Another retail store “bytes” the dust?

It’s hard to forecast the future when the present is shifting every which way.

But let’s give it a try.

When it comes to big brand retail store closings… the trend continues. The latest news is about CVS, The Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, Victoria Secret and H&M collectively closing hundreds of retail stores in the US.

In all fairness, some are closing altogether, some are closing poor performing stores, others are closing up in the US but opening new retail stores in Europe… But the closing of retail stores certainly continues.

Which begs the same old questions…

  • Is this the end of retail?
  • Is this due to eCommerce?
  • Is this a fundamental shift in consumer purchasing behavior?

The answers to these questions are…. Sort of.

For example, is this the end of retail?

Perhaps a certain kind of retail may be coming to an end. Retail stores that typically sell low cost or increasingly commoditized products appear to be more vulnerable to eCommerce.

Take Sears, for example. A retail icon if the world ever saw one. At 125 years of age, Sears was one of the oldest, and certainly largest of them all. For generations it was referred to as “the everything store.”

After its bankruptcy proceedings and roughly 400 remaining stores, Sears is a mere shadow of itself. First overtaken by Walmart in the early 1990’s, and subsequently hammered by Amazon, Sears has a long struggle ahead to reinvent itself. And we do wish it well.

What went wrong is complicated. One can argue that it was becoming a bit old and stodgy. Whether it was its product lines, its basic retail environment, its lack of a unique customer purchase experience, or all of the above; I suppose the short answer is that the brand didn’t respond fast enough to a rapidly changing competitive environment.

What about the others? Let’s make no mistake, while many cut back, they are merely transferring their brands from bricks to clicks.

But these are interesting times. While so many move from bricks to clicks, there are a number of examples of online natives that have been moving from clicks to bricks, like Warby Parker, Amazon’s acquisition of Wholefoods, etc. And then there are luxury retailers that are further emphasizing their physical retail environments as an important dimension of their unique brand experiences.

So yes, competition from pure eCommerce plays has certainly played a role in hurting some of the big retail brands. But again, most have moved to eCommerce, or, at the very least, development their own online brands some time ago.

As a branding professional for I dare say how long, I believe there is another factor that is painfully obvious. Many of these big retail brands have just allowed themselves to become… “plain old”. Forget about today’s millennium, I’m talking old …even for me!

As Walter Landor, one of the famous Fathers of Modern Branding once said, “products are built in the factory… brands are created in the mind.” To which I will add, “Product are made in the factory and can be replicated by competitors and quickly outdated….Brands are created in the mind and are unique — and potentially timeless.”

But for a brand to stand the test of time, takes work.

Stay tuned for examples of such brands in my next blog….

William Berenson
Campaign Precision
Digital Branding
Where only Results Matter