Bad Retailers vs. Bad Retail
With all the hysteria about the seemingly imminent demise of American physical retailing, perhaps – just perhaps – it makes some sense to step back and try to look at the bigger picture.
Yes, the retailing business is changing, perhaps as it never has before, as e-commerce truly comes into its own and forever changes the way American shoppers consume.
But somewhere along the line we need to look beyond the storefronts and examine the more subtle aspects of this radical transformation. And to do so, we need to make the important distinction between bad retailers and bad retail.
Bad retailers are operations like Sears, Kmart, Radio Shack and a few others who simply became irrelevant to the general shopping public, through blind indifference, simple ignorance or poor strategic planning. In some cases, it is a combination of all of the above.
These are stores that stopping executing the basic tenets of retailing and failed to adapt to changing consumer needs and wants. Every era in the history of retailing has had them and they are just this generation’s Montgomery Ward, Woolworth and Sam Goody’s.
But they are not to be confused with stores that are dealing with bad retail. These are operations that are making legitimate efforts to confront the changing nature of the business, and, while those efforts have not always produced positive results, they are at least trying.
Look at Macy’s for instance. They know they have too many stores and too much merchandise that nobody really wants. But they also knew that e-commerce was going to be critical in the retail matrix of the 21st century, and they moved online early and successfully.
Or look at Walmart. As the biggest retailer in the world, they understand it is not easy to quickly turn around a behemoth. Yes, they waited too long to get serious about online but they are throwing all of their might into the effort today. They’ve experimented with different size formats to counterbalance the Super Center model. And they were smart enough to expand overseas early on, even if those efforts have not always worked out as well as they had hoped.
Right now we’re in a feeding frenzy where everything that’s going on in retailing is being lumped together in one giant, death-spiraling tragedy. But that isn’t really the case.
As with any era in retailing history, the bad retailers will succumb to bad retail.
And the good retailers will live to markdown another day.