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  • Posted on: 10/15/2021

    Just how casual will wardrobes become?

    How one dresses, what type of clothing one wears is as much about comfort (or discomfort) as it is about overtly or covertly transmitting signals about a person's connection to a company, cause, or individual status. So, does casual attire align mostly with labor that can be performed by persons not so much in a lax but maybe less restrictive manner? Perhaps. But of something requiring a sense of solid foundation? You would expect persons in those situations to present themselves in a more established way. Otherwise, say, for the bank employee, from teller to officer, to appear "loose" could indicate to the viewer (customer) too-casual standards where structure is required. Meanwhile, many of the most successful people can dress however they want. Because looking down-trodden is something they can "afford." However, try appearing like you "can't afford the rent" when looking for investors' money to build your business (or to join theirs). Lastly, it's always been about underdressing and overdressing, and why the vast majority of people—though they may feel loathe to accept it—need guidance (make that rules) to help them choose what's appropriate to wear for the coming day and events. Still, expect outliers in every situation. Like the guy who wears a tie, ironically. Or the person in sneakers at a soiree. Thus, the ones who test everyone else's mettle on what should be a mainstay and what should not.
  • Posted on: 09/22/2021

    Ron Johnson loves stores but says retail is moving to ‘commerce at home’

    This is both destined to be and be-damned at the same time. It is quite obvious that shopping (dining, et al) is mostly about getting what you want at its most convenient and economical. And that human interaction, by way of an associate/cashier/waiter, is becoming more moot by the minute. It will only be for those (few) times where and when an "in the moment" experience is key to a sale (or luxury sit-down meal) that it will be necessary to have a go-between employee. At best (or worst?) most workers are merely where they are working: as caretakers of the goods or services that their companies provide customers. And like toothless shepherds we are tending sheep that want what they want when they want it. (Which is now to the point of being droned to their place of grazing.) The great sadness of all this will be: the loss of those little incidental but oft-interesting and endearing crossings of paths, between people (staff and guest) in real and physical time, that makes being us that much more cherished, humble — and humane. But try getting corporations run by those few extremely well-paid to feel that it's worth their business' best interest to keep on millions of the underpaid, just to have them on the payroll. Again, it's a damned destiny we are headed towards.
  • Posted on: 09/22/2021

    Who protects store associates when shoppers lash out?

    Retailers will protect workers only insofar as its in their best "economic" interests. So, as bad as these instances are, the "jury is still out" whether they warrant a chance in overall business policy. Which is to tolerate these instances of (ever-growing) bad behavior in favor not so much because "the customer is always right" but in favor of an entire institutionalized ideal of presenting yours as always accessible to every possible customer. Further exacerbating the situation are places, like San Francisco, where some crimes are presented as so petty that they're not worthy of prosecution. Which rather insidiously comports with how far too many businesses are about being wholly "give them what they want" purveyors — and by way of hapless front line staff. And damn those workers who don't do their job of being open (and vulnerable), even when being asked to do within a few minutes more than what is really possible. Or that it's not all about the customers. So until some retailers (and restaurateurs) re-position themselves as not being everything to everyone, this drama will continue to escalate. Maybe if those customer service jobs were replaced, for just one shift, by much higher-ups (middle management is as beleaguered), then those people who put these unsustainable policies in place will find what they have wrought is oh-so-woefully wrong. Then maybe all these policies (and interactions) will become more civilized and civic-minded.
  • Posted on: 09/17/2021

    Can retailers benefit from tapping employee emotions?

    Are we talking about letting a worker's passionate feelings about something (their company is doing or not doing for the good of its self) come out at a meeting? Then yes, absolutely. Plus, it's always better to "say something" than to assume others will. But if it's about staff being emotional about something that is not business-related? That's where things start to move in the in the wrong "no, this is not for work" department. I was taught at an early professional age that friends and family were who you went to for sympathetic ears. You can consider a coworker (or a boss) a friend to talk things out with. But overall, work is not for therapy, it's for business. Meanwhile, this is not about not expressing certain feelings to certain persons at work. However it should be in the context of a specific time and place. Having a heart to heart with your co-worker(s) of superior(s) is a very important thing to have available at your job. Especially for your own peace of mind. Yet again, it's about when and where. Parameters are how we are able to run, live and love our lives. Not every place can be about having everything transpire therein. Finding separation in some ways, places, and things is not inherently bad. But to some, it has become so.
  • Posted on: 09/16/2021

    Should Banana Republic revisit its safari past?

    I wonder if this about real play or play-acting? In that, isn't BR still too large to be about a very specific "safari" look (and lifestyle)? Or is this just about a satellite collection that will lie within a broader, blander grouping of goods? Part of what drove consumers away from BR was their way of presenting options not easily found elsewhere, but then taking them away when it was found that selling only hundreds of units must yield to what sells in the thousands. Consequently, if this is about their taking a stance that's inevitably misleading—as it had been about certain items for certain types of people that vanished in favor greater SKUs—then it wont lead them anywhere. Also, it seems very fraught to make it seem so "outdoorsy" in this age of environmental awareness, especially if your company is not equipped to make goods that skew with sustainability. (It's as though they wanna be an AllBirds—which will have its own reckoning as it continues to scale up—while already being about manufacturing in mass quantities.) Perhaps, if BR is really planning to reduce its (carbon?) footprint, by not only just reducing their amount of stores but in how they conduct their entire business, maybe this idea will fly. Though it will be for far fewer consumers than a corporation (like Gap, Inc) would want, yes? (Hmmm, could this really be about Gap positioning BR as a more special brand—to sell off?)
  • Posted on: 09/13/2021

    Is the government’s vaccination mandate plan good for retail?

    As one who has worked in retail all throughout this time, and done a lot of in-person shopping, I believe that this mandate is necessary. It won't solve the problem, but it will make resolving it that much more likely. (It has been too much like a "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" of trying to navigate through the myriad of different ways all manner of businesses have made themselves available to employees and customers alike. This will, in effect, soften a lot of those curves.) Meanwhile, this is still too much about YOU, the customer/visitor, being more comfortable bringing yourselves around and dealing with us, the workers. Which I take as an all-too inescapable indication, albeit subconsciously, of how retail/restaurant associates have always been perceived as not much more than as facilitators. And in too many cases, something of an inconvenience when it comes to your getting what you want, when you want it, and with as little interaction as possible. What this entire 18 months has done — aside from the few allusions to our acting "heroically" — is to underscore the very precarious nature of said workers. Masking us up and putting us behind plexiglass further diminished us; and having us be the first (and only ones) to all vaccinate separates us even further. When the time finally comes and "you" are as equally expected to do your duty (and take your shots), we can at least start (again) to see "us" as all in the same situation. Otherwise, all this is doing is pushing us deeper into a world when and where everything can be bought (or sold) by artificial robotic means. Because ultimately that's what's safer, more convenient, and more economical for the customer (and the company). But it's not the same for the workers.
  • Posted on: 09/10/2021

    What’s the ideal age to start a retail business?

    As a man of a certain age, who has gone through many work iterations (some very successful and some very not!), I would say this is more a discussion not so much of age in actual years, but of spans and increments. That is to say, a very young person should go into business with a great idea—and may well make a great go of it. But for how long? Ten years, and then move to the next thing? (There's some comfort in knowing whether an idea fails or succeeds that others may still follow. Their failure is not so final.) Now, if a much older person has a great idea they should go for it, too. However, if one doesn't gel, the opportunities to try again are not the same. Consequently, it seems then to be a matter of weighing the gamble of time versus investment (brain power, physical labor, money, etcetera), and of who has the most of both with a genuine commitment. I have recently found myself in a situation where I wish I had more time to do something I know would be great. Do I have ten good years to foster it? I would like to think so—though my experiences tell me, I should know better.
  • Posted on: 09/03/2021

    California aims to mandate gender-neutral toy sections

    Growing up would I have liked an Easy-Bake Oven or Barbie to play with? Possibly. But essentially my mother felt she could not (and my father felt she should not) buy them for me, a boy, because they were presented as solely "toys for girls." Flash forward. When shopping for certain small category items like eye frames, I admittedly use (and like) cues — shall we call them references? — such as gender-specific names. Why? Because to name them neutrally -- say "round" to "rounder" -- isn't giving me enough information. Consequently, it all boils down to marketing and how much is too much in, specifically, the retail arena. And where marketeers have gone too far, as in the case of overly defining something as pure "girl" or "boy." To directional clues that helps one winnow through an overwhelming amount of choice. Still, making that determination -- or determining the confines -- should rest between the purchaser (and parents, when the purchase is for children) and the products themselves. But it is not for the government to define for the retailers. Because to imagine even a state like California having such determinations made in one grand sweep, when your territory covers San Francisco to Orange County, and knowing one set of parameters could (and should) not work in every place, would make potential laws like this as bad as the so-called "rules" that preceded them.
  • Posted on: 08/18/2021

    Should grocery stores retire the ethnic aisle?

    I am for foods being grouped by categories. You know, pastas with pastas, sauces with sauces, and condiments with condiments: like salsa with ketchups. Besides, if by now, you don't know the former is like the latter? Which does bring up the notion of whether you present things via the lowest or highest common denominator, yes? Talk about a thorny subject. However, it does point out whether all things are equal; and that soy sauces being sold in Middle America are to their clientele the same as the rest? Probably not. But should items be segregated to their own sections? Also, probably not. Yet, how far in any direction is too far? Meanwhile, thinking that it's all a level playing field isn't exactly being "fair" more than just the "thing to do." For one, I like some difference (call it diversity) showing up in my world. That includes actually traveling abroad, and seeing that not every place needs to (or should) look like everywhere else. As well as to some uniqueness right around the corner from where I live. Down to something special along a shopping aisle. Further, I fear that this notion, though it has merits, of putting like with like, is only a conversation away from saying all packaging needs to be the same. That none may "stand out" — and be perceived as too controversial, clever, or contrasting. So, are generic fonts and all greige boxes in our future? Gosh, I hope not. Overly ethnic designs notwithstanding, I would hate losing flair in favor of the forgettable.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2021

    Are websites a must-have for all retailers?

    If the question is whether single retail stores need websites. Yes, if it's a matter of making sure you have someplace online (that one can easily find) that outlines the basics of your business. But how extensive an online presence goes from there has to be about: 1) the type of business; 2) the ability to maintain a consistent online presence; contrasted with 3) where exactly you plan to "take" your business. A dry cleaner hardly needs more than a page-listing of all their essential business practices and information. A lone hardware store? Try making it about more than just the usual items you stock (and not about categorizing every nail and screw—lest you drive every worker crazy, for VERY few positive results). A nifty gift shop can showcase more of their identity, but to make it about selling online items that can be gotten elsewhere at better costs (and easier returns) is a road fraught with peril. Now, an antique store should have already gotten on the secondary online market years ago—or they are truly losing sales every day. Furthermore, to say this is about "branding" corporatizes what for some may be the antithesis of that. Usually the last thing that that knick-knack place wants to be is like a chain. Sure they want your business. But in-store, and not so impersonally as some online sale from states away. Theirs is about the neighborhood crossing they serve and enhance. So, it boils down to knowing what you're doing, and what (and who) you're doing it for.
  • Posted on: 08/13/2021

    Are websites a must-have for all retailers?

    Broad statements like "every business needs a website" are misleading. Yes, there needs to be at least one online way for someone—not aware of your precise location, hours, general merchandise mix, and means to (possibly) procure items from you, et al—to access that information about your establishment. And Google, for all its shortcomings, manages that. However expecting a website — which in this case seems to imply all the "bells and whistles" — is simply too much for a great many small (and small staffed) operations to undertake. Besides, to take the few (daily) transactions one may have in person, and suddenly make them about online ordering, answering questions, plus timing, too? Well, you've added another level of stress to those who are running things. It all comes down to what a business can properly manage. Versus what a website, other than a (please make it nicely done) landing page, can really add to your bottom line. Also bear in mind that what looks old in a store, through lack of merchandise turnaround and new stock, appears even more lackluster when your website is not constantly updated/refreshed. Currency, especially in this realm, is quite key. Last thing. To say it should be just about a website seems not to take into account that that alone is scarcely enough today. To be really relevant takes a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram presence, with the added "joy" (not) of amassing "likes" if you really wanna be taken seriously. Good luck with that at your neighborhood gift/curio shop -- a business having a hard enough time just finding any workers to make sure they can even open their doors.
  • Posted on: 08/12/2021

    Does retail have a problem with how it recruits and hires workers?

    The tale about retail is, at least as far as frontline associates go, one that won't have the happiest of endings. Yeah, sure, there may be instances where public-facing staff (like me) may be cherished, well-paid, and who would have their own vested interest in the companies they work for. Which will play out in honest brand loyalty and support, and used to bring in customers. But the greater percentage of this work force will eventually be replaced any automatic means. Simply because transactions, at their most economically efficient for the owners (big or not-so), need not "human" interference. Cold as that may sound, I know well how visitors want people like me as mere facilitators. Not persons, with personalities. Even I cannot think of any place—other than a local bar where a bartender is a friend—where I feel the great need for personal interaction. Sure, some styling advice may come in handy at a clothing store (or inner department store area). But anywhere you are hearing "suggestions" smacks of up-selling, et al. So really, no thanks. We, the customers, can handle this ourselves. Consequently, retail doesn't have a problem with how it hires/recruits workers. And throwing money at it, through higher wages, will only make workers' experiences worse: by having employers expect more sales in return. (Which is a lot like them expecting more pieces out of the same-sized pies.) Actually, the problem is the solution itself: that a substantial human retail work force is mostly becoming irrelevant; and places where it is not are harder to come by. But -- like finding a diamond in a played out mine when you do.
  • Posted on: 08/06/2021

    Should retail prepare for a vaccine resistant virus?

    I agree that retail, as a whole, should try and institute some sort of plan that considers how this virus, along with the inevitable new strains, might continue indefinitely. However it has to be nuanced from region to region. Much like the country has hardly the same temperament from state to state, or even neighborhood to neighborhood. But as a front-liner, I hope that the last resort is the requirement of said workers to always be the ones to mask up — for their own good and that of customers. Yes, in absolute dire times, it makes great, unarguable sense. When things are allowing for the unvaccinated to go without them in places of business, not so much. You see to do so -- to mask up staff -- makes them of another class — shall we say, of an underclass. Of those who are already treated not much more than as mere (and lowly) servers. And to strip away their identities further adds to their already being perceived as "less than" those whom they serve. The reality is that even in the best of times, service workers are "used" only because replacing us with robots, AI, or self-service check-out facilities makes the companies we work for seem inhumane. No, please let us be with those who can un-mask — when the time comes. Meanwhile, I support vaccinated persons, with proof, to enjoy gathering, shopping, drinking and dining together without coverings. Having the unvaccinated among them, even masked? Not so much. But both proving one's status and then monitoring it once inside a business? It's an even harder hill to climb (and one, no doubt, that businesses will make those poor, same front-liners police).
  • Posted on: 08/05/2021

    Is workleisure a new or rehashed opportunity?

    In terms of it being so named, regardless of cause, "work leisure" is itself a new category, and came to the fore as the pandemic very clearly delineated how some apparel items should comport with certain lifestyle and working conditions. However, the articles therein are mostly not new, and are often becoming hybrids of what they once were—or thought to be. Meanwhile, business casual remains a viable and separate category. In that it came about, and will continue on, as being about "going to and being at work." As opposed to "workleisure," which is about home-working and not venturing out in what you're wearing. Yet there are times when one may venture outside; to a "professional" setting—and wonder if what they're wearing is "appropriate." This is where it becomes dicey. Because while both segments are definable, the edges are vague. Still, if you look at how both areas came about, it helps determine what really works and what does not in each: "BC" came about as a move away from restrictive apparel, but as some restrictions remain; and "WL" was spawned by being where you had no rules on what to wear, though felt there must be some guidance. Consequently, it comes down to self-awareness and self-editing along with parameters determined by co-workers, "co-conspirators," and bosses. Who may say, among other things, a pullover (tee?) is okay when you are "there" but not when you're "here;" and they will surely say belted pants are preferred over pull-on ones in the office. (But then, they could hardly know if you're wearing any while you ZOOM.)
  • Posted on: 08/03/2021

    Will increasing mall traffic hit a speed bump due to the Delta variant?

    It's not so funny that we are back to talking about masking up. But it is rather absurd, in many ways. For one, as a frontline worker, I am finding it almost unbearably hard going back and forth. For another, to make everyone from associates to customers to all wear masks, only "masks" the problem. Since one's vaccination status is then rendered somewhat moot, and because (as most companies' policies go) you can neither inquire about a visitor's or even a coworker's circumstance. (I am a fan of asking for vaccination status upon working or shopping/drinking/dining. But try having us hapless public-facing staff do that without extreme blowback.) Consequently it is then left to what? Instances of transmission going down in certain places where masks are back on. But remaining high (and growing higher) where no such mandates are in place. And who is to stop persons from a high-incidence area from going to a low-incidence area or vice versa? Further, if one lives in a city like San Francisco, where the vaccination is extremely high — and in the category of "herd immunity" — just how many more need to get vaccinated before it is okay to go unmasked again? One-hundred percent? That is as impossible as thinking the vaccines themselves were absolute cures. It and they are not. So when will it be okay again? And when cases rise, as they undoubtedly will when it's "all clear," how many infections (just one?) will it take for someone to impose restrictions once more, while some have never asked for them to start? Talk about things being divided, not making sense, and each of us fending for ourselves.
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