Three of the most important themes in retail right now are the retail apocalypse, omnichannel and supply chain data analytics. In our view, this is not a coincidence: the industry is abuzz with talk about the tools that will bring retail into the future and improve customer experiences; meanwhile, we're bearing witness to the destruction of numerous brands that have failed to adapt. In this piece, we explore how these three themes are interwoven in an attempt to articulate exactly what the challenges and opportunities are in contemporary retail.
What is the retail apocalypse? CB Insights, the leading intelligence platform and media company on high-growth private companies, has studied the phenomenon better than any other company. The 'retail apocalypse' is a catch-all term for the nearly 80 major retail bankruptcies since 2015. This year has already seen bankruptcies of nine major brands – Beauty Brands, Charlotte Russe, Diesel, FullBeauty Brands, Gymboree, IMS (Innovative Mattress Solutions), Payless Shoesource, Shopko and Things Remembered.
More illuminating than the number and names of the restructuring companies, though, is the insight into the reasons why the companies failed. David's Bridal cited its struggle to keep up with online competitors when it filed Chapter 11 in November 2018; the month prior Sears pointed to the challenge of personalizing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency; in August 2018 Brookstone hired liquidators to close 100 stores due to declining mall foot traffic.
"Retailers who survive the e-commerce disruption by executing on omnichannel will do so by executing a fulfillment strategy that is as nimble as possible," said Chris Kirchner, CEO of Slync. "Survivors will have to find solutions that provide real-time supply chain data in order to balance competitive threats and ever-shifting consumer demands."
In general, companies that recently expanded their brick-and-mortar footprints were the worst off. Doubling-down on physical retail stores indicated a lack of commitment to e-commerce and blindness to the fact that physical locations were less and less productive. Plus, the debt used to finance growth in real estate holdings quickly became burdensome.