Retail Apocalypse – You Can Pretend It’s Not True!

It’s a tough statement to make as someone who has been in the industry since 1981 – but like everything that started in the 80’s – we had a great run for a long time but when technology moves inand changes happen we just cannot expect things to last forever. And now I read daily the articles and missives from the industry genius’ that retailing is alive and well and going to be great!


So I dug into these optimistic words of wisdom and contacted many of the writers to see what they are basing their statements on. Of six authors only two bothered to even respond to defend or at least explain their positions. And those two were more disturbing to me than the non-responses. They were so disconnected to the independent retailer that it was alarming. Their articles were geared towards a couple of the largest retailers in the industry. Public traded companies who bleed money even when their sales increase. The articles of optimism certainly are not geared towards us independents.


One of the information providers for malls around the country published an article this week stating that MALLS ARE NOT DEAD… The Retail Apocalypse Never Happened! So I read with great interest to see what the article was based on. And, sure enough the writer explained that malls are being “re-imagined” to include health clubs, restaurants, medical centers and INDOOR SKY DIVING! Well, that really helps us small retailers, doesn’t it! All that we know is that small retailers have had to leave the malls because of lagging sales and the malls have to fill the spaces. They are doing what they need to do, but do not confuse an occupied mall with success for the retailers. They are success for the landlords who filled vacancies. Nothing here is helping the independent retailer.


So I continued to try to understand the other writers who claim retailing is not suffering. While a few articles stated that numbers are down, they have actually put the blame on the small retailers by not engaging the shoppers! According to them you can turn the downward trend around by giving better customer service and experiences. Put unique products into your stores and that’ll save the say.


I have heard that song and dance for years now and have to respond (again). I don’t care how many salespeople you have following around a shopper – this is not going to change the trajectory. Also, new products? Seriously? Every retailer is always looking for the new next best thing to cash in on. Do you really think you are going to get the scoop on buying the next hot product before the big box stores or online retailers? It’s not like the old days of the 80’s and 90’s – we have something called the internet! Not only do products move at the speed of light we now also compete directly with the online China sellers who happily sell directly to our customers. And as we learned many of our customers are willing to wait 3-4 weeks to get the hot item in the mail from China at a fraction of the cost we could sell it to them. So, the item is warm not hot when they get it – we still lose a great amount of business to this.


So to all the pundits claiming that retail is alive and better than ever – hey, I have an idea, why don’t YOU open a local store and rather than sit at a desk in an office and spew inaccurate info and ridiculous “tips”.


My dear retail store owners, you are not doing anything wrong. You are not missing out on any resurgence of wealth for small stores — You are churning out a living and having to reinvent the wheel every day you open your store. You are in retailing because you love the notion of being a shopkeeper.


I wrote this to assure my fellow retailers that most of the articles about our industry are bull****. We live the industry daily. As you also know, things are all not gloom and doom – we do have business, just not as much as we had. My advice for fellow retailers is to stock lighter inventory to keep liquid and include as much variety in your merchandise selections as possible. Start or upgrade your website because e-commerce will be a factor in keeping your business rolling along. If you have the energy to create in store experiences as the pundits expound on, knock yourself out. Personally, I’m not putting on a clown suit and expending all my energy to bring in one or two browsers to my store!