Thursday, September 21, 2017

Talk about off the rack…

When it comes to shopping for clothing, I’m pretty much a half-and-halfer. I order a lot of stuff online – Tribal pants are Tribal pants, Yala shirts are Yala shirts – but I also do some in-store buying. Hey, I’m walking by Lord & Taylor and I realize I need new undies.

But the truth about clothing is that I’m nowhere near the shopper I used to be.

There were periods in my life, when I worked full time and actually needed more clothing, when I shopped regularly. At times, I “grazed the B” (i.e., poked around Filene’s Basement) two to three times a week. Sometimes I came home empty-handed, but you never knew what you might find.

But now, when it comes to clothing, the thrill is gone. I wear the same things all the time, replacing them when they wear out or I just get sick of them. I still like to poke around the women’s clothing stores – the ones aimed at reasonably well-off women of a certain age – that sell the kind of things that pass for cool and stylish for reasonably well-off women of a certain age. I do go on an occasional buying jag, typically at the change of seasons. And I do like having something new to wear. Just not as much as I used to. These days, when I think about clothing shopping, I’m mostly ‘meh.’

And yet I do not welcome the thought of clothing stores disappearing from the face of the earth, a long-predicted day that appears to be creeping closer. And Nordstrom, it seems, is getting in on the act of facilitating this eventuality. (Guess I should save my breath wishing that a “real” Nordstrom’s, rather than just a Rack, would open up in downtown Boston. How is it that, with all the high-end condos sprouting up all over the place, the only new stores in downtown Boston seem to be Old Navy and Primark? Guess the rich folk who live in them just order in. Which, now that I think of it, is probably the case. The other day, I was walking by the delivery entrance to the new – and ultra-posh – Millennium Tower, which stands on the site of the old Filene’s. And there was a Stop & Shop PeaPod delivery truck backing in. Given that there’s a full Roche Brothers grocery store in the basement of the building – the site of the old Filene’s Basement, in fact – where the Millennium Tower stands, and that the Millennium Tower dwellers can access Roche Bros. without having to step outside, I was kind of surprised that someone would still be ordering their food from PeaPod.)


The slow destruction of in-person retail has generated a new tactic by struggling American stores. Looking to cut costs while keeping consumers interested, they’ve taken a page from the e-commerce playbook. Nordstrom Local is the latest iteration of this concept: clothing retailers with little or no merchandise. Come in, pick out a dress, and place your order—then go home empty-handed.

At first, the inexorable march of the online economy was stalled by the apparel industry—you can’t try on clothes you’re ordering online. The new store-without-stock strategy tries to exploit this obstacle. By having merchandise shipped to your home from warehouses, these stores don’t have to flip inventory every season or mark down piles of sweaters that aren’t selling. Most important, supply chains don’t have to route trucks from warehouses to stores. That’s a lot of slashed overhead.(Source: Bloomberg)

Well, talk about sucking all the joy out of an impulse buy. Of course, recognizing that instant gratification is the name of the shopping game, some of these stockless-stores will offer a few bibelots so you have something to stow in your tote bag. Plus, they’ll offer same day delivery if you bop in early enough in the day. Still, there’s something missing from this sort of dry, good-less shopping experience.

And it’s not just Nordstrom Inc.—Wal-Mart is betting there’s a future in these sort-of stores, too. “A store with no inventory becomes very, very efficient,” said Michael Brown, a partner at the retail division of consulting firm A.T. Kearney. “You can get very streamlined.”

I can imagine that a store with no inventory does indeed become “very, very efficient.” The good ol’ ‘suppose they gave a war and nobody came’ strategy. We’re already working our way towards libraries with no books. What’s next? Restaurants with no food? Hospitals with no beds?

Ptui! Don’t know quite where it’ll be, but I’m going shopping…

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