HH Who Will Survive The Retail Reckoning Of 2017?

By Knowledge Wharton

Legacy retailers’ ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a landscape increasingly dominated by Amazon and online upstarts has come to a head in the past year. Companies will close thousands of stores this year – and some may not survive at all.

While it may seem that retail is headed for an apocalypse dominated by dead malls, in reality it’s a needed industry shakeout.

“The U.S. is overstored and we’re in the middle of a painful reset,” said Carrie Ask, executive vice president and president of global retail for Levi Strauss. “What’s dominating the headlines is that retail is not successful; it’s not transforming fast enough. But when you pull back the top layer, that perception is people’s reaction to all of these headlines talking about store closures.”

At the recent Retail East Summit in New York, Ask, Avon director of digital strategy and e-commerce Sapna Shah Parikh and Shyam Gidumal, leader of EY’s consumer products and retail market segment, discussed where retail is headed next and what the landscape might look like in the next decade.

Retailers including The Limited, Bebe, Wet Seal and hhgregg shut down for good this year. Michael Kors, Payless ShoeSource, Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Abercrombie and Fitch and others will close dozens – in some cases, hundreds — of stores in 2017. Over Memorial Day weekend, Radio Shack closed more than 1,000 stores across the country. The company once had over 7,000 stores; now, just 70 corporate-owned stores and 500 dealer stores are left.

“We need to raise our game as an industry because we don’t own that consumer; they’re not captive to us anymore.” –Carrie Ask

Levi Strauss’s Ask noted that the U.S. has as much as five times more retail square footage per person than that of other developed countries, leaving it with an unviable store footprint. While many of the current doom-and-gloom headlines are more about industry retrenchment than an outright death for traditional retail, she said that brands will not survive if they don’t find ways to transform the customer experience.

“Even 10 years ago, consumers had to do a lot of settling. They went to a store and wanted a thing and, when it wasn’t there they had to either pick something different, go to a different store or come back later,” Ask said. “Consumers no longer have to settle. They have more options than ever, and it’s all right there on their phone. We need to raise our game as an industry because we don’t own that consumer; they’re not captive to us anymore.”

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