Pardon the puns, but there are a few to come. Meanwhile, bear with me:
If "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link" I offer you a few (perhaps cliched but still true) points why Macy's in Union Square, San Francisco, may be ready to break, and a clear indication that no matter the good news there's still a lot of bad on this retailer's horizon.
One, you could "roll a bowling ball" down any aisle in this store and not hit either a customer or worker. For a city center location that dearth is undeniable and obvious.
Two, of the few shoppers one may find around, they're hardly "going to town" with any discernible lavish or impulsive buys; two factors that are highly coveted by stores of their customers.
Three, the lack of "others" countered with the preponderance of "untidiness" makes for a wholly uncomfortable "Who wants to be here?" vibe, which is counter to the necessary in-person mood physical stores need in order to flourish. Or in this case, just exist. (This also brings to mind the saying: Will the last one out make sure to turn off the lights?!)
Four, in a destination where the scenery far outweighs the retail scene, and visitors can just as easily find things nearer to home (or right in their homes, online), what then is the reason for shopping (here or most other retailers), if what you can get has no local distinction like the city's setting?
And five, for greater consideration that has closer (and quite concerning) consequences: if Union Square itself seems on the verge of irrelevance (at the same time of its being a rather sub-to-consciously uncomfortable place to shop without—or even with the presence—of proper security), where does that leave hulking storehouses (like Macy's) with their floor after floor of goods uninteresting to shoppers used to old shopping and service ways, while appealing to a new breed of shoplifters?
To say it's been like a "five-finger discount" for a great many is an understatement.
Consequently, the only way this chain is going to survive is by redoing (or, rather, removing) a great many links; and becoming more "bracelet" than "necklace."
Let's see if that ever happens.
Is there anyone who can give an expert opinion on this? No, not even if you're a woman who has made that "choice" or one who believes it was not within her "rights" even to make it. Indeed no man could have a say on this particular subject too. However, some of us are experts on how and why companies spend their money one way or another and how or why they speak on certain things; and each of us is an absolute authority on how and why we spend our own money and say or do certain things.
And in both instances, what is said does not always match what is done.
Levi's, a brand I had always admired and worn for years (going back to when their jeans were chosen for me and not by my choice), has shown great courage in coming out with such support of their workers' healthcare needs. But until they experience any remarkable downturn in business away from those on the "other side" of this issue; or they decide not to do business in places where certain practices become wholly restrictive—and not just for their workers but the entire affected populace—and still stay their course, can we say theirs was about action and not just words?
For Levi's (or Apple, or "put name here") to make the point stick would be prohibiting sales to any individual who does not follow what rights and choices they follow. But cumulatively, that would cost companies way more money (and awareness of the imperfection of humankind) than they have already determined they can afford to lose possibly. (This is a game being played out in Florida. Where the governor is gambling on how much his state can pay versus how much Disney may lose by having their say. Meanwhile, the "mouse" could really "roar" if they left the state. But the cost of that may exceed the price they're willing to pay—even for their workers' rights)
The same ruse can be said of us, too. As experts of our spending habits, in that moment of truth, we know how often our higher selves get turned off when acquiring that lower-priced item.
This is about choice and having and keeping our absolute rights to them. But it is also about following through on every painful and awkward part when one is chosen and dealing with the good or bad consequences of doing so. Can any of us, person or place, say that is so, absolutely?
While mall and allover traffic for them may be down, Macy's is: like a rose is a rose. Meaning that whatever drives business to them has and always will be about being big, not small. Amazon, Target, and Home Depot are the same; they function as places, in their requisite ways, where the most customers can find the most to buy.
Meanwhile, the idea of a smaller Macy's is interesting. But it is a "fail" if in any way the stores are perceived as being about pared-down selections. It's the ability of customers to choose (hopefully wisely) from the most choices in one location that brings them the most satisfaction. However, If they were to find out a selection chosen by them was also available in another that was better suited to their tastes, you will very likely have lost the customer after that.
Thus, the only way for this concept to succeed is for Macy's to convey that the merchandise in every location is unique to and correct for that smaller space: AKA not replicable elsewhere (or at least easily); and this is even harder to accomplish, well-known that choices have been very thoughtfully curated for that lone store, that one-of-a-kind customer, that particular neighborhood, and in that singular city. This will then satisfactorily explain (and, perhaps, via conversation with the expected carefully chosen clerk) why said space carries, as an example, only specific colors of certain tops from a manufacturer who makes them in a myriad. As a result, customers could be assured their purchases have reason to take place here—and not there.
Further, those selections indeed must have meaning beyond the mundane. This is, unfortunately, what "regular," large-sized Macy's stores have become over time: places where most everything is available and mostly uninteresting, except to those buying merely as mass consumers.
So, Macy's, make these unique spots—or make way for them not to work.
I agree that every generation, mine included, has good to very good and bad to very bad workers. But I would also say that as time has gone by the notion of, say, what defines a "notions counter" worker or "soda jerk" (gads!) has changed, vastly. They were meant, among other things, to do their boss' biddings, mostly unquestioned, and to believe the "customer is always right."
Ironically, with my still being among that front-line force, the companies continue wanting you to do as you're told and treat the customers as "right." However what has changed, really, is the general ways in which workers, especially of younger generations, view such work. Nowadays they believe (and we can argue how right or wrong this impression is) their duties often conflict with their own perceived workers' AND human rights. Furthermore, I have to forcefully disagree with those who say management should just take certain workers aside and train (or discipline) them properly. Sorry, but that kind of power is gone. Once someone is hired — and it truly matters not whether if a union is involved — you have essentially accepted them as-is and their habits are, as well, acceptable. It is only by "crook" that one can get the hook, and not by merely a laissez-faire attitude.
Meanwhile, there is something to be said for an entire generation that takes more matters into their own hands, and making them less docile (subservient) than previous generations. But it has also given them things like handheld devices on sales floors, and a disdain for dealing with any and all kinds of customers. This, among other new variances, makes the old(er) guard wonder if the way this may all end is for most of these kinds of jobs to just be taken over by person-less ways.
The problem is not about tatts—that cat's already out of the bag—it's about determining when/where a line has been crossed with where they appear and what they're saying (and if either does or does not work for a certain job and company). Despite saying it's determined, determinability is always a very fluid process.
As such, I remember working—in a couple very artistic/creative settings—where it was obvious you could not find a lot of capable workers who were not already inked. But they were told to hide/cover them, or else. However that quickly became an impossible way to go. As in, how can you say that as long as tatts were under sleeves, skirt/pant hems and necklines if was fine, but that the eventual "creep" of one suddenly made for dismissal? And now, how can one (in hiring) really say that as long as you don't have one on the neck, hands or face you are good?! Or if it says "mother" you're in, but writing "Damn, Daddy" means you're out?!
Not too surprisingly the same was said of piercings. Which I have something to say about because I had, and still have, each ear done with a single hole. That was fine. But multiple ones were not. Nor were the nose and lip options.
Those two still make me wonder, and shudder. Which brings up an important, uhm, point. That my employers at the time almost two easily allowed (forgave?) me my twin, balance ear studs (and sometimes, small hoops!), and I agreed with their thinking a nose ring was a prick too far.
But who were we to say that what I did was enough and others had gone off the beam? And isn't this really the problem: that once you let one cat go (and have his two ears pierced) you run out of reason to reign in the herd that follows further down this road of self-decoration?
Aside from the interest, of (mainly) retail workers considering unionization, in gaining better wages and working conditions, there has been a slowly growing awareness, over the years, that how they worked had devolved greatly. It is as if they felt—and actually experienced—a decline in treatment and compensation. And, if not for certain states, like California and New York, having strong (and in some cases some may say far-overreaching) OSHA-backed rules, their situations would be worse. So, it is no surprise they (we) would look to the idea of a union as a way to progressively protect jobs, wages and benefits.
Meanwhile they were not wrong. The higher echelons of these retail operations were looking further and further askance at their lowest-level (all the way to middle management) employees. Through the decades of customers' buying habits transforming—and now on the precipice of being almost entirely "virtual"—how could they not think of this line of workers, constantly needing to be paid and placated, as moving towards obsolescence?
With that in mind, fellow workers, go get those unions. But know that in due time your big bosses won't fear these aggressive actions as much as you think. Why not? Because they are the ones with the ultimate frontline power. Which is to nearly (or completely, if they choose) destroy their own company's entire front line workforce. And to replace them with less personable though more efficient machines—that don't need care (beyond a mechanic) and never need pay or placation.
I believe I can speak to this discussion rather well, because, uhm, let's say I have a longtime purchasing and recent working relationship with this brand.
Meanwhile, as a longtime eyeglass wearer, I had become weary of the ransom-level price of my almost-always-Luxotica-made spectacles. When Warby appeared, I knew theirs was the right-priced idea. But what I did not like was a sales model based on an un-green sales method of shipping glasses back and forth; and back then, I think it was of more than five pairs at a time.
I also knew that selecting frames worked better if the wearer didn't feel forced to winnow. However, that was their way back then. They were also adamant about staying online. I know this as fact, because I interviewed with them at their start-up offices in NYC, and was told that brick-and-mortar was NOT in their plans.
Famous last words. As it was quickly obvious how finite an online eyeglass business would be since it was greatly counterintuitive to how many eyeglass wearers like(d) to pick glasses: in person.
But even upon opening stores there "appeared" another blur: you needed a prescription. Which, at the time, Warby's could not provide. That meant needing to go (back) to another optical operation that could. You can imagine how much of a conflict that was, and remains.
This is all to show why and how WP's emergence and growth—very reflective of their customers' and own business' needs—has become so fascinating to watch. As it has all played out in just a decade. But now comes the hardest part for any company to navigate: the possibility of growing bigger than they really should.
Yes, Warby's is on that threshold. To expand to 900 stores is hardly unheard of in retail. But it may come at a cost to what makes them special. For one, to provide all those stores with salable inventory—of already hundreds of choices/variations—will mean "winnowing" them down to what sells best to the most amount of people.
Ironically, that will do for their business model what was least likable about their business at the beginning: fewer choices—but now for greater amounts of possible purchasers. That already sounds like an implosion waiting to happen for any business.
I've always been pretty bad at English. Meaning, I don't always use it properly. But I think that what is happening to the word "consumer" is, essentially, what has happened to a great number of terms that once broadly stood for something. However, that sole meaning, nowadays, seems ill-suited to the different sub-categories we suddenly have found within—and here come the adjectives/qualifiers?!
So, yes, lumping us all in as consumers may be correct, and because all of us are to some degree. However lately, it is to what degree that some on one far end of the spectrum despair at being connected too closely with those on the exact other.
It has become no different than realizing one, as example, can't be just Democrat or Republican. You have to define to what length you are one. Is yours a moderate, extreme or a waning allegiance with either party?
Still, when the time comes (say, during a really important election) you pick one firm side. Which is where this is going with the word "consumer." At the end of the day we must admit being one. However, before that sundown moment, we must be sure to let others know if we consume consciously, with some degree of awareness, or with total abandon (and damn all others who don't do it our way).
Meanwhile, this admitted consumer will continue to consume as thoughtfully as I can, and when I can (and should), and will at least try to spend less time mindlessly consuming.
What's in a name? Well, everything, right? Isn't that the point of becoming known for something (and in this, let's make that many somethings under one roof) and then the name speaks for itself? So, Kohl's, like Target and Starbucks, is known to the general public, by name, as being about the same stuff, in each location, throughout the land.
Meanwhile, a Starbucks can localize their operations, easily and simply, by making a Chicago mug only for their Chicago operations, and so forth. A Target, too, can offer specific, albeit simple goods to a specific, area-based crowd. Kohl's can also do this, in their smaller or even bigger stores.
But just doing something does not make it so. More would need to be done, if they want to be seen as truly local over interloper. However, those measures might make matters worse. Actual naming, like, as example, Kohl's-LA, would signal true intent. But there's no way corporate will pay for that. Just getting them to pony up for a buyer of local goods is a stretch.
Further to that point, it will be quite easy for Kohl's to find nearby makers to sell them goods. I mean, what artisan doesn't dream of the deep pocket buy of a big retailer? Yet these are the most dangerous alliances of all. From the moment those items appear in both a Kohl's and "the little shop around the corner" guess who can best afford pricing them lower? Which can then create a no-turning-back point for the little guys.
Nevertheless, this won't stop Kohl's from doing what they say to all of us is such a wonderful thing for the individual places they operate. But I do not think it will be that way, really.
Large retail has never been perfect. But there was a time when it was, at least, more comprehensible. Back when there weren't so many choices, ways to shop, you managed with what you were given. Big retailers, too, worked with their ability to be more disciplined (some may say limited) and that worked its way down to how things were presented on the sales floor as well as of the staff. The goods and the workers were, in effect, neat as pins. Now to find any semblance of that in any chain store is like trying to find one of those pins in many haystacks. (Mind you, this was/is never the same in small boutiques, where purveyors should mirror their merchandise.)
Meanwhile the reality of superstore retail now, especially in Macy's, is that there is no more sense of that kind of operational control. If you can barely find workers to barely keep the merchandise from "walking" out of the store (under nefarious circumstances) this allowing them to wear more of what they want seems like a sure-but-why kind of idea. Yes, it empowers them—maybe. But giving them a more controlled environment might be better—yes? However, is that even something a Macy's can do, without a devolution?
Furthermore, though the optics of buying elevated items from nattily attired associates makes sense, as does the purchasing of sporty togs from sporty types, it becomes somewhat problematic in a store's funkier and of-the-moment departments. If it is really about what's fashionable, who can say it is or is not suitable for work? A stuffed shirt manager of and to an urban funkster frontliner? Good luck with those constant conflicts.
As a longtime (and always part-time) retail frontline worker, I am sorry to say this is really a nearly zero gain game.
The most advancement opportunities at retail are, and always will be, management; and mostly in the middle range. They are also of the least interest to most just-starting to even long-tenured staff. Why is that? It is because those careers are no more than positions involving pushing more people around. By that I mean, going from being a worker who is told to be here at this time and to do that, to being the person doing the telling, is only moving a step above where you already were — but with the added unpleasantness of being responsible for those under you. And of the vast number hardly care to be there in the first place.
Meanwhile, the best career advancement jobs at retail are the ones that both the companies and the persons occupying them are loathe to give up: buying, merchandising and product development. And why is that? Well, these jobs are very much ego-driven and partly (to wholly) creative-driven. Which are aspects that those who have them do not believe that those under them, in merely servitude jobs, could possibly possess. The catch really is, that while the frontline is the eyes and ears of the buying public—and that certain staff may have a good sense of their own good taste, too — it really matters not to those, especially, who have what they feel is a true talent for knowing what truly goes. (So, don't look for much change or chances here.)
Which brings me to what is most telling about retail. Most retailers — beyond the iconic, individually owned and operated, charming one-off shops that too infrequently dot our urban/suburban landscapes — see store staff, from public-facing to behind-the-scenes types (like stockworkers), as necessary evils. Or to put it another way, as a paid means to an end. Which, as we all know, is about the least amount a company has to put out to gain (or retain) purchases from the public.
Also, if the other constant retail conversation is about moving towards the most automatic ways to transact, isn't that — replacing people with machines — obviously telling us where most of this is leading? Sure, some people-populated jobs will remain. But those will be just about making sure customers know how to use in-store devices; and those are even less fulfilling job duties for anyone. And that's regardless of whether one is looking ahead, staying put or planning to be there for a short while.
Controversy, like sex, sells. So, the idea of putting together books under this banner is a smart marketing move. But, like B&N states, this is about banned AND challenged works. Thus, the challenge will be in keeping this an essentially neutral space for those things that may—or may not—be accepted by your never-really-neutral core customer.
As such, a bookstore's key audience will be, typically and ironically, pro-thought and anti-repression. Also, this group has lately shown its own tendency to eschew many works: once thought of as acceptable, but with messages now apparently contained therein deemed unacceptable.
So, do you ban from this table books that current thought believes are bad for some readers? Or do you allow them a spot, because they fit the criteria (if it is a fair and true one)? Or does B&N start imposing (if they haven't already) certain rules that restrict certain publications? A crazy conundrum, yes?
Well, conversation, while not as sure a thing for selling as controversy (or sex), may be the only consistent part of this entire process.
Very often I feel as though we are discussing one thing when it is really about something else.
This seems to be us talking about the love of dogs (and other animals) and allowing pet owners to bring their beloved ones in with them while shopping. There's no arguing the universality of the former and some agreement that there should be exceptions made for and against the latter. However this conversation is really just about how much businesses will allow, make that in many cases tolerate, of a potential customer's needs/wants versus how much they might lose by not allowing it. By loss is two-fold: that that possible purchaser may decide not to shop with you if you do not give them what they want (in this case, to bring in Fido); and about regulars, who might be fed-up with an operations leniency for the sake of their own shopping sanity.
So, you see, this is not about appreciating dogs, it's about the evolution (some might say devolution) of shopping: for the most, and in as many unencumbered ways as possible. By the way, and this may be harder to grasp but no less exasperating than worrying about an unruly dog or allergens for workers, undisciplined children come across just as much a wonder. Remember, there once was a day when parents either shopped without little ones or insisted they behaved. For anyone who works frontline, gone are those days. Kids or canines? They're all part of the continuum, of rules enacted by those who easily make the decrees but aren't in-store to impose them.
Speaking of, to say it should be about just "service animals" being the ones allowed in is very easy, but nearly impossible to enforce. Just the basic act of asking a person if their accompanying pet is for their own good is not as simple as it would seem. All one has to do is say yes, and we, of the working class, have little to no power to stop their entry. Because, again, the business really wants them in!
Brand loyalty, when it has to do with specific products, is surely a "thing." (As long as that item, or group of items, remains consistently about the quality and cost that brought one to buy them in the first place.)
Loyal shopping, when it has to do with a specific place, as in an actual, single store, is something, too. And it's definitely something a shopkeeper—even a chain operation that can personalize individual locations (with, at the very least, consistent merchandising and staffing)—could and should want to capitalize on. Because constancy of transactions, by a loyal group, is fundamental for any and all businesses. Yes, some foundation is key.
However, once you get really big, you tend to view your customers as cogs. In turn, they view you merely as a means to an end, and will look for others to get what they want if using you is no longer convenient—or in fashion.
But fear not for them. They can afford putting in place algorithms to track who and what's on track, or who and what's not, and move on, accordingly. However, do fear for those mid-level to small operations. They have it the hardest, by having to stay personal while knowing persons are both habitual and finicky. A hard line to follow, if one can even find and define it.
Whether you're a big retailer, one-off shop, local/chain coffee place or restaurant, there's everything to gain by bringing in nearby talent to augment your business' wares and services. Even if the procuring of such is handled by purely transactional rather genuinely integrating means, it's always far better for operations to be a good neighbor over being an interloper.
Meanwhile, though everyone from the card shop across the way to the pub down the block might already be doing a great job at collaborating with a nearby skilled hand-press operator and accomplished vocalist, large scale operations like C&B, have the actual power to make or break this very good idea.
To break it would be for them to homogenize things, when it really only works as homegrown. Woe be to all of us if C&B suddenly partners with an entire industry (of engraving operations) instead of working with one person (or persons) whose individual entrepreneurship is as much the charm as their craft.
Still, if the big guys were to take things national but keep it forever local, and to do so by supplying a template of solid adherence, they have something that checks off four very important "business" boxes. Of being great for the impression they give customers, the importance of their own mid-management, the support of surrounding makers, and their own bottom lines.