Steve Eighinger

Retail apocalypse part of a changing world

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 6, 2018 6:45 am Updated: Nov. 7, 2018 12:03 am

In recent days, one of the most popular conversations I've had with various folks is about the Kmart closing on Broadway.

Before that, the recent shuttering of the Sears store, also on Broadway, was a major topic of conversation.

And before those, the closings of the Bergner's and JC Penney outlets were hot topics.

Go back a few years and those same kind of conversations were about K's Merchandise, Waldenbooks and other similar stores we felt would be around forever.

Quincy is the same as many other U.S. towns that find themselves in the midst of what has been described as a retail apocalypse. It's also about American commerce reinventing itself.

I think it's safe to say most of the big box stores that have closed -- or are on the verge -- can blame no one but themselves. From nature's perspective, the past 20 years in retail have been a form of what scientists might label as natural selection. Those that could not -- or would not -- change are doomed to perish.

By definition, natural selection is the process where organisms with favorable traits are more likely to survive and thrive. In doing so, they pass on these traits to the next generation. Over time, this process allows organisms to adapt to their environment.

Stores like Sears were caught in the proverbial middle of what will be looked at in the future as a retail time warp. They were unable to change in a rapidly changing world.

The rise of retail giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, proved to be more than a fad. They were the future, and that future would not include what, in many cases, was popular 25 years ago. Or even 10 years ago. Sears and similar stores did not catch on fast enough.

Around the turn of the latest century, online shopping was missed by many retailers as "the next big thing," and by the time they figured out their mistake, it was too late. The Amazons of the world were too far ahead.

Examine your own day-to-day life. How has it changed in recent years?

º How many of you still use a landline phone to make your personal calls? Outside of work, how many even have a landline phone at home anymore?

That cellphone you now carry religiously was little more than a curiosity 20 years ago. I think it's safe to say that today we couldn't live without them.

º How about your personal computers, those laptops you carry everywhere? I have grandkids who have no idea there was a world before YouTube, Netflix and Snapchat.

º Even what we drive has undergone a remarkable evolution in the past 15 years or so. How many sedans do you see nowadays? The answer is very few because we all seem to drive an SUV or pickup truck. And if you think I'm exaggerating, look at the number of discontinued "car" styles from major auto makers. Those same auto makers are now concentrating almost solely on SUVs and their offshoots, plus the latest generation of luxury pickup trucks.

Our world is constantly evolving and changing -- and at a much faster pace in this digital age. The Sears stores and the sedans that were once plentiful have been left by the wayside.

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