Why are Retailers Destroying Brick and Mortar Retail?

My wife wants one gift for Christmas. At face value, the trickiest part is choosing style A over style B for a cross-body purse. Actually, that proved to be the easiest part. Navigating my way through the checkout process proved to be more challenging. Whatever happened to the good old days when you could hand over your credit card, grab the receipt, and walk out?

In a rush due to dinner commitments, I asked the sales person if I could simply take the purse, hand her my VISA credit card, and get a printed receipt, just in case I got the selection wrong.

“Will you be using your Bloomingdale’s card, sir?”
“No, I already said I want to use my VISA”
“Can I get your email address to send you the receipt?”
“No. I already asked for a printed receipt. If you ask me for ANYTHING else except for my VISA card, I’m leaving the store”
“Can I get your phone number, to set up a profile”

The next morning, I went clothes shopping with my daughter… the usual suspects… Express, H&M, Hollister, etc. In EVERY store, I was harassed for an email address, a phone number, or both – to get a receipt, a discount or a gift with purchase. That’s really the reason? No! I know they want to market the crap out of me (as if I need e-discounts and offers on teenage girls’ clothes). At a time when Amazon and others have really cracked the e-commerce experience, I can’t help but wonder why brick and mortar retailers are self-destructing? Are they TRYING to drive their customers exclusively online to reduce operating expenses (rent/staff), or are they spinning in circles, caught between offline and online models?

Office Depot is another great example of a firm that’s got work to do, based on my recent experience. I went into one of their stores, explaining that I needed a portable hard drive for a video shoot the next morning. The salesperson’s response; “we have more stock and selection on our Web site”. Really? If he sends everyone to their Web site, how many people would come into the store? And who would he have to serve?

While recognizing that all the sales persons highlighted in this Blog are all simply doing as instructed, each and every one of them is ultimately on a journey to their last pay check – as retailers push customers for more and more information and increasingly online, they are ultimately going to bite off the hand that feeds them. And while you might not agree with my headline or perspective, you only have to look to three recent examples of Sears Canada (closing down), Macy’s (closing stores across the US); and Nordstrom (shrinking revenues) as examples of companies with a rich history that are struggling to adapt to the new world. Simply put, you can’t argue with the numbers.

And as for my wife’s next Christmas gift, I’ll be buying it online, in order to deliver on the convenience that I crave in-store.

Happy Holidays, everyone. And Happy (online) shopping!

David Sly, President