Let me entertain you
After gobbling up the record industry, television, print publishing, travel, transport and hotels, the “digital Gargantua” is devouring the chains of shops and department stores that are the major players in terms of turnover in clothing retail. It’s war.
As has happened in other business sectors, also here there is a constant increase in online sales. It corresponds to the inexorable decrease of brickand- mortar retail. This phenomenon is particularly strong in the US, where department stores, although they originated in Paris and London, have been developed and diffused the most. In recent months, hundreds of big-chain clothing stores have closed or are on the verge of doing so. The numbers read like a war bulletin. Since January 2017, the following stores have shut down: 250 Limited shops; 171 Wet Seal; 120 BCBG; 170 Bebe; 60 Guess (in addition to 62 others closed in the past two years); 60 Abercrombie & Fitch; and 110 American Apparel. Above all, the crisis has struck venerable department stores. Macy’s, for example, until now the largest clothing retailer in the US (founded in New York in 1858) has closed 68 stores (15 per cent of the total) and laid off almost 4,000 employees since the beginning of the year. After rumours citing the founder and chief of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, as a possible buyer, in all probability Macy’s will go to the Canadian group Hudson Bay. Also in dire straits are Sears (founded in Chicago in 1886) and J.C. Penney (founded in Wyoming in 1902). Since 2011, Sears has closed 60 per cent of its operations, going from 3,550 to 1,500 stores. J.C. Penney closed 138 stores in March 2017, 14 per cent of the total. According to analysts, if the clothing retail sector wants to return to the sales percentage per square metre that it had in 2006, it would have to get rid of half of its stores. A hecatomb, in other words.
A rapid analysis of this data could lead us to think that it is a necessary phase, seeing that Amazon and Alibaba are expanded department stores in a digital form, on a global scale. Harrods, one of the most famous department store of the world, has a motto that seems perfectly suited to the aspirations of the major e-commerce businesses: “from a safety pin to an elephant”. After 150 years and in the wake of the major changes provoked by the digital revolution, it was only logical that Harrods move from the street to the Web. Harrods opened after the Great Exposition held at Crystal Palace in 1851, that has been visited by over 6 million people, equal to one third of the British population, who came to admire thousands of products and objects from all corners of the British Empire. Now, rather than deal with anonymous dressing rooms covered with lint, long queues at the cash registers, overheated departments, underheated departments, loud music and the eternal search for a sales assistant, people prefer to stay at home and peruse a virtually infinite number of catalogues, with a drink and a cigarette (objects of desire that are strictly prohibited inside the dressing rooms). Or they might flick through said catalogues on the subway, train, plane or in bed under the counterpane.