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If buying clout can force changes in marketing, the combined Federated Department Stores/R.H. Macy Co. has a real opportunity to revitalize department store retailing.

With $14 billion in sales, more than 400 stores and a dozen store brands under common ownership, the combined company's wishes are sure to get attention.

But what will the new Federated have to say? Department store suppliers already are bracing for the worst: more squeeze play tactics rather than new partnerships that bring added creativity back into the business of selecting and advertising department store wares.

That includes how media are bought and used. Newspapers, for example, are fretting about ad volume they may lose. Yet this merger could also be a golden moment for Federated to request-or demand-new creative ideas from the newspapers and stations they use.

Hard bargaining with suppliers is a business imperative, whether at General Motors or Bloomingdale's. But if mere dollar-crunching is all that comes out of this new department store empire, its bottom line will simply stand for another missed opportunity.

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