With all due respect to others on this comment feed, it is rather cavalier to say certain workers must do this and that. It may seem that simple, but it really isn't—especially when you're working in a job that never had to contend with it being "us" and (versus) "them."
Furthermore, most customer service staff (like myself) came to their positions because they liked dealing directly with the public. (At least let's hope so; what's the sense of NOT liking people if they are who you have to deal with?) Also, theirs (make that ours, because I am part of this group) was supposed to be—and please let it be this way again soon—the FACE of the companies they work for. So, having to mask up has absolutely denied us a great part of that privilege for nearly two years now.
Meanwhile, this is not the same "germy" situation as would be working in healthcare. Or deeply between food stuffs. Which has always had (or should have) some barriers separating employees from their goods (ya know, like the ol' hair nets and, yes, masks). True, this is a particularly virulent phase of the pandemic; and I understand though I am not jumping for joy over being forced now to wear medical grade masks.
This all brings me to a rather ironic thought. If this were just about what people had to have and not what they might like, things and rules would be acceptably different. It's like previous discussions on excessive buying and returns. Which is just that: excess solely for the sake of it. Consequently, were the discussion to be about only the most important businesses (institutions) staying open for reasons of pure and dire needs, then I would join the panel in saying their workers should take every precaution to keep themselves and visitors/customers as safe as possible. And by the way, I would be joining you because I would not be, for the time being, working in a job that is essentially non-essential.
However, what we all know is that makes no good sense for a whole swath of businesses—because it denies their customers ways of just getting all manner of unnecessary things whenever they damned well please! And being all about that, dammit, is what this is really all about.
If a retailer of, say, a single but sizable store that still knew mostly about their inventory—of quantity and of quality—it could be presented to customers in controlled ways. Both in-person and online. And when they occurred, returns could be factored in as either brought back by whim (and, hopefully, within a reasonable amount of time) or good reason (perhaps not of the quality expected) and so forth. And their business could, just, move along.
However, we crossed that threshold of return control long ago, and before the internet. It started when one store, to take customers from another, decided they would let their shoppers buy based more on pure impulse—and while saying they could bring it back, anytime. Without rules that might dissuade purchases to start (I know, why would retailers ever wanna do that?), it created a brewing free-for-all mentality among the masses, that's blown its pot lately.
Further, for years I used to think a lot (and think again) about what I was buying. Partly because I was (and can be) rather finicky; and because I loathed the idea of returning to the point of purchase. Which was some subconscious-to-obvious admission of my making a mistake that I cared not to lay bare. (I know, I have issues.) But now, very few need feel any remorse when the act of returning is so anonymous. Oh, and to be able to bring it back to a different place than where you bought it? Talk about making it easy for the buyer to not care what impact their return has—when it's being dropped off somewhere else (and will eventually make it back to its starting point—or not).
Oh, and just wait until tech-cum-retail figures ways not only to drone-over your goods, but drone them back—when you decide: "eh"—as well!
The reality of this "returnarama" is that it's really (and mostly) a problem of mass consumerism, and of how the larger guys just decided long ago that even though it comes at the costs of pandering to the least good for a growing population (and crumbling environment), if having people buy more just for the sake of it helps their businesses grow then so be it. But at some point this extreme want, take and return must have its limits? But wait—there's always outer (and more) space!
There's something rather grotesque about retailers worrying about and wondering how quickly they can get certain goods to impatient customers. Unless it's about a medical emergency, no one needs anything so quickly that it defies human capabilities.
Sure, you can make it about non-human ways of getting these anxious people their trivialities. But only the largest (most solvent) businesses can afford fleets of robots, dashing drone-like across cityscapes. Though isn't it absurd catering to such consumer whims? Sure you say, that's what business is (mostly?) about: satisfying desperate desires in addition to or over actual needs. However doesn't this all tend to make us rather too selfish and self-aware, and to the eventual point of being absolutely unsustainable (economically and environmentally)? Well, whatever.
Meanwhile, to the vast majority of smaller stores, I say let your patrons "eat their cakes, but pay not only for it but for how quickly they (think they) need to devour it." For there is no good reason why the little guys should have to absorb the cost of their wanton excess. Leave that inane catering to the ones, the big players, who see all of us as merely those who consume in mass, thoughtless quantities anyway.
Yesterday it was about J.C. Penney trying to become relevant without them ever having any relevance, in the way of being "it," to begin with. Their current attempts at gains are further compounded by years of loss and, perhaps more importantly, a lackluster veneer. To the contrary, Gap was a "go to" brand for a while, but with an entire store (and chain) full of that which became their undoing: lackluster merchandise.
Now you can take pieces or categories here and there and "pop on rhinestones." Which is, in effect, what these collabs are doing. But at the end of the day, you're still working with the same ol' same ol' -- dull garments.
More problematic is that the entire world of retail basics they very successfully ushered in — with followers who ended up taking the lead, like the H&Ms and Uniqlos (and who did it better, faster and cheaper) — has, itself, imploded. (Or more aptly, unraveled.)
So as others have said and I agree, they need to fix the foundation of their business first. And by realizing that blandness does not work for the masses. Whose hordes, bland though they might really be, are becoming more individualistic/tribal. Interestingly, and while they may or may not have pro-actively considered it, their current actions are as divisive as they are inclusive. Which shows you that retailers, especially larger ones, can't find a "one size fits all" celebrity, or celebrated idea, to bring in (and back) customers like they did back in the day.
Maybe this should be about Gap thinking and acting more regionally; and not about the sameness of their wares from sea to sea; especially when it is clear there are differences between we, the people. (Which is not as damning as it sounds.) But that would take making and showcasing things (including personalities) for local markets — and surely not what a big, bland behemoth is or could be about.
There is a place, and plenty of available spaces, for a retailer to give consumers, of many (but not all) wants, something that's missing. Say, a more curated and less convenience-store-on-steroids idea than Target; and a more exclusive yet less pretentious experience than in a Bloomingdales. Plus, it should be technically state-of-the-art, and in the moment/experiential as far as the people (shoppers and staff) go; but not to the point of pulsating unpleasantness. Shopping should be about attraction and interesting things that are touched, not torched, with excitement.
Could Penney's be this of-the-future-but-right-now store? To put it bluntly, there's no way in Hell. That's because for consumers to get all these wants and needs takes building anew and completely. Not gerry-rigging something that has the taint of years of underperforming and never possessing any cache. The former you can surmount, as everyone loves an underdog story. However, the latter is something you either have or you don't; it's also what a business can try to "buy" even though it's always something consumers bestow upon you. JCP never got that accolade. Which is why there's no place or space for them to meaningfully re-emerge.
Now, if the new JCP powers-that-be were to go into one (or a dozen) of these Simon Properties and build something previously outlined from scratch, the people might just come. Even still, with the guilt-by-association, a previous generation's middling-to-bad business helping with the groundwork of a next-gen store is another American-ideal story that we'd all love to champion. But it seems execs are following a playbook that has played out, and fomenting actions that are inevitable dead ends.
If only these business people could see beyond what's always been done, then Penney's could have a future. But apparently they do not. So, it is just a matter of time, albeit now currently extended, before they disappear completely from view.
Admittedly, I have been guilty of making runs to Target; and did them well before the pandemic made them more a necessity. But ways to get me, and others (who aren't already doing so), to make more frequent treks? Honestly, I don't think they should add anything. Because doing so will, in effect, turn them from "just enough" to "too much." Excess is a consistent killer of success. Just look at brands and retailers that grew so big they ended up deflating.
Also, adding might mean expanding in ways that might suddenly make them known more for this rather than that. Which is not Target. They're about being the "same" in practically everything. Consequently, generic and "branded" at the same time. A perfect personality-lite combination.
Meanwhile, I still don't (and, likely, won't ever) buy things from them in certain categories. But to get me to consider it would have them become more refined retailers. However, doing so is folly, because "wants" are fickle and fleeting in those areas, and Target is too smart to play that game.
Since it shouldn't be about add, it could be about enhance. Twice I went to them, pre-holiday, to buy gifts that their website said a certain location had—but did not. Make that more accurate, please (because the tech for greater accuracy exits)! Also, staff may be helpful, but they are strikingly hard to find (and it was this way long before Covid created more absence). Here is a good place to help customers find their own way—with some self-serve information stations.
Yes, make it easier to run in—get just what you came for—and run out! That's the way Target should go—and grow!
I had never heard the coined term BOPIS until the pandemic. So, you could say it got its "boost" because of it. Which is rather ironic, considering that for BOPIS transactions to rise (again) they'd need a "booster" in the form of another surge.
Meanwhile, though I had never heard of "it," the reasons for using it were not new to me. I just had very few occasions to shop in that manner. But a great many larger retailers have always had pickup areas for in-store shoppers to "get" certain items into their cars. Spots that could easily segue to more online-then-retrieve sales.
As such, when I once wanted to buy an available (in-store) moderately sized piece of furniture, and found that shipping or delivery would cost almost half the price of the item, I took the "pick up" option. However without a car, that wasn't going to be an easy choice.
Which brings me to the reality of BOPIS, and how it may wane or rise, in the retail landscape. It basically comes down to how it works with these "absolutes" about shopping (and whether it fits the purchase or not): convenience, economics (costs to the consumer and business) contrasted with the buyer's degrees of "want" (must-have to maybe not).
So look for the big players to offer this, as always, as some sort of option. But only when it's about a consumer's clear choices. Like this exact toy or that precise appliance. When it comes to those things that people like to "choose" themselves, like fresh produce, it never was nor will it ever be left to the worker to always make the selection. About the smaller guys? Yes, when "picking up" was about us helping out them. But now? Only if it's cost-effective, staff-able, and convenient for either party.
Will this bring back "local retail"? Well, yes. But it also depends on the definition. Physically speaking, the idea would bring stores and other "conveniences" closer in reach to residents of so-called 15-minute cities. But "true" local business as in that which stems, organically, from within — as in businesses owned by locals? That's a much harder goal to achieve. Especially when developers' main modus operandi is to lease or sell properties as much and as quickly as possible. Which thus tends to larger retail operations that can, in devious ways, impersonate but not at all embody small (mom and pop) ideals and aesthetics.
Therein lies the real issue at hand. Places can be created. But giving them personalities? Hardly. But being able to do that would be something — good or bad? The idea of one of these being more arty and another being tonier makes them interesting and attractive. But then to a sect, not a whole swath. Which then brings in the possibility of inequity in some more than others.
However the alternative of one with tinier versions of Target and Starbucks (what, decoratively/designed any differently here or there?) and precisely the same amenities and accommodations with, maybe, just a different colored facade is just too creepily Orwellian for thoughtful people to fathom.
Meanwhile, if I had my way (and tons of money), I would, right now, go to where all these horrid strip malls are (mostly the abandoned ones, and there are plenty), and do something with all that wasted "out there" space. Concurrently, I would go into each and every major city and revisit (and reinvest in) each neighborhood that already has an existing but likely suffering crossroads of business. Yes, I would do this before, ahem, embarking on another half-cocked urban idea.
Pardon the grammar, but this is never NOT a great idea. I say that especially as one who has consistently worked front-line in a public-facing, customer-service capacity. I know all too well that higher-ups need to know what it's like — before they send out more missives about what needs to be done. Because surely most have no idea what it is like on the ground.
However I do not believe all behind-the-scenes employees need to "walk the walk." Those who work in a go-between way don't have the same responsibility (say, blame) for passing on often inane and unaware rules. As the saying goes: they are just doing what they're told.
So I say it is only those "bigger fish" that need to "jump in the water." And I mean the deep end. None of this "walking the floor" nonsense, surrounded by their underlings, asking questions of associates (as though suddenly the king or queen has deigned them, the understaff, as suddenly worthy of consideration) or of the few lucky patrons who happen by. No, this needs to be as incognito as possible. These rarified types need to hit the hard marble floors as we do — and be presented to the public as mere peons. Oh, and for more than a fleeting moment or two.
Only then might they, like the DoorDashers' bosses, even get a sense of the crazy obstacle course of work they so easily set for those who "dash" on a regular basis.
If aesthetics count for anything, and they should, then neither strip or enclosed malls have done anything to make the American landscape anything but worse (looking) over the years. And about them, strip malls that is, becoming the "new" Main Street? Heaven help us all, if that's what "they" are becoming.
Truth is, most of these constructs have been, and remain, focused first on cars, and in getting consumers to and from these places as swiftly as possible optics always follow. Thus what you get are default looks on all levels, from homogenized storefronts (with windows not so much made for "shopping" as for passing by as you seek out parking) to the ghastly visuals of row after row of vehicles in the forefront. By the way, isn't that what large, enclosed malls did with cars: making up the majority of their vastness outside -- and then compounding bad optics by "fortressing" the stores themselves?!
Meanwhile, considering current trends, bad ones, does anyone wonder what higher security risks these "strip" operations are — by being so easily accessed to one's "escape" vehicles?
Lastly, I believe streetscapes that take into account those walking over those driving are the ones that really help their environments. That's for both large metropolises to small "All-American" towns. Make Main Streets about a thoughtful, physical experience over "in and out" -- enclosed malls that are about hybrid (hotels, apartments, gyms, schools AND stores—this works for "strips" too); and for gosh sakes, put the parking in the back or underground!
Still, all this takes time and consideration, which is the antithesis of what this is about: sheer shopping convenience and investors' economics! (Oh well, it's a nice dream.)
Having worked in site-specific stores (like those "attached" to museums or other attractions) for many years, I can say that "showrooming" has a more insidious effect on this scale of retailer over the giants. The giants can, in some ways, afford it -- or make broad changes in inventory selection. Whereas specialty shops really can't pivot as nimbly. So each and every sale is key.
What's most vexing is that one would have thought visitors entered such stores as a way to enhance their experience overall. Of first seeing the "sight" and then, in some ways, commemorating the time with a souvenir of some sort.
But some will be who they are. Not so much thoughtful shoppers but those only conscious of pure consumerism, based largely on costs, and thinking they've won something by finding it at a better price. In the books sections of these shops, I can't even number the many times visitors rifled through coffee table tomes — and took pictures of covers. As a note for them to buy it elsewhere (online, mostly) and have it shipped to them, at another more convenient time.
Are there things retailers of this kind can do to dissuade this type of non-shopping? Yes, give customers very well-curated selections of things that are both impulse and must-have (in-the-moment) buys; spot-on attention from staff when needed; some way to let these people know that every purchase helps not only that store/attraction but the very place (neighborhood and city) where these operations exist.
Yes, even "guilt" them into rethinking their self-centered ways. Which is not as mean-spirited as it may sound. Especially in that these people are feeling no shame behaving as they are—when they should feel just a little.
My father was his union's president and during his tenure he organized at least one memorable strike against his employer. Which they won. But eventually the company, still in existence and greatly profitable, eventually automated many of the processes he and his coworkers undertook. So those jobs no longer exist. Because, well, companies will pay workers just so much—for doing what their unions say is allowable—before they do something else.
This is what we will see play out here. No, I do not necessarily see Starbucks baristas becoming actual bots (or do I?). But yes, I do believe that they will only go so far in having their heretofore rather positive-for-workers operations dictated by union forces. That, I might add, are not necessarily perfect for every place. Even where and when they are deemed needed.
That's the true rub: figuring which workers really need organized protections from bad (or not very conscionable) employers, to staff who suddenly feel empowered with the hint of power that unions can bring to some not-very-good workers' work-less ethics.
Believe me, I have seen it from all sides, inside and out; from vote yay to nay. It's not a straight road in either direction; and certainly not an all good or all bad outcome no matter which way things go.
Unless it's medicine to the gravely ill, there is nothing else in this world of ours that needs to be someplace ultra-fast. Sure, it's an interesting notion: to see how fast that is. And there will be those who order "just to see" if they get their goods in an ultra-timely fashion.
But let me ask operations this: do you really want to cater to those with such self-centered, yet wholly unnecessary interests? Again, if this is about "life-saving" ideas, yes; but please not about getting your produce pronto!
Meanwhile, unless this is also about actual machines doing the work — like drones and bots — it's a hellish predicament that's certain to get worse for real workers. There is a matter of them being able to do things just so fast, and no faster. Plus, being able to do so, quicker and quicker, makes them only more like machines. And for sure the customers will only see them that way anyway.
What a vicious cycle, that keeps spinning more and more out of control.
I like the idea of anything new in the way of brick-and-mortar. But this strikes me as a rather counterintuitive idea for Wayfair. In the sense that what works for them online, choices, is also what does not work for them: too many choices. So consumers are left to scroll through reams of, say, wicker laundry baskets, to finally find the right one (if they do at all).
But wait, you say, doesn't that mean their winnowing of merchandise into five separate brands, and locations, seems ideal? Well, no. To me that only looks like having to get in your car and to drive to ANOTHER Wayfair brand — to find that illusive container you seek. That would drive me bonkers. Plus, it's highly unlikely that all five "brands" would or could ever exist near each other in any given market to make it convenient for shoppers, and isn't that the point?
Meanwhile, what I think would be the best idea for Wayfair includes single large locations that could have (five) distinct shopping areas. That would at least negate the idea of having to go elsewhere (other than maybe down a long hall or up a floor or two).
Mind you, I think big box operations are annoying large, and unyielding. Often little more than concrete caverns. But done the right ways, they could be "worlds" of enticing ideas, thoughtfully curated and quartered (fived?!) for the masses.
No, there aren't mobs ransacking Safeways or Walgreens. Still the goods shoplifted from these places do find their ways to illegal third-parties. Like sidewalk vendors. Where these items can be sold at 100 percent profit!
Also, thievery from these places constitute a proving ground. Like a kid's school prepares a student for the big universities. Yes, it's the reality that so long as crimes of this nature are considered "too small" to properly punish, the perpetrators feel more and more emboldened to go on to those bigger ticket items. Which is precisely what has been happening here in San Francisco (and all similarly governed cities).
Consequently yes, these convenience (and grocery) stores need to enact stronger measures to deter crime as best they can. However it is incumbent upon the governing forces of the communities in which all these operations exist to actually punish crimes. Regardless of their severity, if you let the little bad things go by, they inevitably grow into these larger and harder to solve problems.
No amount of gates or tags or security will really matter if, at the moment of truth, they are let go to do it again another day, place and time.