy’s, and he has his work cut out for him. In many ways, it is similar to the Donahoe era of eBay, right ideas, but mostly poor implementation and lack of focus.

So let’s take a look at some of the big picture items that need changing at Macy’s.

DISCOUNTING AND COUPONS

Image: Macy's | Specials and Coupons
Image: Macy’s | Specials and Coupons

There can be no other store in the world that issues more coupons (Except maybe Bed, Bath, and Beyond). The company has multiple tiers of coupons, and you even get more coupons on receipts when you buy stuff at Macy’s.

But try to use them intelligently, and you are ready to pull your hair out.

To be fair, Macy’s has to adhere to manufacturer pricing policies, some of which do not allow discounting with coupons. So does every other retailer, but when going into a Macy’s store, it is hard to tell which brands are coupon eligible.

Macy’s does provide a list of brands in very tiny print on each coupon, but you need a magnifying glass to read them.

Then add another ineligible coupon group of “Everyday Values,” mostly Macy’s store brands, and using a coupon becomes more confusing.

And what about clearance items, well don’t even ask, that is another lack of transparency in couponing. Macy’s must have “levels” of clearance, that is the only thing that makes any sense.

STORE ASSOCIATES DON’T EVEN KNOW

The whole coupon fiasco is confusing even to store associates. They have no idea which coupons may or may not work when buying products unless they ring them into the cash register.

The in-store Macy’s checkout experience is like going to a Casino. You never know which of the 20 or so Macy’s Star Pass coupons you can use. Star Pass coupons are different from regular coupons… confused yet?

And if you have a Macy’s credit card, you may be eligible for other discounts.

It is actually possible to use coupons on top of a Macy’s credit card discount. So in an industry, where the retail price is meaningless, the price charged is always lower than stated, exactly what does an item really cost at Macy’s?

Neither customers nor associates know!

PRICE TRANSPARENCY

Macy’s is stuck in some 90s loop of coupon madness.

Price transparency is a great start for Lawton to tackle at Macy’s. Build a Best Buy style rewards program so people can earn certificates on future purchases.

Macy's Money
Macy’s Money

Macy’s already has them for promotional purposes called Macy’s Money! Just make Macy’s Money a permanent rewards program and ditch most coupons.

Remember KISS? “Keep it simple, stupid.”

ECOMMERCE STUCK IN THE 2000s

Image: archive.org | macys.com in 2001
Image: archive.org | macys.com in 2001

The experts say the future of brick-and-mortar is pick up from online sales. Walmart is offering this service, Amazon wants to add this service (Whole Foods?), Best Buy has this pretty well figured out, and then there is Macy’s.

The actual Macy’s online store isn’t horrible. You can find products, and there is lots of navigational help.

Pictures are good, descriptions are okay. It can use improvement, but it is functional.

Of course, the previously mentioned coupon mess also exists on the Macy’s online store. Actually, there is another level of online only coupons… (never mind, you get the picture)

If you do opt for delivery, Macy’s still runs free shipping promotions with minimum orders. Really? Set a permanent minimum order requirement and stick with it.

Hasn’t anyone at Macy’s paid attention to Amazon, Walmart, or the other hundreds of thousands of eCommerce stores?

One week, free shipping is $25, the next week it’s $49, and many other weeks it’s $99. The only thing consistent about Macy’s free shipping offer is that it is inconsistent!

And we haven’t touched on speed yet. Forget about standard 2-3 day delivery, no such luck at Macy’s.

PICK-UP ANYONE? ONLY IF YOU WANT TOTAL INCONVENIENCE

Now assume you want to order online but pick up your order today. On Macy’s online store it doesn’t show you which items are in stock at what store. You first have to select a store then it will show you items that available for that location.

Most Macy’s stores are in urban areas and so many shoppers can probably pick from more than one store. But is the item you are looking at really available locally at any store? This process of the online store is pretty lame.

Let’s look how Best Buy handles this. Pick a product, and you can check local stores within a selected radius. If the item is available online only, Best Buy makes that clear. If the buyer can order the product for a later day pick up, again, Best Buy’s site tells you. No such luck on macys.com.

BUT WAIT, IT GETS WORSE!

Let’s assume you find everything you want. Macy’s online store shows that it is in stock at your local store. You may or may not be able to use one of the coupons you have, but you do finally checkout and are ready to get your stuff.

You drive to the Macy’s, you walk into the door, and you wonder, where do I go? There is no direction at a Macy’s store to point you to the online orders pick up location.

Image: User Daisy C. on Yelp
Image: User Daisy C. on Yelp

Finally, you do find an associate that is not busy. They tell you where to go and now you learn this pickup location is somewhere in the center of the store, maybe the second floor, by the bathrooms, next to dressing rooms…

It is a standard cash register with a sign that presumably is close to the storage area of the store. You will soon learn why!

And typically this cash register has a line or you have to find the associate assigned to the register. To save money the company has reduced staff. And now you stand there and wait or go searching for that one associate that works there.

Finally, it’s your turn or you found the associate that can help you. Now, the associate has to go to the storage area and get your order. More time wasted!

So if the goal was to create the most consumer unfriendly method to offer local pickup, Macy’s nailed it!

Again, let’s compare this to Best Buy. You receive the email that your order is ready for pick up. You drive to the store and right near the entrance, in the customer service area, there is a dedicated line for pick-ups.

Walk up to the counter, show your ID, the associate grabs the item from the shelf behind the counter, sign the pickup receipt, and you are on your way. Total time spent in a Best Buy store could be as little as 2 to 3 minutes.

HAL LAWTON HAS TO CHANGE THE OLD WORLD CULTURE

If you don’t shop at Macy’s, you probably never will after reading this article. It truly is not a mystery why Macy’s is struggling to keep up with Amazon or other retailers such as Best Buy that have managed to become eCommerce friendly.

Macy’s is fixable, but Lawton will need to do the same he did at eBay. He has to become personally involved in talking with shoppers and associates and become a customer!

The company needs to scrub the old world thinking of retail and re-invent itself. Embrace technology and convenience at every level.

Many Macy’s mall locations have covered entrances (almost look like valet areas). Use those to offer curbside pickup. If a customer bought online, they have no interest to walk through the store and be bombarded by perfume bottle swinging associates.

As a premium brand retailer, the focus should be on service, even if that means a customer never steps foot in the store. And that maybe the biggest culture shock that he has to introduce!

Good Luck Mr. Lawton, this may be a bigger challenge than eBay! You did an excellent job at eBay, so many sellers will truly miss you!

We love to hear your comments in the section below. If you have shopped at Macy’s, let us know what you think. Did we accurately describe the bewildering process?

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