I’m not a Dressbarn shopper. In fact, I don’t think I ever bought one dress from the retailer. I went into the store a few times in my younger days and didn’t find anything that appealed to my sensibilities. At the time, the dresses seemed too old for me and that’s why the store was never on my radar. Now, I’m probably at the stage in my life where I should be shopping at Dressbarn, but I’ll never get the chance as it’s going out of business.
When I heard the news of the chain’s pending demise, I thought about how the retail landscape continues to change and stores I’ve grown up seeing all around — whether I shopped there or not — are disappearing and leaving empty buildings in their place.
Dressbarn, Charlotte Russe, Payless, Sears, Toys R Us and the list continues to grow. Even retail mainstays such as Macy’s and Target are closing stores.
How did this happen?
Article after article lists changes in shoppers’ behavior, online competition and costs of brick and mortar stores as the reason. To me, those reasons say one thing: the internet. I’m very familiar with how the internet can turn your industry upside down. I remember a time when newspaper people were cocky enough to think the internet wouldn’t change a thing about our industry. We survived radio and TV, and this new-fangled development called the internet would bow down to us just like the others. Boy, were we wrong. Fast forward a few years and the internet — coupled with the Great Recession — literally killed papers across the country. And those that didn’t die, were barely holding on. It changed the way people got their news. No longer did they have to wait on the paper to hear what happened on the other side of town. We weren’t ready. Many newspapers have rebounded, but it was painful as forced change often is.
I won’t say the same thing happened to retailers, but I have to wonder. We moved fairly quickly from being afraid to input our credit card info online to not only shopping online but banking online as well. At one point I only shopped or checked my banking account on my desktop computer or laptop, never my phone. I gradually began doing both on my phone — but only at home. Now, I shop or check my bank account on my smartphone more than I do my laptop no matter where I’m located. I couldn’t tell you when the shift occurred. It just did. And there’s a whole generation after me that never had the qualms I had about shopping online or using their smartphones to do so.
How could anyone imagine people’s habits would change so quickly? Who knew an online bookstore (Amazon) would become a behemoth where you can buy just about everything you need and want and have it delivered to your door? While no one had a crystal ball to see the future, I’m sure the writing was on the wall. Especially, when we look back.
Much like newspapers had to figure out a new business model, I imagine retailers are doing the same, if they haven’t already. Those who don’t figure out how to remain competitive will follow the others and close, putting hundreds and thousands of people out of work and leaving empty buildings in their place. Entire strip malls sit empty throughout our city. What is to become of these eyesores? If history is any indication, nothing. For a while you ride by them and remember what once was. Eventually, somehow these concrete buildings become invisible and you no longer see the abandoned building. Malls, which once felt special, now struggle to fill vacancies as retailers continue closing stores or going out of business altogether. City planners and developers need to face the inevitable and determine how to redevelop these properties.
As much as we’d like to think otherwise, nothing lasts forever. Adapt or become extinct.