In a recent Money report (link), Macy’s is just days away from closing 40 of it’s stores.
In addition, the Cincinnati Enquirer has speculated that number of Macy’s store closures could jump to 200 if current shopping trends continue.
Frankly, I’m not surprised by these reports, and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in the next 5 years, middle market department stores like Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney close up to 50% of their stores.
Here’s the issue.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — if the retail shopping experience does not fundamentally change, many of the the physical retail chains, such as department stores, will be a thing of the past.
Case in Point
Over the recent holiday, I was in a situation where I was in immediate need of a specific outfit, and didn’t have the time to shop online and have it shipped to me.
With the realization that I had no other choice but to go to the nearest mall, and since I’m rather particular about the type of clothes I like to wear, I wanted to see if there was a way that I could streamline my shopping experience.
I started with a Google search, like “white stretch dress shirt near me” (I prefer my shirts and slacks with a little stretch in them)
The search resulted in some reasonable leads to products in department stores like JCPenney, Sears, and Macys that were available at certain malls not to far from me. But that’s where the convenience pretty much ended.
Once I was in the stores, the experience was closer to mass disorganized chaos than it was to anything else.
Lost In Store
I’m in store, mobile in hand, with the product I think I want to look for. Now what?
Try to find the product myself, but I don’t know where to start. The store is fairly organized, but I just can’t figure out where in the store the item is.
Tried to find a store employee, but I probably could’ve watched a full-feature film faster than I could find someone to help me.
Finally find someone to help me, but they don’t know where the product I’m searching for is.
At last I find the product I was looking for, but it wasn’t what I expected, and now I have to start all over. (I’m excluding the whole fitting room experience, which we’ll talk about some other time)
Now, visit department store #2. Repeat. Department store #3. Repeat. Etc.
Out of My Mind
I don’t know about you, but that just isn’t what I call a pleasant shopping experience.
I was so frustrated by the whole thing. Hours wasted, and yet still couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.
It’s for this very reason that I’m turning more and more to shopping online.
A Better Retail Shopping Experience
I’ve pretty much laid it out in this article, but even that can be improved upon.
How about we take that concept a little further.
What I want is a mobile app that has a map of all the stores in a mall, the ability to search for products within all those stores by keywords/fabric content, and the ability to locate a product within the store itself using some simple coordinate system (A1, B7, etc.).
Then, when you find the item, you can use that same app to scan the item and read reviews about it.
If your size isn’t available on the floor, but it is stocked at the store, put in an electronic request to have your sized pulled from the back so you can try it on.
That item goes directly to the fitting room, and you walk up and it’s ready for you to try on.
Great, perfect fit — now let’s use the app or some kiosk at the store to do a self or streamlined checkout with your credit card, Apple Pay, Google Wallet (Android Pay), PayPal, etc. No need to wait in any long line, or wait for a staff member to help you.
Wow, now wouldn’t that be nice?
Are Department Stores Dead?
Not quite yet.
There are still people who like the ritual of browsing around, taking their time, and looking for that perfect item.
Plus, there are always those times where we need something urgently and can’t wait to have the item shipped to us.
But, if the major department store chains (and the malls they reside in) don’t get their act together pretty quickly, automate, and make the physical shopping experience more streamlined, malls as we know them today may become retail wastelands.