Where Do I Go Now That They’re All Dead?

What does the future look like for retail stores? Are the predictions right?

It was tough when Borders closed it's doors. Aside from the fact that I really liked the book store, it also sent a loud message to the public about the future of retail in general. A large chain out of business just like that.

Ok so maybe not, but it seemed that way to a lot of people.

You could certainly analyze all the reasons why. Right down to the industry and technology that probably played a part in the demise (forgive my pessimism).

Since then, the news media has escalated the predictions of doom and gloom, suggesting further causalities will fall to the same fate. The debate, they claim, will be decided by the best customer experience (online or in store), which makes sense on the surface.

But the complexity of this issue is not that simple. Consider these points before formulating your opinion.

I have a friend...

Actually, I do have a friend, Kristen, who's a supervisor for a large retailer. She's currently hiring for the holiday season. The expectation for a store that does thirty to forty million in revenue (a year) is approximately fifteen people, about half of last year, and most will be let go at the end of the season.

Feedback from the interviewees has produced insight into the job search market. Many stated they'd been looking for work for several months. A few claimed it had been over a year. Consensus in the retail world: if you have a job hold on to it, finding another might be difficult.

Positions have also been eliminated in areas such as inner-company computer systems, corporate headquarters, and even human resources. All of which have moved either online or to phone operators who often times are living across the world.

If only we could all be .com millionaires

The online migration has hit the retail industry hard. We're beginning to see what happens to the job market when brick and mortar stores close and businesses move online. Though we'd all like to work for Google, or own it, the job requirements alone for many positions would exclude a lot of people. So what happens to the rest of us?

Retail offers a range of positions with competitive pay that require little technical skill. You may not need programming experience or a license, but running a store has it's own challenges. It also pays pretty well, especially leadership positions. I was surprised when I found out how much Kristen makes, you go girl!

Are we more forgiving online?

I ask this question because of the social aspect online.

Many purchases are made after some type of social interaction: email, twitter, forums, and/or ratings. Corporate figures, CEOs for example, interact with customers frequently on the web. Often times it's the corporate higher ups initiating the communication.

Remind me again when the last time was you called the local superstore and asked to speak to the CEO? Oh, and actually got through?

Using my own behavior as a guide, I find I will wait on hold longer for help with something I bought online than I will calling a retail store. The assumption that someone is there, of getting it now, is an expectation. Online, I expect to wait for UPS or for the unit to be built.

Bottom line...

Kristen has given me some interesting insight. The retail position: most employees want to do the right thing for the customer. Even most of the young kids working their way through school. Yes, mistakes happen. But ultimately it's how those mistakes are handled that decide the level of customer service. The reality is, bad experiences can happen anywhere.

Technology is good. It creates opportunity as well as efficiency. However the human factor is important and without livelihood, goods and services both in-store and online, are out of reach for everyone.

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