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  • Posted on: 03/01/2021

    Will the post-pandemic era be America’s next Roaring ‘20s?

    All any of us have is the mere intellectual ability to assume that, based on the obvious, things will soon get better and lots of coffers will fill once again. Plus, isn't it too overly optimistic to predict prosperous times further than what would be, inarguably, the resurgence of some (but not all) commercial endeavors this coming Summer, and, likely, the year ahead? So instead, let's hear it for the Murmurings of Late-2021; then perhaps a Qualified Roaring 2022 --accompanied by, hopefully, a number of Amens! Why? Because as surely as anything proffered here, there are many parts to our society as a whole which need some reckoning with, if there is to be true prosperity for all in the years and decades to come. And keeping in mind all the party metaphors: remember that the bigger, louder, more resource-taking, and undisciplined revelry engaged in the night before portends the greater and graver the hangover the morning after. So be careful what you wish for (and be a giver over a taker).
  • Posted on: 02/25/2021

    Are Americans ready to do some good old-fashioned ‘revenge shopping’?

    For starters, whoever coined the term "revenge shopping" has some subconscious anger management issues to resolve. As far as I can tell, the public may have been put off from buying as they would have normally, but they still spent some money. And to whom would they be exacting revenge -- Mother Nature? Or if the person is extreme left or right, against their left or right-leaning governing bodies? (And wouldn't the money coming in still benefit both factions?! Where's the revenge in that?!) Meanwhile, it is also not like a "switch" will be "flipped" -- or that President Biden will officially announce "It's over!" (Besides, that would be rather impossible to truly determine and irresponsible to proclaim.) Still, it is true that some places will find shoppers whose numbers grow greatly as Covid cases lessen remarkably. But those figures will both ebb and flow depending on whether one's region was more draconian or lenient on it's way to "this" moment. Also, there are certain categories of things (whether to buy or to experience) that will NEVER recover to pre-pandemic levels. True business attire will only re-emerge on the backs of purists or contrarians, but not on the in-office workers who, themselves, will see a severe lessening of their tribe(s) ; and mass transit has been hit hard enough that some "damage" is unfixable w/o a total rethinking of systems and numbers (financially and of potential vs lost riders). Those are just a couple examples on the downside. Those which saw enormous positive gains have been accounted for by many previous commentators. But so it is, a recovery shopping will be only piecemeal - and not a served quite so coldly or all conclusively as "revenge."
  • Posted on: 02/23/2021

    Are outlet centers immune to the ills of regional malls?

    Gene, your question is key to understanding the very specious nature of outlets, in that what they offer consumers is deeply dubious. Years ago, I worked for an NYC designer who had extra - but very limited - inventory at the end of each season. However there was no easy way to move out these goods. Thankfully, in came "sample sales" coordinators, whose sole task was selling designer goods in a manner considered almost secret. Which was part of their seismic success: that these really were the goods - and for sale at a fraction of what they really would have cost consumers in actual stores. This original connectivity is something that outlets have either forgotten - or believe their customers have long decided isn't relevant. But this is to their own peril. Unarguably, a brand MUST have great strength at and through regular-priced retail channels in order to sustain any bargain value at the outlet level. So for that to continue, regular retail needs to succeed before its discount cousins. Otherwise, the river that runs through this will run dry.
  • Posted on: 02/18/2021

    Is suburban retail (malls, too) primed for a comeback?

    Retail traffic will return post-pandemic. But how much business increases depends on one's location contrasted with need vs desire. In certain urban (and suburban) spots where shopping is a unique and attractive "experience," the chances for a greater comeback far outweigh those places where shopping was merely undertaken for the sake of shopping (i.e. as a way to alleviate basic human boredom). Generally speaking, the creators of malls understood and knew the advantage of further exploiting this latter mode -- by espousing theirs as truly experiential destinations. Regardless whether they were (or were not) actually interesting places to visit (and shop), this led to malls around the country being co-modified to the point where there was little differentiating time spent in one over any other. Which, of course, was still the point: of democratizing commerce nationally/regionally at the same time turning the droves to near-thoughtless consumers of goods they quite often did not need -- but bought anyway. (And let's expect business leaders to continue pushing for this way.) Meanwhile during "sheltering," many people took stock of what material goods they had, what of those they could (and could not) do without, what they believed they needed, and what they desired (and, when the time returned, might buy just for the sake of it). So, as we move out of lockdowns, it will be interesting to witness how these two rather opposing forces will come together -- in a collision or co-mingling -- and in how they may dismantle what stood before and what might deem must be rebuilt or built totally anew.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Should retailers ask workers to return to their offices?

    Neil, no one should be forced to work at this time, if employers cant ensure their workers' safety. But isn't retail store staff being expected to do so with no guarantees? Other than some safety measures in place, there remain great risks facing the public. (Which includes, as much, getting to and from as well as being on the job.) My sense is that somewhere deep in this discussion, between employers and employees (and let's not forget unions), is the realization that it is not quite as fair (to put it mildly) for retailers in particular to put sales associates and the like out in the fray while allowing corporate equivalents the security of working from home.
  • Posted on: 02/12/2021

    Should retailers ask workers to return to their offices?

    Elevator access is an issue, Cathy. But it is something more controllable/containable by office management, et al. One that is not, and a huge hurdle to overcome is getting to work. Especially via public transport. Which was unwieldy in the best of times, and now being (nearly) the worst. It is not until cities can make commuters feel safe on subways/trains that most companies can tell or expect employees to take that indefinable risk. Meanwhile, even though working from home is more secure from a virus-spread POV, and, in some cases, a surprisingly more efficient way to work, it is also insecure in a striking way. Consider that when one works "office hours" they are definable by hours and physical presence. Those indicators are no longer as apparent to bosses and employees. What was once exclaimed as "done for the day" with an exit out the door has not the same equivalency for remote workers. Who are, sight unseen, often imagined as not working as hard by management (regardless that the opposite may be true). Isn't it just human nature to think of an "absentee" worker as sometimes "goofing off"? But since there is no way for employers to be sure otherwise, without unacceptable "Big Brother" tactics, getting as many workers back in the office -- to keep an acceptable eye on them -- will always be a company's first choice. Plus, there is no denying that in-person interactions do foster more meaningful, lasting and trustworthy connections.
  • Posted on: 02/11/2021

    Starbucks’ meatless store pilot ran in stealth mode

    Based on growing realities more than mere "trends," the potential for success of a well-run, totally plant-based food (and beverage) operation is indisputable. However, the scale of such an enterprise is less apparent. As such, Starbucks' stealth testing was done to determine, on a smaller level, which products could be integrated into their already existing menu selections and, on a greater one, how an entire business based solely on plant-based products might work -- and succeed. Thus, it all boils down to investment vs. profit. Regardless of espousing and supporting environmentally friendly concepts, Starbucks is still in the business of making money. So they will have to determine whether either of the two options is worth their efforts. Naturally, for Starbucks to fold in items is the cheaper option with a better chance of costing them less. Ironically, many (hundreds of) plant-based-only restaurants that are Starbucks-funded could serve and make millions. But how many "millions" would it be worth it for Starbucks to go in that more meaningful direction? (I'm thinking even billions!)
  • Posted on: 02/10/2021

    Will big food brands turn to home-delivered meals to drive future growth?

    As a long-time and often elated AND annoyed consumer of this type of "prepared meal" service, it's the details which present the biggest problem. Ironically, cost is not one of them. When weighing the expense of an individual (me) gathering ingredients, travel time, etc, with getting it all delivered to one's home -- it balances out. However, the two problems as I see them are: 1) cycling through selections, which creates a kind of boredom at buying the same things over again (though it's rather obvious most people buy, make and serve the same traditional foods all on their own); and 2) the untold but immense issue of sheer waste created through something that has the veneer of being "green." One way to encapsulate the problem: imagine a single household (times thousands within a metropolitan area to make it profitable for the service) receiving cardboard boxes, insulation and frozen nitrogen (that MUST BE diluted with running water -- in a drought-prone city like San Francisco) and you start to realize the awful ramifications. The ONLY real solution to that particular problem is having enough customers, in one definable area, who can utilize a delivery service that is based on the producers dropping off product in an environmentally friendly container AND picking up said container at the next turn. Otherwise, somewhere down the line just the sheer madness of running water for fifteen minutes at a time JUST to dissolve frozen nitrogen will begin to "dissolve" whatever value this system appears to have on "conscious" consumers.
  • Posted on: 02/05/2021

    Are U.S. manufacturing sources an absolute necessity for American retailers today?

    There is no denying that during the early months of the pandemic, especially as overseas plants had to close and shipping ceased temporarily, there was a sudden (and huge) awareness of our country's too one-sided reliance on foreign goods and supplies. But aside from their loud proclamations, Lisa, I ask you and other experts to tell me which American companies were able to switch any external operations to internal ones? Partly or wholly? Effectively and efficiently? From my mainly consumer POV, all I witnessed were vastly reduced inventories of goods. Or, in the case of certain retail selections, a sort of "time stands still" of item choices staying very much the same for very much longer than usual. Perhaps if the actual global supply chain was still (god forbid) shut down, then American companies would be working on meaningful and lasting ways to make things on- or near-shore, and, maybe, we would see some evidence. But just expecting that domestic plants alone could make things as well and as economically as their overseas counterparts takes an entire re-imaging of our country's basic workforce modus operandi. Regardless of how sensible all this may be, who among us, in this age of immediate "just a click away" gratification coupled with miserly spending habits, will have the patience to wait for any of it to really happen?
  • Posted on: 02/02/2021

    Will Allure editors outdo other beauty merchandisers with a new store concept?

    Allure, as others have commented, has weighed in on and recommended beauty products for years. This helped drive sales for those products with Allure acting merely editorially and benefitting greatly and rather easily in this comfortable benefactor/ess mode; while leaving the harder physical conveyance of goods to the manufacturers/retailers. So it is to their credit that they want to take this next step. Which may be logical, but is it going to be practical? It may be that this could be more (or less) than they bargained for. Imagine when someone far from that single location sees something in the magazine (or online) and expects the Lower Manhattan shop to get them the items -- and ASAP. As this is another perk 21st Century consumers depend on. Now think about staff trying to do that thousands of times over, as "clicks" continue to mount. Also, how would they even begin to properly inventory "hits" vs "misses"? BTW, it won't "count" if Allure finds ways to pass these parts back to the makers. That would mean this "brick and mortar" concept is a facade. Consequently, it could be that this shop might be able to operate only as an "in person" manifestation, tourist/influencer destination (post-Covid), and "Buy It Now" one-off of Allure editors' and readers' favorites. Because, guaranteed, it is the myriad issues related to distribution that's stopped them (and others) from making this move before.
  • Posted on: 12/30/2020

    Curbside cocktails anyone?

    During these dire, business-threatening times, restaurants/bars should be allowed to do what they can to generate revenue. However, a change in the intrinsic ways these operations do business, from a somewhat controlled environment to one that is impossible-to-totally manage is a serious concern. But first, consider this: that by comparison, grocery stores have no more care over a buyer's purchase of alcohol (beyond age-requirements) and that person's potential alcoholism or mental impairment due to consumption than they do over one's buying fatty foods and the potential of obesity for the customer. Yet, restaurants and especially bars are at least partly responsible for the actions of and effects to customers as it relates to the buying and consuming of goods within the confines of their property. The moment a person leaves with, say, a to-go cocktail and heads to god-knows-where to imbibe it is very problematic. No one could easily hold Kroger responsible if the beer six-pack they sold led to someone's intoxicated fracas. But a cocktail-caused catastrophe at one's home, or (walking) on the way there, can be directly linked to the neighborhood watering hole that sold it. This is why the only possibly manageable current / future option for bars -- and the somewhat controllable conveyance of cocktails -- has been the sidewalk / curbside build-outs. Which allow workers some "managing" of the safety and safer actions of patrons. Letting them out from those boundaries and that "horse is out of the gate."
  • Posted on: 12/23/2020

    Will online delivery go more eco-friendly post-pandemic?

    I'm surprised that the need for sustainability is not more uppermost in EVERY comment. There is no denying ease and cost-effectiveness (affordability) are concerns for consumers, and, thus, manufacturers (and distributors). And who would pay more if they had an option not to? Still, product wastefulness has no upside whatsoever. But that it is, aptly, like "sweeping dust under the rug." Eventually the accumulated muck is unavoidable and dangerous. Meanwhile, it would especially behoove purveyors of perishable goods to do their damndest at supplying them with some kind of recycling regularity. It is far too contrarian to deliver modern ease with absurd uselessness. Having "meals" sent with cold packaging that the maker says can be used for other cooling purposes; Just how many ice packs can one household use?! Or worse, being told that to dispose of same takes dissolving the contents with many minutes worth of running water. (That works really well in drought-area households.) Then there is the insulation that should only be used inside one's walls. (Really, we are just supposed to throw that impervious material away in our household trash?!) Truly, folks, this MUST be figured out, and not just for the well-heeled. Our grandparents were middle-class/middle income, and still had their milk dropped off and picked up regularly. And it being about glass vs plastic? Uhm, no. A culture that can ZOOM across the world and zoom to the moon simply cannot use this as a "material" excuse! Maybe this needs to be thought of more as a WPA idea, broad and all-encompassing? Whichever way, it has to be done, and cannot wait until the we are all buried under the waste.
  • Posted on: 12/11/2020

    Are stores going to turn into ghost towns?

    It's not so much about individual stores becoming "ghost towns" as it is about whole shopping enclaves turning to dust. Also, the tribulations of chain retailers, with deep(er) financial pockets, should not be conflated with the more dire economics of indie shops. Meanwhile, the pains caused by the pandemic are worse in places where stores, large or small, were already hurting for business. So, even when the vaccine comes and the population is ready to go back - the fray in these places may be irreparable. That is, unless there's a near-complete rethinking of how this works. In order for one-offs and small shopping districts to succeed, it will take a thoughtful collaboration between realtors, real estate developers, urban planners, business owners, concerned (shopping) citizens and more to re-create commercial districts in a more cohesive way. As they say, strength comes in numbers -- as well as through borders that are defined. One thing that always leads to a shopping area's (or singular store's) downfall is placing your goods beyond what are the logistically logical boundaries of the shopper. There is much more than a few hundred footfalls difference between a stroll vs a hike. One is comfortable, and the other is daunting. Keep it contained -- and the customers will come back (time and again).
  • Posted on: 12/07/2020

    Barnes & Noble counts on store managers running its business better

    I'm rather surprised that none of the esteemed commentators noted that before Amazon destroyed much of B&N's core book-selling business, B&N was essentially the same type of malevolent force that slayed many an independent bookseller. Consequently, with B&N caught between playing "victim" vs "vanquisher" it is hard to be too sympathetic to their plight. Further, the kind of intimate experience espoused by the CEO is hardly feasible in the too-large-for-their-own-good sizes (and non-Main Street locations) of most B&N stores. (Incidentally, most Waterstone stores, as far as one can tell throughout London, are infinitely more manageably scaled and located to begin with.) Plus, the kind of community-centric ambiance they want isn't exactly something you can do merely by re-assorting your assortment or pinning up local school pennants. Nor can a manager, no matter how empowered, come off as your friendly, knowing, neighborhood proprietor, without being made to work 24/7 and greeting and getting to know (nearly) every customer who walks in the door. (Were it even possible.) I do not wish them ill, or job loss to their individual workers. But I simply do not see B&N becoming more precious while at the same time needing to stay in and be all about everything related to books. Maybe this is just going to be their last, yet nobly intended closing chapter.
  • Posted on: 10/19/2020

    Has Shein reinvented teen e-tailing?

    Let's be honest here, everyone. SHEIN has not re-invented teen e-tailing. What it has done has taken online commerce's already easy accessibility with ordering and combined it with what attracts the vast amount of consumers, young or old, and that is to buy things that they may or may not need via low prices and fast delivery. While what they're doing so nimbly may make them startlingly successful, it also makes them rather deliberately insidious. As others have already pointed out, at what true cost does all this flurry have? The bigger irony, doubled up with their added appeal to heretofore underserved customers, is it's coming at a time when we are thinking/hoping/expecting younger people to be more conscious environmentally, economically and (we can only hope) intellectually. That it is an indicator, otherwise, of a company exploiting what might just be basic human nature (to get, and get, and get) is the real SHEIN story.
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