The other day, my Facebook friend Kevin McKeever called my attention to a news story (warning: autoplaying video) on the Toys R Us affair. It seems that at about the same time as I posted my previous article speculating on Toys R Us’s impending bankruptcy, Toys R Us went ahead and filed for it. The chain will be keeping its stores open as it reorganizes and tries to get rid of some of its load of debt.
But the interesting thing is that story listed almost two dozen other retailers that were closing or had closed some or many of their outlets. The list included Abercrombie & Fitch, Aerosoles, American Apparel, BCBG, Bebe, The Children’s Place, CVS, Guess, Gymboree, HH Gregg, JC Penny, The Limited, Macy’s, Michael Kors, Payless, Radio Shack, Rue21, Sears/Kmart, and Wet Seal. How many of those do you think can blame Amazon in whole or part for the straits in which they find themselves?
Barnes & Noble may not be too far behind, judging from Nate Hoffelder’s latest piece on chairman Len Riggio’s virtuoso fiddling while the chain burns down around him. Meanwhile, Mike Shatzkin has noticed that one big box chain is unexpectedly finding ways to fight back and stay relevant in the Amazon era. Best Buy—who I discussed last year as possibly providing a model for a B&N comeback—has leveraged its vast number of retail outlet stores into effective competition with Amazon’s speedy shipping. When an online order comes in, it ships the item from the nearest store that has it available in inventory. It’s undeniably a clever idea, not least for that it makes in-store inventory accessible to online orders even when the warehouses are out of stock.
Best Buy is also able to partner with competitors to Amazon in device manufacturing—Apple and Microsoft—and offer them retail space within its stores from which their representatives can assist people in person. But Amazon can partner with physical retailers, too—witness the recent announcement that Kohl’s outlets around Los Angeles and Chicago will accept, package, and ship back Amazon returns. And that’s quite apart from the way Amazon recently bought Whole Foods, and announced that Amazon Prime would also be Whole Foods’s new customer loyalty program.
It seems that physical retail and online stores like Amazon are in something of a collision course now. The next few years may well be interesting times in the Chinese sense. And to think that all this came about because of a company started out of Jeff Bezos’s parents’ garage to sell books over the Internet. You never can tell just what acorn is going to grow into an immense oak that threatens to cut off everyone else’s sunlight.