Necessity breeds invention, disruption breeds innovation. Agreed. Done.
Meanwhile, how an individual feels about shopping contrasted with what they are buying always dictates how stores can best sell their goods. And once habits of entire segments of the population can be determined, whole swaths of retailers can and will change entirely how they conduct business.
Example: if you never liked shopping but still have normal consumer needs, like food, it's a given you would embrace technology that helps you avoid stores. The pandemic didn't highlight these people, but threw in a much larger group. Who realized their usual in-store shopping routine was not required. As restrictions lift, some may never return to previous patterns. Consequently, those grocers (or mainstream stores) whose product selection was the broadest (easiest) to shop, can shift wares to being sold in greater ways needing fewer "middle" elements.
This automation is only going to grow. Because even though the Targets of the world may have experienced an increased need of staff during the past year, workers were still scarce enough that if a machine were handy, it could tell me where something was much more efficiently. So, be on the lookout for those to replace workers readily and quickly.
Then there will be those who need to shop publicly for some inner/outer reasons, and often patronize stores where some exhibition is a great part of their raison d'être. These were the people and places who experienced the most loss this past year. In the subconscious ways some feel better by interacting with others, and in sales. This is why clothing — of the kind meant to be seen in by the wearer — and its purveyors suffered the most. Such were also transactions that could not be supported online. Since, on some level, the entire premise relies on transacting in public. So, don't expect high-end clothiers to have all robot associates on the floor any time soon.
The problem with predictions is that they don't take in to account the unpredictable. But how can you forecast on what you cannot know? Thus, it comes down to the formulaic business hopes of increasing numbers. Favorably, when business is added business. Not, if it's about rising costs or lost sales.
Meanwhile, consider a place that is about "one industry" -- like a cruise town. There was no reason to think higher 2020 forecasts could not be met. Obviously, that didn't happen. But for every coming quarter it would be so, yes? No. So, for 2021, numbers would return—maybe even go up? Now, all predictions are for the same dire figures. Which leaves 2022, to bring back business. However, by then will habits of cruisers changed for better or worse? Can anyone (or any algorithm) predict that?
Using another ship analogy, consider the 2020 nimbleness of some small businesses to quickly pivot and steer clear of wrecking. Of individual proprietors, to channel their inner entrepreneur to an "outside deck." Conversely, there were bigger enterprises that could not move fast enough or out of their own way, and sank. (This does not count the Targets and the Amazons; those already poised like floating armadas.)
It all comes down to basing "what's ahead" on what businesses can control—like better care of their workers, better and/or changing of manufacturing/operating processes, et al. Goals can be met this way. Because those measures are within a company's (individual's) power to effect, positively or negatively.
I have never purchased a single piece of Amazon apparel. Or Amazon shoes. Nor, do I expect, have any of the other commentators. Plus, I am not clear that they actually do make clothes (or footwear). Evidently, any proof is by way of private label branding. Which means no Amazon factory is involved. No child labor laws violated. And, ahem, no unions.
Meanwhile, undoubtedly a warehouse or distribution center is part of the deal. And one of Amazon's was used, absolutely. (Well, there you go!)
Furthermore, proclaiming such a dubious victory is also troubling for either side. It makes those who already feel Amazon is already too unwieldy as even more insidious. To those who want to join the celebration, they should be reminded that getting here took more than one party.
So, until that strange day when Amazon becomes a maker (of anything, and not just clothes), I may only buy brands I know online. And will strive to give credit (or blame) to all, always.
This is a "win" for all involved. For Brandon Maxwell, because it elevates his not-overly-well-known design standing. For Walmart customers, because it just gives them more choice. For marketers and promoters, because now they have something more to market and promote. (For us, as well, because we have another RetailWire "discussion" to write about.)
However, this is mostly for Walmart. But not because it will bring them scads of money, sales, or attention. Although it will generate all that, to varying degrees, what it really does is gives them a truly cheap way to ponder going financially deeper in to the fashion market. Which has never been a significant part of their normal, value-driven identity.
Further, I wish to cast no aspersions on Mr. Maxwell's talent (or "value"). But Walmart knows that this very affordable partnership can also result in gains greater than imagined, and/or save them just as many millions. By not spending (gambling) a far larger amount at the outset to a designer warranting more, and designing pricier goods, theirs is an ironic example of "little ventured, with everything to be gained."
No matter what the business, it always boils down to operating by two principles. Economics and convenience -- which are fundamentals that sometimes oppose, but often complement each other. However, neither can accurately measure whether they are truly good for a company, its workforce, and ultimately, its customers. That's because once certain aspects are in place, like cheaper goods (or lowered salaries) and easier ways to get them, and we all become used to things being this way. They overshadow any sense that what came before may have worked. At all. Or worked better. Consequently, we live in a world of mass consumption created through mostly poorly paid labor, waste as not yet enough of a worry, and are on the verge of believing that "virtual" being is actually as virtuous as being there.
Should I also mention we live in a time where some feel that "trying" is the same as "succeeding"? Last time, I looked, it was not. But that was so "last time."
I have always liked Saks. I believe, way back, it was even my very first (store-centric) credit card! Much of that fondness was based on my impression that it was a little special (but not as foreboding as its competitors). That wee edge of exclusivity also made my buying from them feel a little special—about the item (and about myself). All luxury brands/retailers use that "touch" to attract customers. But uniqueness comports much better with fewer rather than greater, in terms of numbers.
So, at some point, the proliferation of luxury goods or stores has the negative effect of devaluation — and that is the last thing makers and sellers of expensive goods need. Further, once you reach that nadir, it's hard to regain "status."
The only way to try: increase exclusivity and decrease reach. So, while Saks needs strong e-commerce capabilities (to stay with the times), it imperils their core business if they make online shopping about overtly offering goods (and services?!) that should be interpreted as more one-of-a-kind rather than plentiful, and about in-person vs out-of-body transactions.
Amazon (Target, and others) can take on a kind of world-sellers, once-removed methodology. But of proprietors of rare things, maybe a select few, perhaps Saks.com, can go more broad-based. Yet only so far. Because to offer too much goes against the "of the very few" foundations of their businesses, and the main reason(s) for their existence. In-store or online.
The saying "Talk is Cheap" is quite apt here. Spending $350B is quite a lot. But is it that much to Walmart, if the money spent can be said as made in America, but as others have pointed out, count if it's just a small part and not all of a piece?
Meanwhile, completeness IS the bigger problem. We are very capable of weaving out basic fabric for other country folk to cut and sew. But are we able to put together parts of garment, and end up with something worthy of wear, without it costing consumers an "arm" and a "leg"?
Further, imagine trying to re-assemble a workforce large enough to take on a job that requires some skill but not much intellect, while paying them a not-embarrassing wage?
And here is something else to consider: most of the goods that Walmart sells, in ginormous quantities, are of a kind that used to be produced under the guise of "woman's work." Try amassing laborers based on gender, or not, going forward. (Good luck with that, Mr Walton.)
Still, there are two "absolutes" in retail today (and for its future good fortune): 1) If Walmart was to truly bring in items designed, sourced and made entirely in the USA, and sell them all economically and conveniently to the hordes that can not do without both, it would have an everlastingly profound (and positive) effect on the nation's entire economy; and 2) If Amazon were to deal with its delivery and packaging waste meaningfully, it would put our country's environmental concerns on a much better path.
But just how deep and far are both max-sized enterprises willing to go—if it even just minimally affects their profits negatively?
At times, these discussions conveniently forget certain details to make a general point, other wisely.
As such, let's all remind ourselves that suburban malls started out mainly as open-air retail destinations. They then sought to enclose, to make bad weather irrelevant to shoppers shopping. But as time wore on, they were built more as uninviting fortresses. Which begat needed inviting remodels. With more come hither entrance attractions, like a Cupcake Factory, near the newly remodeled and expansive main entrances to these once foreboding constructs.
Then, when "street access" starting make even more "customer traffic" sense, along with speciously intended "Main Street" nostalgia, we saw the deliberate creation of open-air shopping destinations, that pushed aside even mere talk of making a new enclosed mall.
Meanwhile, it's ironic that now excessive traffic to and fro, finding convenient parking near, in back of, or, miraculously, in front of your favorite store -- as rain threatens to soon fall upon you -- is a headache long forgotten to those used to pulling into a protective multi-story garage. Which then gave customers roof-covered/rain-proof access in to their climate-controlled oasis.
Mind you, none of that is esthetically pleasing. Nor has shopping lately been really much of a fun activity as much as it is an engrained obsession, aided by cunning manufacturers and marketers. But neither is the rather soulless esplanade of cookie-cutter shops, along a series of fake avenues and cul-de-sacs, inspiring to say the least.
Now, to have any of these endeavors consider something really transformative -- as would be their moving on a real commercial corridor street where you live and thus resurrecting the dynamics of the entire area -- then that would be a journey worth taking (and of customers' walking).
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).
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)