Retail’s Museums of Disappointment

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 (“The Collapse of the Middle”) of my new book. Last week, nearly a year later, I went back to the mall that is referenced below. Sadly, nothing has changed. I guess the Austin area is immune from the forces of digital disruption and seismic shifts in consumer behavior.

I recently visited a once-vibrant regional mall in an affluent suburb of a major Texas city. While the center features an up-to-date Nordstrom and a handful of compelling specialty stores, it also boasts an uninspiring Dillard’s, one of the most poorly merchandised and maintained JCPenney stores I’ve ever seen, and a now-empty Sears store. Among the specialty stores are dozens of tired old concepts and an old-time food court featuring the usual suspects. The overall experience was incredibly depressing. The good news is it’s really easy to get a parking space, and if you want a free sample of teriyaki chicken you will not leave disappointed. Sadly, this scene is repeated over and over, in city after city, country after country. Shopping centers, anchor tenants, and specialty stores that once served as shining examples of all that was good in retail now sit, largely empty or rundown, relics of a glorious past. Many small town Main Streets look very much the same. Demographic forces are beyond the control of any given retailer, big or small. No mega-corporation or mom-and-pop is responsible for stagnant wage growth or the policies that distort income and wealth inequality. Nor can most retail organizations possibly anticipate or respond to every technological change. Not every retailer is in a position to make wholesale changes or totally reinvent their business. But plenty of brands, big and small, have evolved considerably-and plenty still can. What’s required is an unwavering commitment to change, a willingness to take risks, and a robust plan to guide the journey.

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Keynote speaker & strategic advisor on retail innovation. Top 10 retail influencer. Senior Forbes contributor. Best selling author of “Remarkable Retail.”