Retail Apocalypse

The fall of brick and mortar shopping

Photo+courtesy+of+Abbey+Minke%2C+Townsquare+Media
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Retail Apocalypse

Photo courtesy of Abbey Minke, Townsquare Media

Photo courtesy of Abbey Minke, Townsquare Media

Photo courtesy of Abbey Minke, Townsquare Media

Photo courtesy of Abbey Minke, Townsquare Media

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On September 29th, Forever 21, the “fast fashion” clothing store, filed for bankruptcy, becoming the next in a long list of victims to the Retail Apocalypse. This news comes after falling sales due to factors that affect many businesses, such as online stores, namely Amazon, taking over the market and offering even cheaper items. However, the bankruptcy of Forever 21, is just one part of a larger issue that will eventually change the way we shop forever. 

Looking at Forever 21 itself, the business was created by Jin Sook and Do Won Chang, who moved to the United States from South Korea with little money and no education. After saving money, they launched Fashion 21, a clothing business that would buy clothes from manufacturers at a low cost, allowing the store to mark items at inexpensive prices. This method allowed the couple to expand their business with multiple storefronts, renaming it Forever 21. Forever 21 continued to grow in success by developing a loyal group of young customers who wanted to purchase trendy clothing items at a low price. Pioneers in the “fast fashion” industry, clothing stores like Forever 21 or H&M research what is popular in their target demographic, approve designs that have a similar style, and send them to the stores. The companies are quick to release new items so that customers feel like every time they enter the store, it is all-new clothing.  

In light of their success, Forever 21 wanted to expand, going as far as to open 600 new stores between 2015 and 2017. However, this rapid expansion lessened the company’s focus on the clothes. Designs were beginning to be labeled as “basic”, some even seen as a joke for hilariously bad graphic art. The change in public opinion pushed Forever 21 to the back burner when it came to popular shopping destinations in the mall, that is, when people actually showed up.

It is no secret that people prefer to shop online, as it is more relaxed, less time consuming, and less stressful, compared to going to a traditional store. However, as online shopping grows, shopping in-person shrinks, leading many stores to suffer financial losses. The most significant drop in business this year would be for the discount shoe store Payless, as it closed all 2,500 U.S. stores. For the most part, Payless has been reduced to a sad website that redirects shoppers to Amazon with big, bold letters saying, “We’re Still Here.” 

In addition to Payless, Gymboree closed 805 stores this year, DressBarn closed 650 stores, and Charlotte Russe closed 520. It is believed that more than 8,600 stores like these will close by the end of 2019. This figure does not even include store sales that have been falling for years, like Kmart and Macys, as well as stores that have just started to see a decline, like Victoria’s Secret and Barnes & Noble. While all of these businesses have various reasons for closing, much of the problem has its roots connected to online shopping.

While people have begun to take notice of the issue, especially after the closure of Toys R’ Us back in 2018, this situation seems an inevitable fate, as the retail store becomes the new Blockbuster Video.