First one I heard about was Macy’s. Then Sears and KMart. Then JC Penney. Then mall staple The Limited closed 250 stores. Then long-beleaguered American Apparel announced store closings. Now BCBG announced plans to close several stores. By the time this post goes live, there’ll likely be more to add to the list.
The list of nationwide retail store closings is astonishing in scope, but completely unsurprising when you really consider it on a case by case basis. The way we shop has completely changed and so many of these stores simply are not evolving quickly enough.
photo by Chuck Olu-Alabi for this post
I grew up in Trinidad and I spent many, many, MANY of my formative years in a mall. When I was young, I helped out for the holiday season at a family friend’s perfume and cosmetics store. I was a precocious 8 year old, telling grown women what lipstick to wear and what perfume to buy. When I was 11, my mom opened a store in the mall called Lounging, focusing on (what else?) loungewear and lingerie. I got to see close up and first hand how beautiful it can be to conceive of an idea and open a retail space. I also got to see close up and first hand how difficult it can be to sustain a customer base and to keep a business going. You may have incredible merchandise, but if prices are steep or you’re not providing the sizes and variety your customer is looking for, it’s on to the next store. That rent never stops coming, and it only gets bigger. My mom and dad closed Lounging in 92 or 93. I know they learned some tough lessons in business from that experience.
Now I live in downtown Chicago, and shopping is on a whole different level. When I go shopping here, it’s on State Street where all of the big stores have exciting retail experiences to explore. Or on Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile where so many store headquarters and flagships are vying for attention. The sidewalks are packed, but if you look past some of these glittering storefronts you may wonder how the heck they’re keeping the lights on.
I live in a big city and don’t drive much, so I rarely wind up in a traditional mall. But when I DO walk through a mall, I notice the emptiness in comparison to years past. Malls are suffering, in the wake of these store closings. The whole landscape is changing right before our eyes.
The recent headlines made me stop and think about my own shopping habits.
Photo by Chuck Olu-Alabi for this post
Here’s what makes me go to a physical retail store:
More and more, I’m likely to buy online. What makes me shop online?
I’m plus sized myself so I may be erring on the side of bias here, but lack of size inclusion has absolutely led me to avoid certain retail stores. I really think too many stores are being willfully obtuse (and/or discriminatory? Discuss) about this. If the average size of the American woman is a 16 (or 1X) then why are mainstream stores still not including plus sizes in store? It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. I’m talking about the stores I don’t venture in because they don’t have a plus department, or made their plus size clothing online only. I don’t go into your stores if I know all I can buy is accessories. You are turning away a customer for no valid reason. All money is green, y’all. Come and get this market share.
I don’t understand the mentality, and it’s something I see with my own eyes all the time. My favorite Nordstrom Rack cut down their plus department by three whole racks, leaving a scant two racks of pants and tops for plus women of all ages to pick over. I’ve exchanged many a long-suffering sigh with a fellow plus sister while browsing the sole, poorly organized dress rack, which is stuffed with frocks from size 2 to 22. It’s steadily gotten worse over time.
At least Nordstrom Rack has plus size clothes worth looking at. The last time I went into Dick’s Sporting Goods they literally did not have any plus size workout clothing in this giant cavernous store filled with EVERYTHING BUT what I came in for. Why would you not sell workout clothing in sizes above XL, considering the average size of the American woman? We’re trying to work out too, y’all. I asked a store associate if they sold any workout pants in a size 2X, she told me no. I tweeted this.
Hi @DICKS, I came to your Chicago store looking for plus size activewear, was informed there is none. This store is HUGE. Can you add some?
— afrobella (@afrobella) September 4, 2015
So guess what happened. I went to the Burlington Coat Factory in the very same shopping complex and got a bunch of plus size workout pants and tees at a bargain. And that was the last time I went to Dick’s — September 4, 2015. Why would I go back when they don’t have what I need? When plus size athletic clothes and athleisure are just a click away, on trend and at decent prices? When I can buy the rest of my sports equipment needs on Amazon AND read reviews helping me choose the best item at the best price with free shipping because, Prime?
You see my point. I’m just one customer, looking for a reason to go to a store. Give me one reason.
So where do I shop, when I shop?
I still do love shopping and the bulk of my shopping is done online. But there are some physical retail experiences I still enjoy and look forward to.
I will forever love independent boutiques. I love indie designer sale events like Randolph Street Market. I love pop-up stores. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where there’s stuff like that going on regularly.
In the summer, I love the Chicago farmers markets and look forward to going, because the produce is amazing, I love the baked goods AND there are usually booths of jewelry, clothing and accessories to browse. I try to support as many small businesses as possible, in general. And I love unique purchases that support good causes.
Even though I receive many products for review, I LOVE going to Sephora – especially the killer flagship store on Michigan Ave! I also have a soft spot for Ulta. Anytime, anyplace I can browse a makeup and hair product section, I do. So if I am at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart or Target, that’s where you’re probably going to find me.
For in-store retail therapy, in downtown Chicago’s Loop I usually zip into Torrid and Lane Bryant, H&M, Forever 21, and that aforementioned Nordstrom Rack with too-few plus size racks. I like stores where I can see how deep the discount is on my purchase, so I like Nordstrom Rack and Neiman Marcus Last Chance. It’s about price, quality, the perception of bargains.
I hear Zara has sizes up to 2X now and I’ve been meaning to stop by and check it out. Local chain Akira also has plus size items worth browsing.
I love me some Macy’s. If I need a dress or a blazer for an event, the 5th floor of the State Street store is always worth checking out. I just wish they would do more with their plus size section. Cater to your consumer. Give us a reason to shop and share, make the experience exciting on all floors!
I totally love shopping at Target — first of all, I respect their inclusivity and I intentionally give them my dollars because of that. It’s clean, they have clothing that’s on trend and affordable, and I LOVE the home stuff, I want everything Threshold! Plus, Target has added value — cool designer partnerships and consistently high quality in-house brands, Starbucks and usually a restaurant — the ones nearest me in Chicago feature either Pret a Manger (which can be pretty good for a quick bite) or Freshii (which I LOVE and get cravings for). Now my husband is super into the Cartwheel app, so we find reasons to go to Target.
I thoroughly enjoy World Market and always spend more than I mean to when I go there. I always find delicious items for my pantry and super cute, on-trend picks for kitchen, dining and home. Plus they often have cute accessories.
I love thrift shopping when I’m able to go and take the time. I love shopping at TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods (I used to love Ross, but now I can’t find anything to wear there anymore. For me, the clothing quality isn’t what it used to be. At least at my nearest Ross).
I can’t think of another store that competes with IKEA (why is that?) so inevitably I wind up in IKEA a few times a year. Plus, it falls in line with my preference of a one-stop-shopping experience, because of their food.
That’s pretty much all that comes to mind in my neck of the woods. I asked my relatives (just spent last week with the in-laws) before writing this piece. One sister-in-law loves Francesca’s Collections and wanted to give them a shout out. We mentioned Charming Charlie as having a fun and unique shopping environment. My mom-in-law mentioned Mejiers and Menards. If I’m near a Walmart, I do like to look around in their beauty and hair department, and check out their plus size clothes – quite a few of my favorite natural hair and beauty brands are on those shelves.
But that’s about it.
I don’t think the wave of retail store closings is over yet. My prediction? Restaurants are next. Any ubiquitous chain stores that are consistently empty when you stroll by. How much longer do they have left?
But enough about what I think. What are your thoughts? Where do you shop, when you shop? And why?