In the United States, the retail trade in full “apocalypse”

A theme park in the "American Dream" mall, in East Rutherford (New Jersey), on December 19, 2019.
A theme park in the "American Dream" mall, in East Rutherford (New Jersey), on December 19, 2019. KENA BETANCUR / AFP

Apocalypse? The American press has grown accustomed to summarizing under this term the current slaughter in the retail trade in the United States: "Retail apocalypse". The end of a world – or at least of department stores – as a result of the expansion of online sales. In the marketing community, we protest against this catastrophism. The sector is undergoing profound change, that's all, analysts argue. Certainly, malls are disappearing from the American landscape, but city planners are reinventing European-style stores. By the way, just take a look at the numbers: end-of-year sales were solid. Growth was 4.1% from 2018, according to the professional association of retailers, the National Retail Federation, which held its annual conference in mid-January in New York. The main thing is safe: the consumer continues to buy.

It prevents. The 2019 season rather proved the Cassandras right. While online sales increased by 19%, transactions in online stores "Bricks and mortar", according to the American expression, fell by 2%. And the trend continues to be confirmed. In twelve months, more than 9,200 stores have closed in the United States, 59% more than in 2018. Experts argue that it is the large chains, especially clothing, which are mainly affected, as shown an IHL research group report in August 2019. And that, in fact of apocalypse, the total number of stores is on the contrary on the increase. But it is by counting service establishments such as restaurants, fitness rooms or nail bars (manicures) which are now replacing sellers of consumer goods in malls.

Many factors

In San Francisco, what was a joke – transforming the famous Union Square, the place with palm trees and luxury signs into an apartment district to address the housing shortage – is now a realistic prospect. Macy’s, the department store that has stood in the center of the square since 1947, was forced, in 2018, to sell its historic Beaux-Arts building. The buyer, a developer from Silicon Valley, wants to transform the upper floors into apartments.

All the familiar brands are in turmoil. Forever 21, the fetish brand for teens five years ago, declared bankruptcy in September. It announced the closure of 178 of its 549 American stores and its 350 stores in the rest of the world. According to Mark Cohen, a retail specialist at Columbia University in New York, the chain, founded in 1984 by a couple from South Korea, paid for its "Thoughtless expansion" at a time when malls began their decline.


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