Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No Holds Barred: The Shopper's Journey

by Blair Sabol

Though it seems that politics has taken up all of our brain space, there are a lot of people and many social commentators who believe that what Americans really care about is sports and ... shopping! Sports I get, but shopping is undergoing a major revolution (what isn’t?)

For me, shopping isn’t the drug it once was. The thrill is gone. Yes, I can Amazon order a pair of Nikes at 9 AM and get it to my house by 7 PM that same day (many friends now do their grocery shopping this way) but “click now” doesn’t have the power that a real store “hunt” does.

Online shopping doesn’t have the heat of rack slapping or the wonder of holding a “discovery” in your hands. Consumerism is now between the ”brick or the click,” and I wonder!

Malls have become graveyards — financial experts call it the “the retail ice age” or “the purging of the American Mall.”  My local Scottsdale Mall already lost Macy’s and Barneys, and now lesser “teen” shops like Wet Seal are on their way out.  Banana Republic is rumored to close soon, while J.Crew (having recently lost its Creative Director Jenna Lyons) is flirting with bankruptcy.  Even Uniqlo has lost its "glo" and may be up for sale. 
Kate Spade has been bought so many times, I don’t know what that brand is anymore. Of course, the giants like Penney and Sears (I don’t know anyone who actually shops in either) is now on life support while Brooks Brothers and Abercrombie left the scene of the crime a year ago.  And the real shell shocker came recently with “America’s Hero” designer Ralph Lauren closing his flagship Fifth Avenue store and the announcement of his plans to cut many of the Polo jobs and streamline more real estate. (Ironically his successful Polo Bar will remain at the flagship location because food is now the new “fashion”). 

Meanwhile, Ralph Lauren is already “doubling down in e-commerce business.”  Where Ralph goes, the industry surely must follow.  As the Business of Fashion recently stated: “Retailers need to reset and ‘adapt or die.’”

This sounds like we should be playing “retail taps” and setting our underwear at half-mast.

New Yorkers don’t have malls — after all, the whole city is a mall, but they are experiencing constant small store closings everywhere.  However, for most of us “mall walkers” it’s a big change since many malls became “community centers” for exercising elders on walkers, and daycare/playplaces for the kids! Not anymore.

Retailers keep talking about reconstructing the “shopper's journey” into a “new experience.”  But isn’t that just like putting fresh icing on the same stale cake? New logos, new layouts, more movie star ad campaigns?  None of it really works. Retail has to re-invent itself and give the public something new to care about.
As Doug Stephens, a “retail futurist”/founder of Retail Prophet, sees it:

“It means reconnecting with the company’s unique brand story (also known as the reason anyone should give a shit) and weaving it into every customer interaction.  It involves using different language, methods, rituals and processes than your competitors so that the resulting experience is tangibly foreign and fascinating compared to anything else they’ve been through.  Truly remarkable customer experience is no different than stage production where cast, crew, set design and tech come together to bring every line, scene, and act to life, where every aspect of the well-written brand script is meticulously directed, rehearsed and performed.  Where the audience feels an emotional connection to the story and a physical oneness with the action.  And each day when the curtain is thrown open on your brand, the elaborate performance begins again.  This is customer experience, and when it’s done well, it leaves customers craving more.”
Well ... we can only hope! Otherwise why leave our “Hygge” homes (that’s the Danish trend of staying home safe and sound and cozy in your own candle-lit environment under your handmade blankets and booties).

Meanwhile, my stockbroker refuses to invest in any retail (he is secretly watching Kohl's and T.J. Maxx since his wife still buys all her handbags and housewares there).  But it looks like it is Google and Facebook and dear old skyrocketing Amazon that seem indestructible.

Jeff Bezos may look ridiculous appearing inside a giant robot at his Palm Springs trade show, and he still doesn’t know what he is doing with his ownership of The Washington Post, but the man DELIVERS — and sometimes within 2 hours. Amazon now corners 85% of all my shopping needs.
The world may explode in a civil war, but Amazon will continue to send me purchase confirmation “thank you’s” in under a minute.

It may be my age, but I no longer go to movie theatres (when I can stream Netflix at 3AM in my pajamas) and my biggest shopping outing is at my car wash boutique or my corner Walgreens (NOT Wal-Mart — too big & too scary).  As Walgreens (and my mother) says, “Meet you at the corner of Happy and Healthy!”  Why not?  It’s all about one-stop shopping ranging from drugs to T-shirts to Lysol to Campbell’s soup to the National Enquirer.  This is “an experience” enough for me.  And there is plenty of customer service ready, willing, and able!
One of my favorite shopping haunts ...
... the car wash boutique.
My new department store.
My Walgreens has a full liquor and beer selection.
At the corner of Happy & Healthy.
The last time I was in Neiman Marcus, there were no sales people, and when I finally found one (I only go on the first floor face cream aisle since I have no reason to go up the escalator for upscale clothing), she admitted she was sad and panicking about the sale of the store.  I left her quickly to go order my product on Sephora’s site via my cell phone.  Who needs a grieving sales girl and the disturbing emptiness of desolate aisles? 

I wonder what will become of malls. Will they become more condos or doctors offices, “wellness” clinics, assisted living, or housing for Syrian refugees?  I recently heard they might be bought by the current richest industry — medical marijuana! They need “growing spaces.”

There are already tons of empty condos built around one dismal mall.  The “housing pitch” was to live near or above shopping, dining, and theatres. Now ... who really wants that anymore?

Everything is changing so fast, even the deluxe “movie theatre experience” (where you see Kong, have a cocktail and dinner all in a La-Z-Boy) is struggling. We can do that at home so why pay for valet parking?

I refuse to believe all this cultural slipping and sliding is all about the raging “Trump Dump.”  This seismic shift was set in motion 2 years ago. People still like to blame the election for everything.

Barbra Streisand
said she gained 30 pounds over Trump because she watches the morning news and has to eat a stack of pancakes.  Is that the news, or a basic obsessive disorder!?

This roller coaster was already in motion. Look at the fashion industry’s hiring and firing of so many “creative directors.” What are creative directors? Or does the shopping public even care?  Unless it’s hitting the cheaper “Fast Fashion” H&M brands, or even Costco — no one notices.  You have to have Russian or Chinese wealth, and be into luxury brands for that to be part of the ride.
And nowadays, what difference does Vogue magazine make?  Even if Anna Wintour says she is becoming more “feminista” by using international models on her covers and heavy hitter women’s stories inside.  Will that ratchet up interest and sales?  And will using transgender models in ads and runways really have an impact on spending?  Nobody watches fashion shows or buys the magazines. Even with Vogue going digital with Snapchat — it may be all too late!

If high fashion is in a free fall, look at Hollywood (and both industries are connected). The award shows are becoming dinosaurs — the Golden Globes is safe because the public loves looking at ballroom tables of drunken movie stars in over-styled clothes.

The Oscars is another story because no one cares about the latest comedian MC (who can't save the sliding viewership), and now sporting events are Sunday night competition! The Oscar ratings have flatlined and dear Joan Rivers took her red carpet relevancy with her when she died. 

If you want to see what the Oscars once were, tune into FX’s current hit Feud: Bette and Joan for episode 5 “And The Winner Is (the Oscars of 1963).” Director Ryan Murphy recreated the pageantry, intrigue and importance of an era gone by.  Even just the voice of Frank Sinatra as the MC is thrilling.
So as the importance of “Fashion Weeks” weaken, and fashion magazines are replaced by Instagram and people creating their own fashion blogs, the clothing landscape is radically adjusting.  And it won’t matter what a corporate creative director or a clothing line from Beyoncé can promote.

It's no wonder athleisure wear is currently our biggest style, with sports being the big national interest of today. And it's no surprise that used “Patriots” T-shirts and Tom Brady-signed hats are giving the Hermès vintage Kelly bags a run for their money on eBay.
In fact, the spin empire “Soul Cycle” might become the new fashion heavyweight as it introduces its retail workout line, which will eventually include sneakers, jewelry and post-exercise equipment like foam rollers. Get this: their T-shirts have messages on them, like “Ride in the front row, drink green juice, and be a Vogue cover girl” — That is their “tank” slogan.  The line will be digitally distributed and supposedly carried at Target and Shopbop.
And for what it is worth ... I just read that Oprah, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, California governor Jerry Brown, Alec Baldwin and Kanye West have all expressed interest in running for President. Can any of them have an effect on our consumerism roller coaster! I think the public might be too exhausted by then. Instead, we will all end up staying home in our “Hygge cocoon” streaming “Game of Thrones” on Amazon, and ordering a gourmet pizza.

Ahhhhh ... the new life of a “streamer!”