Rue21 is Closing Over Half Its Stores Because of the Internet

My Thoughts: This is just getting crazy. Sears, The Limited, Wet Seal and BCBG already all bankrupt this year, and now Rue21? Is there a nudist movement afoot? Where are people getting their clothes?

Oh yeah, online.

The privately held company is shuttering nearly 400 stores, leaving it more than 700 stores in 48 states. It has 14 stores in the San Antonio metropolitan area, of which four are closing, according to its website. The four listed as closing are located in the Rigsby Road Shopping Center in San Antonio, The Forum in Selma, Floresville and Pleasanton.

Source: Rue21 closing 400 stores, including several in the San Antonio metro area – San Antonio Express-News

The Future of Retail Has Never Been Brighter (Thoughts from eTail West 2017)

As February came to a close and March began, some of the smartest people in retail converged on Palm Springs, California like it was some sort of e-commerce Coachella festival. As they do every year around this time, these leaders in retail got together to share a combination of insights and recommendations as to the current state of digital commerce, while thousands more of their peers listened in to hear the latest in what’s happening in this world.

Still, as anyone who’s been in “e-commerce” knows, eTail is about more than just selling things online. It has to be. As e-commerce has evolved over the past two decades its grown from an outlier and change agent to become a key component of how we shop and interact with brands. It’s past mobile commerce, multichannel and even omnichannel. Instead, now with its big brother, Brick and Mortar, it’s become just part of how we consumers buy stuff.

But is it even more than that? If this year’s eTail West conference was any indication, the answer is an absolute YES.
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The Revenge of Analog

Read This Book: ‘The Revenge of Analog’ by David Sax [Book Review]

I’ve spent my entire professional career selling digital products online. For the last sixteen years I’ve disrupted (some would say decimated) a good portion of one of the oldest publishing industries in the world: sheet music.

When I started at as a lowly marketing assistant back in 2000, the concept of buying online had gained some traction … but the idea of buying a digital, virtual, item was still completely foreign to the general consumer. Keep in mind that this was before iTunes had even launched. Apple didn’t introduce us to the concept of buying digital music until January of 2001. Amazon didn’t even launch its Kindle e-Reader until 2007.

As technology evolved and people became much more accustomed to the concept of buying a digital item online, the world changed. I was a cheerleader of the benefits of digital distribution. In the sheet music industry, like many others, it solved a ridiculous amount of problems … such as print inventory, delivery logistics, cost of physical goods, lead times to print, how big a print run would be and even the very process behind which decisions were made as to if a product was financially feasible to even exist.
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Hey Retailers: Get Your “In-Store Pickup” Act Together

If shopping this holiday season has taught me one thing, it’s this: Omnichannel is still a complete mess.

Let’s not even get into the headaches I continue to encounter where retail stores and their online counterparts run completely separate and non-interchangeable promotions. (Yes, I’m looking at you Banana Republic.)

I’m talking the parts where multichannel retailers are actually promoting their supposed ability to make online and offline work together in a flawless symbiotic relationship: In-Store Pickup (aka buy online, pick up in-store).

Over the past few weeks I’ve utilized in-store pickup three times, and every one of those times was pretty much a disaster. Yes, I should have learned by now … but I try to be hopeful.

One of those experiences was at a Best Buy store. The other two were at Target … but the issues have been similar at most places I’ve shopped.
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An Obvious But Unused Application of Geofencing + Mobile in Retail

I’m sitting here at the Orlando Airport, waiting for my flight, thinking about everything I learned during my second trip to the eTail Connect conference. As usual, it was a fantastic experience, with a lot of great conversations with a lot of really smart people in the e-commerce industry. We discussed issues like fraud, personalization, payment processing, social sign-in, loyalty, communication strategies and a lot more … but of all the conversations I had, there’s one in particular that keeps coming back to me.

During the cocktail reception the first night, I met with my friend John and we were discussing his company’s geofencing and beacon technologies. As I currently work in a pureplay dotcom, geofencing isn’t of that much use to me – but it’s a topic I’ve always found interesting. Just being part of the retail community, what’s going on in omnichannel always fascinates me, as they deal with different variations of the problems I deal with, and have to look for other solutions and integrations that make sense across their physical and digital presences.

Anyway, we were talking about geofencing and beacons and I told John how impressed I’ve been with Target’s use of the technology so far. Even things like little reminders to use my cartwheel app when I’m in store are great uses of the tech, as I often forget about Cartwheel until I’m at checkout, and by then it’s too late for me to start looking at offers or scanning my products in the cart. The reminder as I walk in the door has been helping me here considerably.

We talked about this and other uses geofencing has been helpful in, and as we talked we got onto the subject of how the tech can be used to help guide you around the store to help find the departments and items you might be looking for. Then came the “eureka” moment.

My wife and I recently built a new house with a nice deck overlooking our creek. We want to spend more time out there enjoying the view, but the patio furniture we had was not quite matching the style of the new house – so we were in market for something new. Target had exactly what we were looking for, a little chat set called Carag, but every time we went to the store we found out it wasn’t in stock (and they didn’t sell it online). So we kept checking back. Sometimes we’d call, but othertimes we’d just ask when we were in the store for another shopping reason.

The problem I kept running into though was that there was never anyone working in the patio section – at least no one I could find. I had a simple question: do you have this in a box in back? All I needed to do was ask an associate and they could check and if so, they just had a $200 sale. As I discussed this experience with my John I thought of all the other times I’ve been in stores and wanted something or had a question but needed to track down an associate to get help (I actually had a similar experience at Target again the other day when I wanted a new Fitbit but needed someone to get it for me from their locked areas).

So, this all leads to my big question / idea: Why don’t stores add in “call for assistance” into their apps? Sure, a few stores have buttons on kiosks for this, but again you still have to hunt to find them (just like hunting for an associate). With geofencing and beacon technology, working in conjunction with your store app, you should be able to easily allow your shoppers to tap a button to request help, then send a ping with the rough location to your sales associates, telling them where you are and that you need some assistance. In an ideal experience, I’d tap the button, the associate would get pinged, and I’d be told to hold tight for a few minutes because someone is on their way to exactly where I am.

Since I don’t work in physical retail, I have no idea how many sales are lost simply due to customers not being able to find an associate at the time they have a question. What I do know is that I’ve walked out of stores plenty of times when I went in with intent to purchase, but wasn’t able to get the help I needed to get the product / close the sale.

It’s a pretty simple use of the technology, but it would give customers the ability to ask for help when they need it, where they need it, rather than hope that an associate and a guest would cross paths at the right time in-store.

So there you go stores. Go do this.

… and while you’re at it, let me pay for my purchase in-store with my phone, so I don’t have to wait in lines. Barnes and Noble, I’m looking at you in particlar … you don’t want to know how many piles of books I’ve not bought because your lines were too long and slow, and then just put them on a table, walked out the door and bought them on Amazon instead. But that’s for another conversation.