Retail industry bracing for a mass exodus

By Neely Johnson , CNN Written by

With bankruptcy filings anticipated in coming days, Macy’s shuttering 75 stores and Sears facing up to 200 more , it would seem the end of the road for the once-dominant retail behemoths.

But with online retail and more sophisticated shopping apps making inroads, experts say that the big three retailing giants’ final days may very well be numbered.

The debate over the direction of the retail industry is one of “what type of paradigm shift is happening, versus what is true,” Mark Borges, an economist and market strategist at Gartner Research, told CNN. “In previous decades there was something on the shelves. But those days are over.”

“Retail is going through its final evolution,” says Nancy Wang Yuen, an economics professor at the China Europe International Business School. “Shoppers, who are increasingly technology-savvy, are demanding at every turn better service, convenience and faster services.”

Retail-heavy economy

While history tells us that great retail companies fade away, the economy itself has also helped create the upheaval, according to Trudy Muller, director of the Center for Retail, Retailing and Consumerism at New York University.

“The economy itself is different,” she says. “In the past, jobs could go anywhere — be it shipyards or auto assembly lines. Now retailers have to work at a higher level, and the economy has shifted. We’re always looking for more workers in parts of the country where there’s rising wage inflation. We’re having a labor shortage.”

Even as the economy adjusts, Muller says, “Retailers that are trying to innovate are struggling.”

So what is standing in the way of a turnaround?

Forbes retail editor Daniel Ariely highlights the challenges facing traditional retail stores, particularly Sears.

“Thirty years ago, that’s all they had,” he says.

“Look at the physical stores: You’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Ariely says. “Do you put out better prices and add new, kind of fun elements, or just attract people to the stores because you can drive traffic to them? In terms of playing brand manager, it’s not easy.”

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