What has always been clear is that if companies do not invest in their workers they will fail in the marketplace – just like J.C. Penny and American Apparel.
A face-to-face, human experience is always going to have a place in retail if companies want to survive a shift to online sales. We see it at Bloomingdale's 59th Street and Macy's Herald Square. These are internationally famous tourist destinations that are hugely profitable, making up nearly 9 percent of Macy's sales alone, and their knowledgeable and experienced retail workers are a big part of their continued success. These workers are the face of the stores, and by extension, the face of the company.
Consumers can't get this experience by shopping online, and they'll continue to come to these brick-and-mortar stores – even if they end up buying online. It's an experience they'll never be able to duplicate by filling up their Amazon shopping cart. Nor will these iconic companies ever be able to compete on pricing in the online marketplace.
Bottom line: We don't see a death of retail stores, but a reconfiguration. Consumers will always need products, and brands will always need storefronts for visibility and to satisfy customers' need to touch and feel products for quality and fit. What we've actually seen is a growth in fulfillment jobs, many of which come with higher wages, but that still don't give workers a voice.
Other voices in the conversation:
- Mark A. Cohen, professor, Columbia Business School: Amazon is unstoppable
- Kirsten Green, founder, Forerunner Ventures: Online shopping is no fun
- Oscar Yuan, president, Ipsos Strategy3: Amazon spurns Gucci shows
- Joseph B. Fuller, professor, Harvard Business School: People want to see each other face-to-face