Why Retail is Dying a Slow and Painful Death

harlanwestblogphotoBy Harlan West, Design and Marketing Professional with more than 25 years of experience designing materials for major healthcare organizations, municipalities and large corporations.

Let’s talk shop!

Creating successful corporate communications for the retail market is very interrelated to the audience and trends in the industry.  That is why today I am tackling the issue of how retail stores are dying away, largely the fault of retail itself, rather than the Internet.  True, the Internet is somewhat to blame.  Yet the Internet is not the primary cause of this slow death, but a beneficiary of the failures of retail establishments and corporate mergers. Yes, retail is slowly dying away and it is the consumer who will suffer the most loss.  Given the current retail trends and consolidation in the industry, I have to say, it is not unexpected.

reatilstores-with-jeansI hear a lot today about how the Internet and larger online retailers are “killing” the sales of local retail merchants. Many articles have been written about “showrooming” where a prospective customer uses the local store to “check-out” an item and then buys it online for a lower price.  But I actually say to you that it is not a matter of just price.  I feel it is even more than ever, a product of seven often overlooked factors:

1) Bad Personnel. Sorry to insult, but many stores today don’t want to pay for talented or qualified help.  Instead, they often hire cheaper “green” workers who have little or no experience and are basically impediments to the purchasing process.  Maybe this is a cost-saving mood but it actually results in more costs due to lost sales, errors and image degradation. More important, they do not “know” the products they are selling.  Sadly, the customer often has a greater knowledge than the sales representative.  Too often the salesperson is just there to get a paycheck and often does not care about the art of “selling” an item. Frequently there is only one of two people “manning” a store. Items just don’t walk off the shelves sell themselves. Sales need to be encouraged, induced and “incentivized.” Customers are sick and tired of going to a store and trying to buy an item only to discover that there is no one to wait on them. I often ask myself, why should I waste my time with someone who can’t answer any questions or who just points to an item “over there?”  We go to stores for service and to experience an item not to babysit an inept employee. It’s no wonder that retail merchants are in trouble.

2)  Lack of  stock. Too often I have run to a store to pick up an item only to discover an empty shelf.  Stores just are not stocking enough merchandise.  This may also be a cost-saving measure but it results in frustrated customers and a lack of goodwill. Why should I waste my time when I can get an item from the Internet in just a few clicks? Surely there is a cost for shipping but how much is the cost of gas and one’s tine, needless to say the added stress. If a store offers the item but cannot sell it to a customer, why be in business?

3)  Lack of choice and selection.  Store merchandising to often has been distilled to just a few popular fast-moving brands that appeal to the masses. I even noticed that a major retailer had recently reduced their extensive shampoo aisles to just a few popular brands that the store wishes to “push” and probably buys at a better bulk or quantity rate.  But some of us are square pegs that don’t just fit into round holes.  We cannot all be “railroaded” into desiring the same “standard” item.  When I am in a buying mood, I need choice! The Internet offers choice; retail stores often do not.

4) Waste of time. Let’s face it, time is man’s most valuable commodity. Why waste it driving endlessly from store to store only to be stuck at stoplights and waiting in long lines at the cash register? We all have bigger fish to fry. It only takes a few clicks in the Internet and bingo sale is complete. It may take a bit more time to get to you but in the long run you’ll have more time to do other things.

5)  The need for self-gratification.  We all like getting a package in the mail or special delivery.  It’s fun and rewarding to give yourself a gift. The Internet allows the consumer to “gift” themselves.  Indeed, there’s something exciting about the anticipation of receiving something new and “gifting” it to ourselves. This lead-up creates excitement and eventual enjoyment just from the very act of unwrapping the package. Let’s face it, we all need a reward now and then.  This is especially true  since today’s workplace is devoid of much reward and more and more people are living alone without anyone to connect with.

6) Poor quality product.  Local merchants often opt for popular consumer-level product that is made to become obsolete and/or self-destruct. The quality is just not there.  Often shoppers can find higher quality, “industrial-strength” products on the Internet.  There are often more options available online in terms of selection. One should not have to “settle” for the base model of a product.

7) Boredom with the shopping experience.  Going into a retail store used to be exciting and fun.  Now days, smaller merchants have been run out of business by large discount retailers and chains.  Every mall or shopping plaza seems to have the same old stores. There is nothing new to look forward to in terms of the shopping experience. Whether you are in a mall in Kansas City, MO, Palm beach, FL, or Woodland Hills, CA, the merchandise and the big name merchants are basically the same.  Why bother?  People want something different—not the same ole, same ole.

Don’t get me wrong. I love retail and store merchandising.  Having worked in the auto parts supply business for many years, I know what it takes to service the needs of customers.  Yet, most stores today are just not “cutting it.”  Shopping should be a positive and enjoyable experience, rather than a hassle.

The Internet serves an important purpose.  It fills the void where retail merchants have dropped the ball. With today’s hiring practices and merchandising, traditional retail merchants are actually shooting themselves in the foot. Hopefully retail merchandising will one day bounce back but not before a lot of changes occur to make it a more fulfilling experience. Various retail merchant associations need to band together to devise an effective marketing campaign to reinvigorate the notion of customer service, selection and the personal shopping experience where you can touch and feel an item. Anything short of that will mean the eventual disappearance of retail as we know it today.

Hopefully we can all “shop it” off in the interim.


If your company needs an innovative marketing campaign or just a firm that makes the customer experience a rewarding one, please contact HWDS at hwdesign@west.netWe make beautiful things happen. To find out more please visit westdesign.com

Harlan West is the author of successfulcorporatecommunications.com and has been working as a creative director and design professional for more than 25 years and has designed and art directed hundred of publications for both print and online purposes.

1 thought on “Why Retail is Dying a Slow and Painful Death

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