This is a subject near and dear to my heart. Amazon has been getting some bad press lately about destroying retail as we know it. Did they really? Here’s the perspective from an avocado toast eating Millennial that’s also feeling blame for the death of Applebees and breakfast cereal. Here’s what I think.
Department Stores. When the associates were instructed strip shoppers of more than 7 items in a changing room, they lost me. I guess if I had 8, I might stuff them down my shirt and walk out of the store without paying…but not 7. Department stores also lost me when they went from paying $15/hour to minimum wage. Do you know what that breeds? Complacency. When I had to break up a group of associates gossiping in a corner for check-out, I knew it was over between us. Why pay $40 for a shirt if you’re not getting service? If I’m going to be treated like an unwelcome outsider, I might as well go to a discount retailer and save money.
Groceries. When Walmart started online shop and pickup service I about died of excitement! I HATE grocery shopping! I filled out the online shopping list. It took a long time, but I re-buy the same items so it didn’t upset me. If this worked, I’d be shopping with the same list every week! But things didn’t go as I hoped. The cans were dented, eggs and milk would expire in 2 days, produce looked bruised and unwell…then it hit me. The manager was likely instructing the employees to “get rid of” unwanted items. After-all, online shoppers wouldn’t figure it out until they’re home. It’s unlikely they’ll drive back for refunds. …sigh… Amazon, I can’t wait for your grocery pickup!
Book stores. The fall of Borders was too much to tolerate for some, but I didn’t care. I’m an avid book reader. I would spend an hour or two at a nearby bookstore each week checking out what’s new and reading a chapter or two to see if I would like it. Until, one day, a Borders manager walked up to me and asked, “Are you going to buy something? This isn’t a library!” I easily spent hundreds of dollars at Borders each year, this manager was yelling at a paying customer! I started going to Barnes and Nobel and Amazon to buy my books. When the Kindle came out, I don’t think I’ve stepped foot in a book store for anything other than travel books – you kinda need the photos for those!
Low Price, Sit Down Restaurants. Let’s be honest. Unless you have an hour to blow on getting a mediocre sandwich, these places are obsolete. I don’t need a waitress’s help to buy a salad. I can easily do that from a kiosk or an order desk. Any more interaction with someone other than a bus boy or order taker is unnecessary to my lunch experience. Honestly, I think the concept of a waiter/waitress ordering and serving food may be on its way out. Even fancy restaurants, I wouldn’t mind ordering from a screen and being served by bussers. To me, “being served” isn’t necessary.
Millennials. If someone must be blamed for the dramatic shift in retail, it’s probably us. We don’t mind buying clothes, groceries and home essentials off the Internet. We hate running errands and will do anything to make someone else do it. We love specialty stores and service. I’ll travel 30-minutes to a coffee house in Gilbert because they have an amazing play area for the kids. I think we’re more into uniqueness than previous generations.
Conclusion. Retailers brought the death of retail on themselves. We had horrible experiences but continued shopping because there weren’t other options. Now we have options! The internet will put together outfits for us, Uber will bring us food, Lyft will get us to a friend’s house, and I happily order my food at an interactive kiosk. Maybe if they didn’t pay their employees so horribly that they developed complacency, we’d still like department stores. Maybe if Borders didn’t put pressure on their managers to increase sales they wouldn’t have screamed at customers. These companies treated us poorly because they could. Now they’re feeling the backlash of those decisions.
No, I don’t think Amazon crippled the industry. I think retailers did it to themselves when they put profits over people.