Piecing Together Retail's Dark Headlines

I'm not usually one to wallow in the doom and gloom angles of retail. But writing about an evergreen retail topic or recent store visit right now would seem to be ignoring the elephant in the dressing room.

This weekend, The New York Times alone both asks, "Is American Retail at a Historic Tipping Point" and assess America's retail transformation "From 'Zombie Malls' to Bonobos".

Not only are store closures on pace to eclipse the number from the depths of the Great Recession but, as also explained in the first article above, the 89,000 U.S. retail workers who have been laid off since October outnumber all of the people employed in the U.S. coal industry. Web Smith has made the call - which I'd bet on - that fulfillment jobs are the new manufacturing and sales jobs. But it's not a 1:1 replacement.

And Jamelle Bouie of Slate and CBS News makes the sad point on Twitter that the evaporating retail jobs disproportionately were held by women and especially women of color. The stated consequence is that politicians are fighting to save coal mining and its overwhelmingly white, male worker base rather than fighting for the future of retail stores. 

When "Neiman Marcus Finds Even Wealthy Shoppers Want Better Deals" (The Wall Street Journal), we know price transparency is part of the problem (for retailers, not for consumers, of course). And as Deb Weinswig says in this article, "big is the opposite of cool" for brands; those with many stores have had to shed them for this reason and because - even before sales started shifting to online competitors - the U.S. was way overstored.

The cachet of new, smaller brands allows them to open stores even as we over-index in retail square footage per American. A different operating model that's not burdened by legacy infrastructure helps. But they're unlikely to be $500M brands, let alone $1B ones. This is all the better for Walmart to buy them up, but is the future of retail (let alone fashion, as this Glossy headline stated) really a Walmart/Amazon duopoly? Scary thought for retailers and consumers alike.

Certainly, Jeff Bezos' shareholder letter drew more positive attention than anything I've seen from a retail CEO in recent memory. But, then again, when Amazon Fashion isn't taking out spreads in Vogue, we say they're a tech or logistics company and not a retailer, right? Not that it seems to matter much when we look at where retail sales are shifting.

This is from late March. Speculated bankruptcies since then include Gymboree and Rue21, per @BankruptRetail.

This is from late March. Speculated bankruptcies since then include Gymboree and Rue21, per @BankruptRetail.