By Chicago Tribune
Some of America's favorite shopping destinations from the last few decades are disappearing, with big-name closings seeming to take on sudden speed. Pier 1, Bed Bath & Beyond and Express are among the chains shedding locations.
Retailers shuttered 10,800 stores last year and have already announced 1,000 new closings in 2020, report Lauren Zumbach and Corilyn Shropshire in the Tribune. Papyrus is closing all stores, though its luxe greeting cards will still be sold elsewhere. As Chicagoans know, hometown Sears went through bankruptcy court protection and is shrinking its footprint and portfolio of private-label brands. Malls are also losing foot traffic.
The twin causes: online convenience and a shift in spending. Millennials prefer to allocate money to services and experiences rather than excess things. Retail analysts say there are simply too many stores after years of expansion. How many Bed Bath & Beyond locations are needed when bed sheets, candles and kitchen gadgets are just as easily ordered online? As the retail rightsizing plays out, keep a close eye on how shopping districts fare such as the Magnificent Mile and State Street areas in Chicago. Luxury department store Barneys recently closed in Chicago's Gold Coast, quickly followed by designer boutique Marc Jacobs. Warm and welcoming stores are essential to a vibrant downtown. Those that succeed may find a way to offer fun as much as function: Think: the rejuvenation of the former Crate & Barrel flagship on Michigan Avenue into a Starbucks Roastery, a destination in itself, or Italian food emporium Eataly, where you can roam, browse, buy groceries, dine or just have a glass of wine.
Not all brands are struggling. Discount retailers T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, owned by TJX Cos., and Ross, which offer low prices and a treasure-hunt environment with frequently rotating stock, added stores last year. So did pricey activewear brand Lululemon. And while it's a blow to hear one of your favorites is going away, experts say there is no bricks-and-mortar apocalypse: Retailers plan to open more than 1,700 stores this year too.
What's the winning strategy? Not surprisingly, stores that stay in tune with their customers. Aerie for American Eagle is soaring while running ads that include women of various shapes, sizes, colors and abilities. Newer entries like high-tech mini-golf concept Puttshack will step into former store spaces to meet the demand for experiences: It's coming to Oakbrook Center this year in suburban Chicago, where there was once a Lord & Taylor.
For some of us, it's hard to accept the decline of once-trendy spots like Forever 21 and Gap, which have been forced to scale back recently. Yet they're all wrestling with an eternal lesson: Customer loyalty, without rigorous attention, is definitely not forever.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL
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