As we begin this new year, there's lots of talk about thousands of store closings and bankruptcies in the retail industry. A major trade publication this week predicted that well over 50,000 retail stores would close their doors in the coming months as the stalled economy continues to take a toll.
It's so bad in fact that at least one retail association has asked to be included in future federal government bailout plans. And the pain being felt on Main Street includes not just mom-and-pop operations but long-standing retail chains. According to most, the pain is real.
Many retailers dropped their prices by whopping amounts immediately following Christmas this year but the early numbers indicate it was not nearly enough to rescue the worst Christmas sales season in 40 years.
Consumers are plainly scared of the economic outlook. And that impacts spending habits. Which in turn brings suffering to retail stores. And that impacts jobs. The cycle is endless.
But maybe, just maybe, retail stores share some of the blame for this impending doom and gloom. Maybe retailers have grown complacent over the years as sales seemed to increase automatically year in and year out. Maybe retailers forgot to put the consumer first and looked too much at their profit margins. And maybe the chickens are coming home to roost.
Here are a couple of personal observations that retailers can either accept or reject.
I noticed that on the day after Christmas, some stores had juggled their displays and began stocking their shelves with Valentine candy and other goodies. Maybe shoppers are tired of having retailers rush the "spending seasons" down our throats. I have a lot of thoughts in my mind the day after Christmas but believe me, shopping for Valentine's Day gifts is not on my radar screen. Just give us a break!
I saw Christmas displays in September for goodness sake. And I have yet to hear one consumer pleased with the prospect of Christmas cheer just about the same time that school begins. We know Christmas is coming so don't stick it in our nose just to suit your sales goals.
Another tip for retailers. Teach your sales folk simple lessons of manners and patience. I saw my fair share of rude customers but I also witnessed my fair share of rude sales people this holiday season. I can take the mad rush of customers and I can learn patience while waiting in long lines. I will not however suffer a rude sales person who seems inconvenienced by my spending.
And one of my favorite pet peeves that has no chance of changing. I would actually enjoy shopping and looking at merchandise that was not predominately from China. Granted, we know the Chinese work for pennies and they can make items at a fraction of our costs at home. But I am willing to pay a few extra bucks for something made in America. If I want cheap Chinese goods, I know where to go. Maybe the overall economy would improve if more American goods were offered.
And finally, Mr. Retailer, if you can sell an item for 80 percent off the day after Christmas, then doesn't that mean you were doing you know what to consumers the day before Christmas? Consumers could save a bundle by waiting to exchange gifts until the new year.
I'm all for retailers making a profit. I am a capitalist and I want everyone to prosper. But it hits home when you can purchase the same merchandise after Christmas for a fraction of what you paid just a couple of days earlier.
I suspect that the experts are correct and a number of retail stores will soon close their doors. Much of the blame falls at the feet of the national economy. But some of that blame needs to be pointed at the retailers themselves. You won't convince them but I'm convinced. And I am a consumer.