OMG, retail, can’t you keep it together for the sake of the kids?

Over the past few years, predictions around the demise of retail have reached a fever pitch.

As a consumer, I’ve switched much of my shopping from brick and mortar to online – I’m a rabid customer of Amazon (Prime of course), and barely visit Target anymore.  We’ve started using Instacart more often in favor of a trip to the supermarket.  And twice this month I used Drizly for alcohol delivery. This is the First World, people.

But I guess I didn’t realize how bad retail was until a few trips to the mall I made recently.  I was looking for placemats.  I started at TJ Maxx, where I knew right where they were.  They had five of one kind that I liked, but I needed six. That’s par for the course for TJ Maxx, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

Next I tried Macy’s. There was a sign near the door that said, “This Macy’s has Women’s clothing and Children’s clothing.  For Menswear and Housewares, visit our other store located in this mall.  OK, except there was no map, no indication where the other store was, and nobody to ask. I mean, can you imagine going to a website and having it say, “For Menswear and Housewares, visit our other URL.”

Finally I tried Sears. Disaster. No signs, nobody to ask, and I gave up when I got to Washing Machines.

On a more recent and equally disappointing shopping trip, I was looking for black sandals.  I went to DSW, only to find that the majority of the shoes on display were available only in size 5 and size 9 or 10.  C’mon man!

I get it. Retail is dying, so stores can’t afford to hire as many employees, so the quality of service goes down.  But this is a vicious cycle. This lack of service means that I won’t shop retail again for a long time.  I will order multiple items from Amazon and Zappos and return what I don’t want. So much for going green.

I think what will happen is that retail will bifurcate to the super high-end (like Gucci, Louis Vutton, and Prada) and the super low-end (Walmart and Target).  The midrange will disappear.

It makes me wonder whether there’s a viable model similar to the old Best or Service Merchandise stores.  These were stores popular (at least in NJ) in the ’80’s. There’d be one of each item in a showroom, then you’d go to a salesperson, tell them what you wanted, and it would be waiting for you at checkout.

What if I could go to the mall, see and touch merchandise, then have it arrive in my house using 2-day Prime shipping in the right color, shape, and size. I still might do what retail wants me to do – that is, leave with more than I came in for, but I’d be assured it’s the right stuff.  There’s no way return rates wouldn’t drastically plummet with a system like this compared to today’s online model.

So come on, retail, keep it together.

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