A RECURRING CYCLE
The truth is we are in a cycle, one that happens every twenty years or so as concepts, ideas, technologies along with consumers’ interests and desires change. Retail, once nothing more than the local general store, grew into what became the full-service department store in the late 1800s. Macy’s was founded in 1858 but started out as a dry goods store.
Then in the 1940s, the full-service department store became known as the “anchor” store as shopping malls were being built. By the 1960s shopping malls were everywhere but by the 1980s, malls were considered doomed if they weren’t enclosed and had a food court. So, during the 1980s the new malls had all the bells and whistles, including movie theatres and entertainment areas, while the old malls were being reinvented with enclosures and add-ons. But by the early 2000s it was time for another change. The Strip Mall, which was created to appeal to the customer in a hurry with in and out convenience, allowed customers to drive to the store of choice, run in, get what they wanted, and leave.
The strip mall also had a second phase which we now know as The Outlet Mall. In the beginning, the Outlet store sold left over merchandise from their parent store. But as time progressed and the concept became so strong, soon retailers realized the opportunity they had by stocking their outlet stores with knock offs of the higher quality merchandise now sold for a lot less. This new retail opportunity for the discount-minded consumer was and still is a huge success, but also a major threat to full price stores. Yet, retail has managed to survive with customers becoming educated and learning that the quality in the outlet is not the same as the full-price store. There are still many great deals and bargains but it depends on what the customer wants.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TODAY
So where are we today? Are there too many stores? Yes. Are many of them going to close? Yes. Are some retailers going to be forced to go out of business? Yes. But what we’re not hearing about is what’s next and I can assure you, it won’t just be the internet.
Each week, there’s another e-commerce business getting into brick and mortar. In many ways, these new stores will be the retailer of the future because they will open stores unlike old retail, but rather new and fresh with the latest technology, conveniences and very “cool” merchandise. And we’re not just talking about Amazon. Warby Parker for eyeglasses, Bonobos for menswear, Blue Nile for jewelry are just a few of the once e-commerce only businesses all opening stores. And many of them are already offering some very different brick and mortar selling concepts. For example, if you go into a Bonobos to try on the clothes, while you’re being fitted, the company is putting together what you need online and having it delivered to your home. This type of in-store opportunity will become as common to us in the future as bringing a newspaper coupon into the store was in the past.
These new brick and mortar stores will be more like Apple and a lot less like Macy’s of today. They will be exciting, alluring, and appealing to a new generation of shoppers. The old tired retail stores will eventually go away. Some retailers will be able to convert and survive and others, because of format and product, will not—but that’s retail.
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER
We have long forgotten about store names like Gimbels and Hudson’s, Caldor and Ames. Each of those chains had their time, but were later pushed aside as other retailers came into the market with newer concepts and appeal. We take it for granted today but when Kohl’s was taken over by private investors in 1979 and went public in 1992, it grew into being the second largest department store we have today. In the early 1980s it was still a new concept and many were not sure it would work.
What will retail look like in the future? We all have ideas of what it will be like, but none of us have a crystal ball. Usually, when we predict the future, it’s only partly accurate. But I do know that retail will never be a thing of the past provided there are humans on the planet.
Some of the newer inventions and concepts may start off strong and then fizzle out and some of the “this will never work” ideas may be a huge long-lasting success. Again, that’s retail. That’s what makes it fun, exciting and something so many of us love being part of. So, simply said, retail is far from being a thing of the past!