Why Retailers Are Closing: As Told From a College Perspective

2017 has not been a good year for retail – here’s why.

I consider myself a true lover of shopping – meaning that I accept it in all its forms. 

I shop in stores and browse online like a madwoman. (I dare you to quiz me on the latest new arrivals on Topshop’s website, I DARE YOU.) I write about shopping and styling for CF. I even sign up for catalogs just so I can flip through them and imagine the most expensive items on myself. (I’m looking at you, Free People.) 

So when it comes to the topic of retail, I consider myself a self-taught expert. And if you’ve been keeping up with retail this year, you know that things are not good.

That leads me to today’s topic, the recent trend of fashion retailers closing stores and, well, caving in on themselves

Why is it happening? Is this a sign of the end of retail as we know it? *Gasps audibly and clutches chest* 

Fear not, friends! I have answers. So, let me catch you up on current affairs in the retail world.

Retail Stores Closing: A Recent History

Over the past year, headlines have begun to stream across news channels, all following a predictable pattern: “The CEO of apparel company ‘_____’ announces the closing of ____ stores due to falling profits and falling customer satisfaction.” 

They more or less all sound the same. Because this is happening over and over.

Earlier this year, I spent a full week in mourning when American Apparel announced its bankruptcy and Gildan Activewear blew its victory horn after capturing them. And I felt like my childhood was ripped away when The Limited announced it was closing ALL of its stores.

And that’s not all: this occurrence is SO widespread. Stores like Macy’s, Abercrombie and Fitch, Kmart/Sears, Guess, and BCBG have all announced plans this year to close stores.

And let’s not forget the retailers going out of business. I would like to formally request a moment of silence for Wet Seal, who closed down entirely and has yet to resurface in meaningful form (though their website is alive again).

Finally, just hours before the publication of this article, Gap announced it would be closing 200 stores over the next three years. The trend isn’t stopping anytime soon.

So what does this mean? 

Well, it means that customers are tired. And we, as college student customers, are stuck in a sticky situation. 

As we see it, clothing is rising in prices, but clothing quality isn’t. And that’s not to mention the questionable manufacturing practices that many retailers use. Those don’t make us happy.

Most of the students I know want to make a difference with their money, and prefer to pay for something at least sturdier than the average F21 piece that will tear apart with one wash. (Okay don’t hate me, Forever 21 fans, but someone had to say it.) 

We are tired of getting bad clothing, but we also don’t want to spend a fortune. So we turn elsewhere.

We turn to online shopping, and that leads us to the better deals we may get online. That’s not to mention the ease of not having to squirm around in stuffy dressing rooms: I can’t be the only one whose confidence magically disappears the moment I close the door and face that poorly lit room and awful mirror. 

We turn to Instagram-based boutiques that seem to care about our feelings and respond to our complaints in the comments section of their posts. 

We turn to thrifting and vintage shopping on websites like Etsy, Depop, or Thredup because we try to make a difference environmentally (or because we want to snag a deal while dressing like Florence Welch or Stevie Nicks).

Customers like us have turned away from typical retailers for justifiable reasons. And, in turn, brick and mortar stores are closing their doors, because no one is showing up. 

But are retailers learning their lesson and stepping it up? 

The answer, so far, is… maybe. 

I recently walked into a revamped A&F and am pleased to report back: The store now has mannequins with better styling suggestions, and the dressing rooms might as well be renamed “personal size dance clubs” due to the mood lighting and music. It’s cute.

Retailers want to get back in touch with customers that left them long ago, and they are desperate to make us happy again. And this has led to another avenue for change, technology. 

Reformation now has smart tablet style screens in stores that allows customers to shop for items in their size, with dressing rooms to try things on. 

In Austin, Modcloth opened a brick and mortar store that allows you to try on clothes in store, then order them using tablets. The experience is like a hybrid of person-to-person sales and digital browsing. It is shopping, but customized even further, and with an attempt at strengthening that customer satisfaction level. 

So, what does the future hold?

If I’m speculating, I think we may have to say “goodbye” to sales associate positions in the future. Instead, we’ll walk into smaller malls and simply touch screens to see whether or not an item we want is in stock. Then we’ll buy it, pick it up, and go home. Or we’ll just do it on our laptops and ditch any chance of human interaction. 

This saddens me a bit. As a seasoned shopper, part of me enjoyed the journey of traveling to the mall, feeling the textures of the fabrics for myself, trying on the item — even if it looked horrible on me — and the triumph I would feel after walking out with my find in my hands. Even the small talk I would make with associates would make me feel good. I miss it, even though I don’t shop at malls much anymore.

What do millennials and Gen Z want from fashion retailers?

From a college girl’s perspective, I want to see these brands reconsider their approaches to customer service. 

Maybe this means that when they take five weeks instead of one to ship me a pair of jeans, I’ll get a voucher for a discount on my next purchase with that company. Maybe they’ll send me a courtesy email thanking me for that purchase, or maybe they’ll be more responsive to feedback on their social media pages. 

Hopefully prices will be modified to truly reflect the cost of the item and the money will actually go to the creator of the garment, and not some greedy CEO up there. (One can dream.)

I’d like to see more use of technology in stores. I like what Nordstrom is doing with their app, allowing you to add things to your “dressing room” in app, then show up at the store with your items waiting for you to try. I think this could definitely be expanded.

Finally, I hope retailers everywhere will take a cue from A&F’s nightclub-like dressing rooms. I prefer to dance while I shimmy into my skinny jeans. 

Let me know what you think!

Indeed, retail is undergoing a major makeover, and it is up to us, the customers to figure out if we will help them rise from the ashes, or ditch them and watch them fall like Wet Seal (too soon?). 

So I’d like to hear from you. Have you been mourning the death of fashion retail? How do you think stores should be stepping it up in response? Do you shop online or do you still visit malls? Let’s talk in the comments!


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