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Category Killers: The Retail Revolution and Its Impact on Consumer Culture Hardcover – January 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Situated at the intersection of two Interstate highways, the small city of Tukwila, Wash., has been home to an upscale shopping mall since 1968. A few years ago, however, Tukwila began sprouting superstores. Now, thanks to Target, Barnes & Noble, PETsMART, Circuit City, Home Depot and many others, this former cow pasture is a sprawling, black-topped magnet for discount-minded shoppers. Spector’s revealing book traces the history of discount selling, showing how innovative merchants laid the foundation for the big-box chain stores that are changing the retail landscape in places like Tukwila and elsewhere. Spector (Amazon.Com: Get Big Fast, etc.) is not a dramatic storyteller, but his is a solid account of the evolution of these "category killers" (so called because their goal is to "dominate the category and kill the competition"), the first of which came into being in the early 1960s, when Charles Lazarus applied the principles developed by several generations of discounters to his family’s business and created Toys "R" Us. Spector’s strongest sections chronicle the rise of key players in various categories and describe the influence, both good and bad, of the ultimate discount superstore: Wal-Mart. At a time when Wal-Mart and other big retailers are being demonized for allegedly stifling competition and short-changing workers, Spector takes an evenhanded approach, reviewing the criticisms while noting that discount retailers have brought previously expensive goods within reach of average shoppers. Interestingly, Spector demonstrates that many of the arguments leveled today against Wal-Mart and other superstores resemble those used in the early 19th century against the first department stores and the earliest discounters. Anyone interested in the future of shopping, from both a business and cultural perspective, will find this book to be a useful primer.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Robert Spector is a veteran journalist who has covered the retail sector for many years. (former USA Today reporter).


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (January 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578519608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578519606
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,416,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Spector is recognized worldwide as the ultimate authority on The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence. His best-selling business classic The Nordstrom Way: The Inside Story of America's #1 Customer Service Company is the first and only up-close and personal look at how this company became the national standard of customer service. BusinessWeek said it "bubbles with customer service insights."

In March 2012, a completely new edition of the book The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence: How to Become the Nordstrom of Your Industry was released. Please watch Robert's author video to learn more about what's new - for YOU - in the new edition.

Robert has been involved in customer service since the age of 13, when he first went to work in his mother and father's butcher shop in the farmers' market in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Working alongside his parents, he learned firsthand what it takes to take care of customers--and to keep them loyal. Those lessons inspired his latest book, The Mom & Pop Store, which features interviews with successful independent retailers from all over the world. Robert believes that the elements of world-class customer service are the same, whether they come from Spector's Meat Market, Nordstrom, or, the subject of his international bestseller Get Big Fast.

Robert has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, among others. When he is not speaking, training and consulting internationally about customer service, he lives in Seattle.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jijnasu Forever VINE VOICE on February 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In a well-written and researched book, Spectre provides a good understanding of the trends impacting retailing and how those changes in retailing impacts our society as a whole. The book is written in three parts - part one providing the background and history of major companies defined as category killers (includes the Walmarts, kmarts, borders, etc and Starbucks!). Here the information contained, though well presented, is essentially nothing new. If this is your first book on retail industry, there is much to be gained from the first part which provides a succinct summary on the origins of the major players in retail industry. You will learn snippets such as Borders was originally part of Kmart and so on...Part two talks more on the trends impacting the industry and how it has evolved, while the third part provides some insights on how things will emerge from now.... The discussions from Chapter 7 onwards is very insightful and provides a good account of what can be expected from the reatiling giants. Discussion on how the companies try to expand to non-US markets and analysis on some of the failures (HomeDepot in Europe, for example) is particularly engaging and informative.

Overall, the book provides a reasonably good account of the future, an excellent analysis of current trends, and a decent summary of the background. Written in fairly simple language and style, the author manages to keep it entertaining and engaging. A good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In the Introduction, Robert Spector characterizes category killers as "the most disruptive concept in retailing" because "their goal is to dominate the category [e.g. toys, office supplies, home improvement] and kill the competition - whether it be mom-and-pop stores, smaller regional chains, or general merchandise stores that cannot compete on price and/or location." Spector notes that category killers "have helped to expand and upscale the 'mass market' by aggressively driving down the prices of goods and services." That was precisely Charles Lazarus' pricing strategy when he adopted the supermarket model and opened the first discount toy store in 1958, offering a wide variety of toys at 20-50% lower prices. Lazarus was the founder of a children's furniture store that became Toys "R" Us and is credited with establishing the first "category killer."

Spector carefully organizes his material within three Parts. First, in Chapters 1-3, he provides an "explanation of category killers and where they fit in the evolution of modern retailing." Next, in Chapters 4-7, he explains "how and why these retailers have come to dominate their categories." Finally, in Chapters 8 & 9, he examines the "category killers' need to expand their reach to urban, suburban, and rural areas, and the challenges they face in maintaining their competitive edge, both in their ability to grow and in their dexterity in fending off challengers." Spector acknowledges that a discussion of the transformation of consumer culture would be incomplete without considering the impact of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Costco because "they take huge bites out of category killers.
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12 of 24 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on December 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Recently I needed a set of tires. I made the rounds of the traditional tire chains in my small town. The quotes from the three stores were just about identical at $600. I went to WalMart -- $400. Same mileage guarantee, same 'we fix flats and rotate,' and a warranty that was truly nationwide. Please explain why I shouldn't have bought the tires I needed at WalMart.

Category Killers are those giant specialized stores that are wiping out the competition in the areas in which they have chosed to compete. Toy-R-Us for instance has basically wiped out the KB toy chain that had before done a lot to wipe out the mom & pop toy stores. Category Killers operate in many, if not most, of the traditional specialty marketing area. You know their names PetSmart, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, and many more. This has created a change in the way we shop, the way taxes are collected, the way producers market and position their products.

Of late there is some backlash against the big stores, particularily WalMart as it's the biggest, some towns don't want them, some lawsuits have been files, the INS has raided a few stores for using illegal workers. But $600 over here, $400 over there.

Category killers are what's happening in retail, to the dismay of many, and to the benefit of consumers. In this book Mr. Spector uses his background in retailing to examine the current revolution in retail -- yes, it's just the current revolution, there have been many before such as the construction of malls, and to make some predictions about the future of retail and the consumer culture.

For what it's worth, I think he is dead right.
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