Last Call At The Mall?
I was reminded the other day by a great friend and colleague that mine was an early voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the paths of e-tailing.” Or some such. It’s true. Since the early 2000s, I, hmmm, harassed my clients with the specter of FreshDirect, Amazon Prime and a host of other sites offering the promise of radical convenience, selection and quality at an obviously fair price. Even those that failed, like Streamline and Urban Fetch, offered a glimpse of the reality slouching towards us.
Certainly, many of the woes facing all manner of retail can be laid at the feet of the internet. But not all. If we look for a moment at the big growth of online sales, it is fair to generalize that it comes from stuff we need and know we need, but from which the joy of discovery has been sucked dry. We don’t need to buy our Bounty, Charmin and Tide and schlep it home, if the push of a Dash button does the trick. Ditto a Ralph Laurenesque polo or mom jeans. Retailers and brands are paying a steep price for having commoditized their designs, price promoted ad nauseam and de-professionalized their sales people to minimum wage, disenchanted and disengaged order takers.
But still: Retail is in more of a free fall than these factors can account for. I am beginning to suspect a confluence of factors of which the movement to online is simply the most obvious. What else?
· Well, there’s the lingering effects of The Great Recession. I suspect these are under-understood. Just as the generation that muddled through the Depression did not come out unscathed, the multiple generations who got genuinely shocked and awed by the housing crisis and its aftermath may have developed a different relationship to ‘getting and spending.’
· There may be a natural erosion in our consumer society’s belief in the power of retail therapy. The nation is aging and with aging can come the hard-won wisdom suggesting that one more “it” bag or pair of designer heels or bespoke candle won’t give us the endorphin rush it once did. We may have built up a tolerance to the drug of the old mantra, “See it, like it, buy it.” We may just be chock-a-block with stuff.
· Indeed, the best-seller lists and blogosphere are filled with titles stressing the benefits of de-cluttering. There’s nothing quite like the cold shower of sending clothing with price tags still attached to Good Will to serve as a wake-up call to foolishness.
What to do? Consider the possibility: What if the thrill really is gone? What if we’ve fallen out of love with our next ‘gotta have it?’ Can we reignite passion? What does that mean for your brand, business, consumer? Or is it "Last call at the mall?" As in, last one to leave, please turn out the lights.