Retailing Shakeout

June 8, 2018 • Volume 28, Issue 21
Can brick-and-mortar stores still thrive?
By Pat Wechsler


A sign announces a liquidation sale at a 60-year-old Sears store in Chicago on July 7, 2017 (Cover: Getty Images/Scott Olson)
A sign announces a liquidation sale at a 60-year-old Sears store in Chicago on July 7, 2017. Sears said in late May it would close 72 more stores after losing $424 million during the first quarter of 2018. Debt-burdened retailing giants such as Sears are being challenged by innovative merchants that merge digital marketing with a brick-and-mortar presence. (Cover: Getty Images/Scott Olson)

Store closings and bankruptcies continue at a blistering pace as many debt-laden retailers struggle to adapt to a rapidly expanding world of online commerce. Yet, the upheaval masks the retailing industry's surprising strengths. U.S. retail sales totaled a record $5.7 trillion in 2017, and this year's business looks to be similarly robust. The explosive popularity of internet shopping is forcing traditional retailers to find new ways to lure tech-savvy customers. Some stores are functioning more as product showrooms and others as “experiential” venues designed to attract shoppers with such offerings as cooking classes, quirky mattress-testing settings and computer-simulated wardrobe fittings. But the industry still has a glut of stores. Chains such as Sears and Walgreens/Rite Aid are closing hundreds of stores, and Toys R Us, among others, is going under. Traditional retailers also face stiff competition from Amazon and other online retailers, some of which are opening physical stores — an acknowledgment that most Americans, however wedded to technology, still prefer to shop in person.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Chain Stores
Feb. 10, 2023  The Changing Retail Landscape
Jun. 08, 2018  Retailing Shakeout
Sep. 10, 2004  Big-Box Stores
Mar. 22, 1938  Equalization of Chain Store Competition
Aug. 28, 1934  Taxation of Chain Stores
Apr. 24, 1930  The Chain Store Problem in 1930
May 21, 1928  Development of Chain Store Merchandising
Computers and the Internet
Consumer Behavior
Consumer Credit and Debt
Economic Analyses, Forecasts, and Statistics
General Social Trends
Internet and Social Media
Popular Culture
Retail Trade