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ANN Will Change for the Better

By Philip Saglimbeni – Mar 19, 2014 at 2:33PM

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Management at ANN has announced a plan to accelerate growth by focusing on the consumer's changing shopping and spending habits. This plan shares similarities with recent moves by Starbucks and Nike.

Over the years, advancements in technology have created fundamental changes in consumer shopping and spending habits. The rises of e-commerce and mobile payment solutions have forced retailers to rethink how they target and engage consumers.

In one of my most recent articles, I noted that popular retailers like Nike (NKE -0.21%) and Starbucks (SBUX -0.08%) had not just noticed these major consumer trends, but had aggressively positioned their businesses to capitalize on them. Recently, another popular retailer, ANN (NYSE: ANN), announced a major proposed change in its business model which should help the company grow better in the evolving retail landscape.

ANN's popular LOFT brand. Source: Company Facebook 

ANN's new strategy
On March 14, ANN released a statement which detailed a strategic realignment of the company's businesses. President and Chief Executive Officer of ANN Kay Krill explained in the statement, "Retailing has undergone a sea change over the last few years, driven by the continued rapid shift of consumers' purchasing behavior and the growth of omni-channel shopping." 

Krill went on to explain, "Today, we are taking the next critical step, by realigning our organization to support an integrated stores/e-commerce structure to accelerate our strategic growth agenda and overall financial performance in 2014 and beyond." 

Also, the company announced the promotion of Gary Muto to president of ANN Brands, which means that he has been placed in charge of the design, merchandising, and marketing for the company's premiere Ann Taylor and Loft brands.

The heart of the strategy consists of a complete realignment of all of ANN's businesses, with an objective of better integrating the physical stores with the company's growing e-commerce platform. Better-integrated business segments should allow the company to operate faster and more efficiently. However, the strategy of creating a more streamlined process also entails eliminating approximately 100 positions at ANN, which equals about 10% of the company's corporate workforce. 

ANN has three goals; to deliver high-quality fashion products, enhance brand strength and awareness, and increase customer service. 

CEO Krill concluded, ""The strategic realignment we are announcing today builds on our ongoing initiatives to expand our omni-channel capabilities, enhance the productivity of our store fleet, grow our international presence, and develop new categories of growth, including the launch of the Lou & Grey brand, while also furthering our objective to maximize the profitable growth of ANN INC." 

For the year ending January 2015, analysts on average expect ANN to grow revenue 6% and earnings per share 13.4%.  Both of these estimates represent an improvement on ANN's recently announced prior year performance, in which the company grew its total revenue 5% and its EPS 4.3%. 

Following in the footsteps of giants
As previously mentioned, ANN is not the only retailer with plans to capitalize on the consumer's changing shopping/spending habits. Nike and Starbucks have been capitalizing on this trend for a while, and now they have started to reap the benefits of this in a big way.

Nike has been aggressively building its e-commerce capabilities over the years. The company's online business increased revenue 33% in the most recent quarter. Incredibly, Nike's e-commerce business still only represents approximately 15% of the company's total direct-to-consumer segment, which means that the business will likely see continued expansion and rapid growth. 

Meanwhile, Starbucks benefits from its investments in various payment-solutions technologies and its aggressive gift card initiatives. Not only can consumers pay for products at Starbucks through a myriad of payment solutions, they now purchase more gift cards than ever. These gift cards have been bringing in new customers for Starbucks who are likely to become valuable repeat customers. 

Bottom line
While ANN is still a relatively small retailer in the grand scheme of things, it is undoubtedly a positive that its management is following in the steps of such successfully innovative companies as Nike and Starbucks.

Since there is no stopping the evolution of the consumer's shopping/spending habits, retailers that want to survive and thrive have no choice but to embrace new strategies. Management at ANN appears to be on the right track to accomplishing this, which could translate into long-term shareholder value for patient investors who are willing to wait for tangible results.

Philip Saglimbeni owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Nike and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike and Starbucks. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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