retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal has a story about Leslie Wexner, the 80-year-old CEO of L Brands Inc., which owns retail banners that include Victoria’s Secret, Pink and Bath & Body Works. His company, the story says, “has actually increased its store count over the past two years, leaving it with about 3,000 locations in North America, nearly half in second- and third-tier malls that are struggling to attract shoppers. It has more stores on the continent than Gap Inc., which has closed hundreds of Gap and Banana Republic stores, and almost 10 times as many as Lululemon Athletica Inc., which has about 350.”

Here’s how the Journal frames Wexner’s position:

“Mr. Wexner, an icon of 20th-century retailing, is the last man standing from a generation of merchants who brought fashion to the masses through hundreds of chain stores in thousands of malls. Most retailers say the internet has forever changed shopping. Mr. Wexner doesn’t.

“The internet won’t kill stores, the Columbus-based billionaire says. Moreover, the fascination with smartphones will fade. ‘We’re in the process of bouncing back from that,’ he says in an interview. ‘I don’t think this is a new norm.’

“People crave social interaction and will seek it at places like malls. ‘There are times when that gets interrupted, but people want to be with other people,’ he says. ‘I’ve got 5,000 years of history on my side,’ pointing to the ancient shopping bazaars in Rome and Istanbul.”

And, it adds: “Mr. Wexner says women want to come to Victoria’s Secret stores to experience the environment and feel the products, because lingerie and beauty items, such as fragrances and lotions, are more personal to them than clothing.”
KC's View:
I’m all in favor of trying to create compelling, entertaining and illuminating shopping experiences, but I think any retailer who thinks we’re not in a “new normal” is a little bit delusional. Wexner’s banners have been suffering, and I suspect that it is from a combination of locations in mediocre malls and shifts in consumer habits.

Can a bricks-and-mortar store compete in this environment? Sure … but but facing reality and embracing the future, not by being delusional about the past.