The Retail Endgame: Items in this Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

One of the more fascinating aspects of being the type of person the media calls for comments on retail news is noticing what masquerades as “news.” Kmart and Sears announce they are probably no longer viable as retail entities. Ralph Lauren closes its Fifth Avenue stores, amidst scores of others. J. Crew is in trouble. Ditto Tiffany. The Limited shuts down all its stores. Yesterday’s breaking news was the trifecta: Michael Kors announces the shuttering of 125 or so more stores, Bleecker Street in New York is sports more “for lease” signs than even Soho. The LA Times forecasts 25 percent of malls will close in the next five years.

            Sometimes I think it must be like the “breaking news” during the Industrial Revolution. In that case, it would have been a different, but no less relentless call to Stop the Presses!: Steam able to provide power! Big factories able to make products more efficiently! Women and children become factory workers! People leave farms for cities. Economists note decline in home made goods. Local Smithy goes out of business. Trains replace wagon trains! There are time zones!

            In hindsight, it all seems so obvious.

            It’s foresight that matters, of course. Retailers seem to have lost their vision. Somewhere around 2000. The retail landscape has been changing for at least that long. How can this still be “news?” It’s just become obvious, irrefutable, inescapable. Probably because it’s coming at us at an escalating rate. Definitely because it shows up on a balance sheet. No more hiding in plain sight. There’s a law of physics which covers this, no doubt.

            My hypothesis: No retailer who hasn’t figured out by now how to enchant customers wherever they shop with the power and purpose of their brands will be a retailer in five years. No mall developer who isn’t seriously trying to partner with movie theatres, bowling alleys, fine dining, local cheese mongers, craft breweries and boutique chocolatiers to reimagine the purpose and power of their locations will be a mall developer in five years.

            We have seen the (retail) revolution and it is us and it is now.  Call me for further comments!