A Tale of Two Retails – Apocalypse or Renaissance?

EDITORS NOTE: This is first of a multi-part series – Retail Therapy – that focuses on the past, present, and future of the retail sector. The series will conclude on October 2, 2019 with a live stream panel discussion.

Charles Dickens opened his classic A Tale of Two Cities with a description of society leading to the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” 

Dickens could have just as easily been describing the retail landscape in 2019. Researchers predict as many as 12,000 retail locations could close this year – while on the other hand, more than 3,000 new retail stores have opened in 2019. Mark Mathews, VP of Research & Industry Analysis for the National Retail Federation (NRF) joined the BBB National Program’s Better Series Podcast to explain what’s happening in the retail sector. 

“There are headlines that talk about a ‘Retail Apocolypse, but that’s not what the numbers show,” noted Mathews who cited the 4,600 new small business retailers who opened in 2018. “The real story here is the new businesses that are being created every day.”

The shift of consumer preferences to online shopping is often blamed for impacting traditional retail, but Mathews says that’s not really an issue. “We’re going to stop distinguishing between e-commerce and bricks & mortar stores soon. When you order online and pick-up in-store, is that an online transaction or in-store? When you make a purchase, you don’t think of the channel, you think of the product or who you’re buying from.”

Likewise, younger consumers are cited as the reason retail is changing, but Mathews points to NRF research that shows today’s young shoppers are no different than their parents and grandparents as teenagers and young adults. “They enjoy shopping. They enjoy the social experience of going to stores. They like to look at, touch, and feel [the] goods they are going to buy.”

With 99% of the retail market being small businesses and new retailers opening every day, Mathews says there is still a path to success for shopkeepers: “Fundamentally, it’s about knowing your target audience, knowing what they want, understanding their needs, and giving them the experience they want.”

To listen to the Retail Therapy podcast series, visit the BBB National Program’s Podcast website, listen on your Apple Podcast app, or your favorite streaming platform.