This year has been particularly cruel to chains across all market segments as more have filed for bankruptcy protection in four months than did during the entirety of 2016. USC experts in business, architecture and culture are available to discuss the current sea change in the retail market as storefronts continue to shutter under the weight of fixed costs, low-margin big boxes and “e-tailers” that keep shipping faster and cheaper.
Living in a less material world
“Historically, consumers paid top dollar for material goods — particularly luxury goods — that reveal status. This practice is classically known as ‘conspicuous consumption.’
“In today’s contemporary retail market, a new phenomenon is emerging, what I call ‘conspicuous production,’ whereby consumers are more concerned with the process by which an item is made and where it is from than they are with how the item looks.
“People seek out curated consumer experiences and meaning in the items they buy, which for many of us means we buy less, and we are much more discriminatory about what we buy and where we buy it.
“With all of this information available, we are becoming conscious of reckless materialism and how it affects our world. As a result, for many of us, the retail process has become streamlined and pared down.
“We want much more meaningful retail experiences and our purchases must symbolize more than just acquisition of material things.”
Professor of public policy at the USC Price School of Public Policy
Decaying advantages for brick and mortar
“Many brick-and-mortar stores could survive for years despite the lower prices and convenience of online retailers. They had the consumer’s trust and the advantage of a physical shopping environment to inspect products. But these advantages are decaying.
“Consumers are increasingly more trustworthy of web-based payment systems. And new technologies like virtual mannequins and showrooming apps diminish the advantage of having a physical environment. So it is not surprising to see so many conventional retailers closing.
“It may not be the end of brick-and-mortar stores entirely, however, because many people still enjoy the shopping experience. Shopping with a good friend, followed by coffee or a movie, is impossible to deliver online….