The state of the retail industry lies somewhere between “all is rosy” and “doom and gloom.” Some companies are doing great, some just okay, others are barely staying afloat.
In 2018, industry giants like Sears and Toys R Us shuttered all their locations and filed for bankruptcy. While store closures and company bankruptcies are a part of the normal ebb and flow of retail, what we are experiencing now is anything but normal. Retailers must adapt to meet the needs of contemporary consumers.
In the same year, brick and mortar stores saw a 5% increase in sales over last year and online sales increased by 19% (Mastercard Spending Pulse report.) But, throughout 2018, retail was in a state of upheaval, and legacy retailers, like Sears and Toys R Us, finally closed. Darrin Duber-Smith, marketing professor at MSU Denver, was quoted saying that “weak retailers will close but it takes them forever to do it.” Obviously, this was the case with Sears.
According to Coresight Research, retail is at its “peak” which is the best state retailers can experience, within the constraints of the U.S. economy. However, companies should keep their eyes open because when the next downturn happens, they might be the next to announce bankruptcy.
So, why are retailers unable to stay open during such abundant times? The easy (and somewhat common) explanation is that ecommerce has killed brick and mortar retail. But we live in a world of great complexity and retailers cannot solely blame consumer trends or ecommerce as the reason they didn’t survive. Overall, companies are under severe pressure to adapt to the new retail landscape. And, some are doing better than others but there is still much work to be done, and many more store closures are on the horizon in 2019.
As of the release of the Coresight Research report, retailers had already announced plans to close over 1,600 stores in 2019 which annualized would roughly double the store closures announced in 2017 and 2018 combined. And, just this past week, Payless, a discount shoe retailer, announced plan to close all 2,100 stores in the U.S. which is over double what was announced earlier this month.
Much of the growth of new stores was through dollar and discount stores (Dollar General) while most closures were specialty apparel retailers. Other categories hit hard were traditional department stores, toy stores, and electronics retail, just to name a few.
Good news is the large number of store closures was somewhat offset by opening new locations, but not by the same retailer. Some retailers are more “ecommerce proof” than others. It greatly depends on the goods being sold and whether a retailer can provide an amazing in-store experience to counterbalance the convenience of ecommerce shopping.
Retailers mustn’t keep their heads buried in the sand. They cannot simply continue to say, “Times are good! Sales are up! Why should I worry?” And, as comfortable as it might be for retailers to develop short-term strategies to offset poor sales performance, short-sightedness will ultimately guide a retailer into bankruptcy.
Changes need to be made. Molds broken and rebuilt. And, all this needs to happen fast. It will not be easy nor pleasant for retailers, but the status quo will no longer allow retailers to effectively compete with competitors who have already “ecommerce-proofed” their businesses.
For more information regarding the state of the department store industry, read our post Tough Sledding for Department Stores.