Times have certainly changed since the days when I first started my retail career in 1981, but that isn’t exactly shocking, is it? I never realized how much it had changed until I went back to work at Macy’s a year ago after a hiatus of staying home to raise my children.
The biggest difference? Technology, technology, technology! Everyone needs to buy things……whether it is clothing, shoes, groceries, furniture or home appliances. That hasn’t changed. However, how the retailers track these sales, track orders, determine everything from profitability to the next place to open a new location has become faster, more accurate and more specific due to technology. It has also streamlined job functions. So many things are computer generated that in many cases, it has eliminated the need for people which means fewer jobs.
In the past twenty years, many major retailers have combined and some have closed. This means that you have fewer buyers buying for more stores. It gives buyers more clout because they have more money to spend and can generate quantity discounts. The downside to that is that the computer doesn’t always know why something isn’t selling or who a particular customer is in a certain store. Buyers work to choose merchandise and negotiate pricing but tend to be less in touch with how their pricing translates to trying to merchandise a selling floor so it makes sense to the customer. If a buyer has 500 stores, he or she can’t know if something isn’t selling because the customer doesn’t like it, it doesn’t fit well, or because it isn’t marked down correctly or is in the stockroom and not on a selling floor available for purchase.
There are so many wonderful things about the fast pace and efficiency of technology in retail, but I sometimes wonder how much gain there is at the expense of the human element of seeing the merchandise on the floor, how it is presented and if it is marked and signed correctly. There is something invaluable about talking to sales associates about how something is selling and getting their feedback. They are the front line with the customer.