April 24, 2017
Bebe Latest Retailer to Shutter Stores
The death watch for American retail stores continues as shoppers are still choosing online over buying at branded department stores. The latest casualty is Bebe, which defined its brand as a “unique sophisticated and timelessly sexy” line of ladies clothing. Apparently, customers did not agree … at least not enough of them to keep the brick and mortar aspect of the brand afloat. According to reports in CNN, Bebe will close all its 168 brick and mortar shops in the United States and Canada.
Initially, the plan was for the company to close 28 stores, then try to plan a turnaround. That idea only lasted a few weeks before leadership decided to pull the plug for good.That’s not to say the brand is going away for good. While there’s no confirmation on this, there are rumors, perhaps even strong indications, that the company plans to keep its online shop open for fans of the product.
If that’s the case, Bebe has another set of challenges to overcome, and most of these have everything to do with customer experience and, thus, public relations.
One of the chief complaints of customers who have fled big box or departments stores for online shopping is that they’re actually getting better service online than they do in the stores. Returns are easier, interface is easier, and there’s a lot more stock to be had than they can find at the brick and mortar store.
But it’s not just the selection that has people going online. They’re just not getting the customer service they used to, and that was one of the reasons they were willing to pay more at the department stores in the first place.
While, yes, people are not buying as much as they once were, the drop in purchasing is far from the only reason retailers are suffering. Customers look at it this way: if they can’t get better service at a brick and mortar store, what’s the point of going. They can order and pay with a few clicks online, and, if the product doesn’t fit, most of the bigger brands and more successful online retail sites have quick and simple return protocols. They saw a declining upside to going to the mall and have just … stopped. Twenty, maybe even ten years ago, that would have been considered unthinkable, but now it’s a reality that the remaining brick and mortar retailers need to figure out a way to live and thrive in.
The failure of these brands to adapt and deliver what customers are looking for is costing the American economy huge. Thousands of Bebe employees will lose their jobs, following a trend set by Sears, JC Penney, and Macy’s, who have all had to cut staff and close stores in recent years. Even upscale retailer Neiman Marcus is suffering, telegraphing plans to sell the struggling company after very poor early 2017 sales.