OPINION: JC Penney, Payless Shoes, K-Mart and Herbergers…Are Their Closures a Sign of Retail Doom?

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Herberger's is the latest retail store to close their doors in Rock Springs. Photo: Herberger's Facebook page
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The following was written and submitted by Trina Brittain.

Thousands of locals have worked and shopped at Herberger’s. It has been the anchor at White Mountain Mall for over 30 years. Less than a decade ago, they had a beautiful remodel/expansion. To me, Herberger’s was a mini-version of Dillard’s. That was my “go-to” for my last-minute holiday shopping.

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In 1991, the population of Rock Springs was about 19,000. Now that we have more than 23,000 residents, why are we losing retail shops instead of gaining more?

Based on current research, the younger consumers who live in smaller communities, agree that they just don’t want to spend time wandering from one store to another. They consider it more convenient to order on-line. A few pointed out that they feel ignored while they’re browsing. I completely understand.

For example, I remember “touring” through a Macy’s for a cashier to check my items out. Keep in mind, that store is HUGE! Maybe the sales associates were in the freight room, organizing merchandise or perhaps a couple of them are on a cigarette break? I had no clue. All I knew at the time was my feet were killing me. I didn’t need a personal shopper to help me choose a few new outfits but I needed someone to take my credit card! I also noticed how quiet it was in Macy’s. It wasn’t the same sort of “shopper buzz” I listened to as my daughter and I browsed around for back to school attire back in the day.

Others are fortunate to have the one-on-one attention they receive from sales associates; they can actually try on those Calvin Kline jeans BEFORE purchasing them.

What made these stores and others like Sears and Toys R’ Us fail? For any business, product quality and location is essential to the business’s success and most importantly, customer service. I believe most sales professionals stopped trying. They let the internet beat them before the battle even began.

One day, I walked into an independently-owned business and to my surprise, I found the employee laying, literally laying down on a blanket she had placed on the floor! That gave me the impression that she wasn’t ready for customers, she was ready for a nap!

It’s still too soon to freak out. Have you seen e-commerce sales make up 50, 60 or even 70 percent of overall sales yet? I haven’t. That is not going to happen for quite a while. Having said that, let’s put our game faces back on and show everyone we mean business.

I truly believe that in order to save retail, we need to create a more personalized experience for the customer – that will encourage customer loyalty and increase spending.

For instance, I noticed a new customer service trend when I was shopping in Oklahoma City four years ago; I followed the sales associate to a dressing room. After asking me for my name, she wrote it on a little dry erase board that was hanging on the dressing room door. That added a nice touch to the shopping experience. It also helps the associates remember the shopper’s name and it’s a cute way to break the ice.

I took three steps into a Victoria’s Secret and before I could say, “Squirrel!”, a sales associate ran up to me, ready to assist me with a measuring tape! Chattering Chipmunks, they were on top of it! We were surrounded by eager beavers willing to find you a pretty dress for “date night” or the most comfortable shoes in the world.

Agreeably, it’s so important to “humanize” the shopping experience. Without it, we are better off buying products on-line. We also have to be experts of the products we sell. I can’t be a successful server unless I know the menu, correct? If the customer is aware that you have that kind of knowledge, you will be his or her retail destination for life – that customer will need you. And most significantly, that customer will refer you to other shoppers.

Clearly, the travel and tourism industry is not in jeopardy. Restaurants are safe – we have to eat. Most people don’t have the time or the energy to cook. Carry-out sales (or curb-side orders/mobile orders) have increased, which can discourage a few servers who specialize in dine-in service. Most folks are in a hurry.

Lastly, since we need a place to sleep when we travel, hotels will always exist.

I believe retail can be saved. It’s OK to tell a customer, “We can find that size for you on-line and ship it to our store” but remember to keep that shopper in your store by introducing new items too. “Hey, while you’re here, I have to show you these new adorable purses. I think one of them will pair well with that dress you’re getting.” Make the shopping experience an adventure, not a chore. Have fun with your customers and just…be human.