Retail apocalypse

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Entrance to former Sears at Hudson Valley Mall, outside Kingston, New York, in the town of Ulster, closed in 2018. It had been the mall's last anchor store

The retail apocalypse is the closing of a large number of North American brick-and-mortar retail stores, especially those of large chains, starting in 2008 and continuing onward.[1][2] Over 12,000 physical stores have been closed, due to factors such as over-expansion of malls, rising rents, bankruptcies of leveraged buyouts, low quarterly profits outside holiday binge spending, delayed effects of the Great Recession,[2] and changes in spending habits. North American consumers have shifted their purchasing habits due to various factors, including experience-spending versus material goods and homes, casual fashion in relaxed dress codes, as well as the rise of e-commerce,[3] mostly in the form of competition from juggernaut companies such as and Walmart.

Major department stores such as J. C. Penney, Macy's, Sears, and Kmart have announced hundreds of store closures, and well-known apparel brands such as J. Crew are unprofitable. More than 12,000 stores are expected to close in 2018, and only 4,000 of them have been planned by several retailers.[4] Several retailers such as Toys "R" Us and The Bon-Ton have liquidated and closed all their stores in some or all countries of operation.

Recent research from IHL Group shows a net increase of more than 2,000 store openings by the end of 2018. IHL also found that for every retailer closing stores, two are adding stores, and two-thirds of the store closings are tied to just 16 stores.[5]

The retail apocalypse phenomenon is related to the middle-class squeeze, in which consumers experience a decrease in income while costs increase for education, healthcare, and housing[citation needed]. Bloomberg stated that the cause of the retail apocalypse "isn't as simple as Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms."[6]

The most productive retailers in the United States during the retail apocalypse are the discount superstores Walmart and Target, the low-cost "fast-fashion" brands (e.g., Zara, Uniqlo, Cotton On, Forever 21, and H&M), off-price department stores (Ross Stores and DD's Discounts, Marshalls and Burlington) and dollar stores (e.g., Dollar General and Dollar Tree).[7] At least one private equity firm, Sycamore Partners, has made money buying assets from brick-and-mortar chains during the retail apocalypse.[8] Pop-up retail, including seasonal retailers such as Spirit Halloween, have become a common factor during the retail apocalypse operating temporarily in vacant spots after companies go out of business, or store closings, as a result of it.

Accompanying the store closings were, in many cases, significant declines in the stock prices of publicly traded retail companies.[9]


Since at least 2010, various economic factors have resulted in the closing of a large number of North American retailers, particularly in the department store industry. For instance, Sears Holdings, which had 4,038 Kmart and Sears stores in the United States and Canada in 2011 with 312,000 employees (the company had 355,000 employees at its peak in 2006 with 3,843 stores), including Orchard Supply Hardware locations that were spun off in 2012, those now spun off to Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores on October 11, 2012 and a de-consolidation of Sears Canada on October 16, 2014, was down to 1,002 in the United States in 2018 with 89,000 employees, with more closures scheduled, and will be down to 425 stores and 50,000 employees after the store closures are completed by March 2019.[10] Kmart operated 2,486 stores, including 2,323 in the U.S.,[11] at its peak in 1994,[12] a number that has since dwindled to 432 in 2018 with further closures planned and will be down to 202 stores after the store closures are completed by March 2019.[13][14]

The term "retail apocalypse" began gaining widespread usage in 2017 following multiple announcements from many major retailers of plans to either discontinue or greatly scale back a retail presence, including companies such as H.H. Gregg, Family Christian Stores and The Limited all going out of business entirely.[15] The Atlantic describes the phenomenon as "The Great Retail Apocalypse of 2017," reporting nine retail bankruptcies and several apparel companies having their stock hit new lows, including that of Lululemon, Urban Outfitters, American Eagle.[2] Credit Suisse, a major global financial services company, predicted that 25% of U.S. malls remaining in 2017 could close by 2022.[16]

The retail apocalypse has had a domino effect on suppliers; Hasbro, for example, cited the loss of the Toys R Us chain as a major cause for lost revenue and layoffs the company imposed in October 2018.[17]

In the second half of 2017 and throughout 2018, the media and analyst community began recognizing retail as an industry in transition, rather than demise. Bloomberg said in May 2018 that 'the death of retail has been greatly exaggerated' and Telsey Advisory Group stated that 'retail is not dead' in August 2018 following news that the SPDR S&P Retail ETF had risen 13% year to date to a record high, more than double the return of the S&P 500 Index.[18][19]

In June 2018, SeekingAlpha wrote that 90 percent of purchases are still made in stores, and except for Amazon, the top ten retailers are brick-and mortar operators: in order, they are Walmart, Kroger, Costco, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens,, Target, Lowe's and Albertsons.[20]

Numerous pureplay online retailers including Warby Parker, Untuckit, Casper, Away, Wayfair and TheRealReal have announced plans to open their first physical stores and expand their existing footprints in 2018 and beyond.[21][22][23]

JLL reports that digitally native brands will open 850 stores in the next five years. These retailers are finding that opening a physical store has a halo effect on web traffic: A study from the International Council of Shopping Centers shows that a new store increases traffic to that retailer's website by an average of 37 percent and drives up share of web traffic within that market by 27 percent.[24][25][26]

The National Retail Federation forecasted that 2018 retail sales would climb at least 4.5 percent over 2017, pointing to higher wages, gains in disposable income, a strong job market and record-high household net worth for very robust growth in the nation's consumer-driven economy.[27]

Affected retailers[edit]

Sears Holdings filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2018 and plans to close about 142 of its 700 stores by the end of 2018. Toys "R" Us filed for bankruptcy,[28] and closed all its US stores in June 2018.[29][30] In late 2018, the brand name was pulled out of bankruptcy protection; there are currently plans for it to return in the form of specialty stores under the name "Geoffrey's Toy Box".

Bloomingdale's in 2012 announced it would close four stores, including at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Additionally, a home store at Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook, Illinois and full line stores in Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody, Georgia and at White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, Maryland have closed their doors. On January 3, 2013, Bloomingdale's announced that they would close the Las Vegas Home store at Fashion Show Mall.[31]

GUESS? closed 60 stores in 2017 and is expected to close more than 100 stores in 2018,[32] leaving roughly half from its high of 400 stores.[32]

J. C. Penney announced in February 2017 that it would close 138 stores in 2017. Liquidation sales began on May 22, and stores closed by July 31.[33] Another 8 stores and a distribution center closed in 2018. J. C. Penney announced plans to close a total of 30 stores in 2019.[34]

J. Crew closed 61 stores in 2017, and closed additional stores in the first quarter of 2018.[35]

Payless ShoeSource plans to close all its 2,000 stores in the US and Canada,[36][37] and is going out of business in 2019.

Unaffected retailers[edit]

The retailers below are ones that are defying the retail apocalypse by opening stores, remodeling stores, and/or being able to surivive changing trends.

Ulta Beauty is opening 100 stores in 2018
As of 2018, Build-A-Bear Workshop had expanded its physical footprint by 12% and had been profitable for four straight years[38]
  • Aldi is planning to open 180 new stores by the end of 2018 and grow to 2,500 stores by 2022.[39]
  • At Home opened its 150th store in 2018 and plans to open even more stores.[40]
  • Boscov's, after emerging from bankruptcy in 2009,[41] saw record sales of $1.2 billion in 2017 and continues to open new stores.[42]
  • Build-A-Bear Workshop remains as the mall-based toy retailer surviving the retail apocalypse in 2018, after Toys 'R' Us announced plans to close all 735 of its U.S. stores in March 2018.[38]
  • Costco Wholesale opened 8 new stores in the first half of fiscal year 2018 and planned to open 18 to 20 new stores during the second half of 2018.[43]
  • Dick's Sporting Goods will open 20 stores in 2018, though this is a slowdown compared to before. CEO Ed Stack mentioned that they would open more locations once market rents drop.[39]
  • Dollar General planned to open 1,846 new stores in 2018, remodel 1,568 stores, and relocate 219 stores.[40]
  • Dollar Tree, also operating Family Dollar, opened 137 stores in fiscal year 2017. The company opened 603 new stores overall in the year of 2017.[44]
  • Duluth Trading Company plans to expand to 100 locations by 2023, mainly opening 15 stores in 2018.[45]
  • Fabletics announced in late 2015 that it would open 50 to 100 stores over the next five years.
  • Five Below planned to open 125 stores in 2018.[44]
  • The Home Depot is opening new stores across the United States and Canada.
  • Harbor Freight Tools continues to open up to 5 stores per week in some states, at least 1 every three days in any given operating state.
  • Hobby Lobby planned to open 60 new locations in 2018.[44]
  • Old Navy, the most successful unit of Gap, Inc., is being spun off from its parent company as it continues to grow and add stores while the rest of Gap's portfolio underperforms.[39]
  • Ollie's Bargain Outlet planned to open 36 to 38 new stores in 2018.[44]
  • Publix announced plans in 2016 to expand to Northern Virginia with new stores located in that area.
  • Ross Stores announced plans to open 75 Ross stores and 25 DD's Discounts stores in 2018.[39]
  • Target planned to open 35 small format stores in 2018 and remodel more than 300 existing stores.[40]
  • Tillys will open new stores in the US in 2019.
  • TJX Companies, owner of T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls, etc. opened 258 by fiscal year 2018 for a total of 4,070 stores as of the fiscal year.[44]
  • In 2018, Party City announced that they would open their first Toy City stores by September 2018, filling the void left by Toys "R" Us.[46][47]
  • Tractor Supply Company opened 101 new stores in 2017, with plans to open 80 stores during 2018.[48]
  • UNTUCKit plans to grow to 100 stores by 2022.[49]
  • Ulta Beauty planned to open around 100 new stores and remodel 17 existing stores in fiscal year 2018.[40]
  • Walmart opened 89 stores in 2017 and will open more in 2018. No exact target was disclosed as of April 2018.[43]
  • Warby Parker, an eyeglass retailer, planned to open 40 stores by the end of 2018.[40]


... several trends—including the rise of e-commerce, the over-supply of malls, and the surprising effects of a restaurant renaissance—have conspired to change the face of American shopping.

The Atlantic[2]

The main factor cited in the closing of retail stores in the retail apocalypse is the shift in consumer habits towards online shopping.[50] Holiday sales for e-commerce were reported as increasing by 11% for 2016 compared with 2015 by Adobe Digital Insights, with Slice Intelligence reporting an even more generous 20% increase. Comparatively, brick-and-mortar stores saw an overall increase of only 1.6%, with physical department stores experiencing a 4.8% decline.[51] Another factor is an over-supply of malls,[52] as the growth rate of malls between 1970 and 2015 was over twice the growth rate of the population. In 2004, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that investment in malls was artificially accelerated when the U.S. Congress introduced accelerated depreciation into the tax code in 1954.[53] Despite the construction of new malls, mall visits declined by 50% between 2010-2013 with further declines reported in each successive year.[54] A third major reported factor is the "restaurant renaissance," a shift in consumer spending habits for their disposable cash from material purchases such as clothing towards dining out and travel.[2] Another cited factor is the "death of the American middle class," resulting in large-scale closures of retailers such as Macy's and Sears, which traditionally relied on spending from this market segment.[55] The final factor in poor brick-and-mortar sales performance is a combination of poor retail management coupled with an overcritical eye towards quarterly dividends: a lack of accurate inventory control creates both underperforming and out-of-stock merchandise, causing a poor shopping experience for customers in order to optimize short-term balance sheets,[56] the latter of which also influences the desire to understaff retail stores in order to keep claimed profits high.[57] Furthermore several private-equity forms have bought many retailers and loaded them with extraordinary amounts of debt, which hinders the profitable operation of retail chains.[58][59]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c d e Thompson, Derek (April 10, 2017). "What in the World Is Causing the Retail Meltdown of 2017?". The Atlantic. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
  3. ^ Photo slideshow of shuttered retail stores and shopping centers Business Insider
  4. ^ A tsunami of store closings is about to hit the US — and it's expected to eclipse the retail carnage of 2017 Hayley Peterson, Business Insider, January 1, 2018
  5. ^ "Investor's Business Daily | GDPR Agreement". Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  6. ^ America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning Matt Townsend, Jenny Surane, Emma Orr and Christopher Cannon, Bloomberg, November 8, 2017
  7. ^ The US middle class is disappearing, which makes dollar stores very happy Helen Edwards & Dave Edwards, 8 December 2017
  8. ^ Gottfried, Miriam (March 21, 2018). "How One Investor Made a Fortune Picking Over the Retail Apocalypse". Wall Street Journal.
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  10. ^ Snyder, Michael (January 8, 2017). "It's A Retail Apocalypse: Sears, Macy's And The Limited Are All Closing Store". The Economic Collapse. Retrieved April 10, 2017.
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  29. ^ Brad Tuttle, Up Next in the Retail Apocalypse: Toys R Us? September 7, 2017
  30. ^ Toys R Us closing its stores Darren Geeter, CNBC, 29 June 2018
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  32. ^ a b 9 fashion retailers on life support Pamela N. Danziger, 2018/01/14
  33. ^ Driscoll, Kara (April 13, 2017). "JC Penney postponing store closures". WHIO-TV. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  34. ^ J.C. Penney to close 24 more stores: Sales fall as department stores struggle NATHAN BOMEY, USA TODAY, 28 February 2019
  35. ^ Cassi, Sarah (March 15, 2018). "J. Crew, Ann Taylor out at Lehigh Valley Mall". Retrieved March 24, 2018.
  36. ^ Payless ShoeSource plans to liquidate and close all U.S. stores TODAY, Ronnie Koenig, February 16, 2019
  37. ^ "Payless to close all 248 Canadian stores, liquidation sales expected |". 2019-02-19. Retrieved 2019-03-05.
  38. ^ a b BAHLER, KRISTEN (March 27, 2018). "As Toys R' Us Closes, Only One Major Toy Store Is Thriving in the Retail Apocalypse".
  39. ^ a b c d Thomas, Lauren (March 24, 2018). "Ulta, Gap, Target and more: These retailers are still opening stores in 2018". CNBC. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
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