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2012 Retail Trends – It’s Not Pretty


It’s no secret that U.S. retail sales collapsed in 2008 and 2009 because of the recession. But several of the largest retailers consistently performed poorly between 2005 and 2010 for reasons that go beyond the recession.

As a result 2012 retail will continue its trend towards major suckage.

Retailer’s troubles have a few common elements:

  1. Competition is Fierce – some retailers, think Foot Locker, compete against big box retailers and department stores  (like Kohl’s) that carry much of the same product
  2. Competition is Fiercer – direct competitors of relatively similar size are all fighting for the same customer. The office products retail sector is occupied by Office Depot, Office Max, and Staples. What’s the difference?
  3. Poor Management – Be they clueless, recycled or tone-deaf many retail management teams are destructively ineffective (think Gap, Home Depot, JC Penney, KMart, etc. etc.)
  4. Lack of Product Distinction – Quick! Think of one reason to shop at Gap vs. Abercrombie vs. Macy’s vs. Bloomingdales. Price? The stuff all looks the same! Blindfold a shopper, lead them into a store, spin them around. Take off the blindfold and ask them to identify the store they are in by the product. They cannot do it!
  5. Lack of Innovation – When times are tough do people really need another pair of tan cargo shorts or capped sleeve t-shirt? Nope. However, will consumers flock to a new technology like the tablet? You bet!

Like everything there are exceptions to this general level of suckage. Drop by your local Apple store or perhaps the Lululemon shop nearby and you’d not think we’re in the retail doldrums. In fact you might think your back in the late 80’s or early 90’s when retailers, like the Gap were amping it up. Unfortunately, Apple and Lululemon have few peers.

Until more retailers address the self-imposed reasons for their poor performance they’ll continue to blame the economy, weather, NBA lock-out or any number of other external factors as the cause. Too bad the solution is right in front of them.

Thanks to Douglas A. McIntyre of 247WallSt for inspiration for this post.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Susan Byers permalink
    05/24/2012 9:07 pm

    Amen. Liked your direct, brutally honest approach to your article. The last paragraph was so spot on I have tears in my eyes that someone else “gets it” and stated the obvious. They say if you are lost in a river and swim upstream you will likely survive, and those who simply tread water will be swept over the falls. After 12 years of running a commercial center as a Landlord working with (and finding) Tenants to lease space, its the innovators and those who bust their butts to swim upstream (whether or not they are drowning) that thrive. They are in touch with their customer and they aren’t afraid to get in touch with their needs and wants and sell to them! They work for it and typically, reap the rewards vs the “other” type that typically fail. The customer is an inconvenience to their lifestyle not the other way around!

    Its always someone else’s fault for their lack of success in doing the same thing over and over, with the same old tired results from salespeople who couldn’t be bothered to look up from their newspaper or book and actually engage the customer as to what she wants or needs to feel better, solve the problem, etc. Retailing is equal parts finding the emotional want vs. with actual “need” for a product or service.

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