Traditional retail not dying, just changing

Dale Beede
Dale Beede

Retail trends are changing quickly in the United States and abroad. Many older shoppers have discovered what millennials already figured out: It’s easier to shop online in the privacy of your home than drive to a retail store, travel the aisles in search of your targeted product and then wait in line to buy that product. It’s often more convenient to order the product online, take advantage of discounts and have the item delivered to your door.

Does this mean traditional retailing is dying?

Americans question the relevance of big box general merchandisers. Sears, Kmart and
J.C. Penney have closed underperforming stores. More than 300 retailers have filed for bankruptcy this year, including Gymboree, Payless Shoe Source, Gordmans Stores, Gander Mountain, Radio Shack and The Limited.

The retail landscape is obviously changing, but exactly what does this predict about the future?

Stephen Lebovitz of CBL & Associates Properties, an operator of malls primarily in the south, believes malls aren’t going extinct, they’re just changing to capitalize on new trends, technologies and opportunities. Lebovitz also notes that more than 90 percent of what Americans buy is still in brick-and-mortar stores. Lebovitz tries to keep his retail centers vibrant to attract customers.  “We have great locations and properties and, contrary to what some suggest, people want the experiences that our properties can offer.”

Experiential shopping appears to be the new mantra. Shoppers aren’t just going out to buy things, they’re looking forward to the experience of arriving with friends at a location that offers exceptional customer service and an atmosphere that makes shopping fun. 

Why buy online when you can travel a short distance to a retailer that offers a comfortable and clean environment, knowledgeable sales people, a playground for your children, outdoor seating among trees and gardens in which to either try out the product you’re interested in or snack on the store’s food offerings? Can you imagine a food court that offers the atmosphere just described? How about a Sears or J.C. Penney that becomes a “must see” venue because of the special atmosphere offered?

Several months ago I wrote about Restoration Hardware and its somewhat exotic store outside of Chicago. People there line up for 300 yards on weekends, willing to wait for the chance to shop in a store offering furniture, fountains and an amazingly wonderful experience.

So is retail dying in America? If we take a hard look at the rapid changes under way, it appears retail isn’t dying, only changing … and for the better.

Retail footprints are shrinking as store managers strive to increase sales per square foot. Retailers realize success in offering customers a product at an affordable price and with a buying atmosphere that keeps them coming back. Consumers are telling retailers that if all the retailer can compete on is price, the consumer will buy online. But if the retailer offers the consumer a reason to not only shop at the store, but also to return often and with friends, a winning experience could be achieved by all.

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