Is Amazon really to blame for so many retail giants in America going out of business, filing bankruptcy or closing a large number of their brick and mortar stores? I was just reading an article, Retail Apocalyse: These Big Retailers are Closing Stores and Filing for Bankruptcy on Fox Business and I wondered whether it is true that the “rise of e-commerce outlets like Amazon has made it harder for retailers to attract customers to their stores”?

It is true that consumers are generally flooded with options these days, generally speaking. Because of the Internet, I believe a lot of other industries – including medicine, education, entertainment and law – could find themselves having to rethink how they deal with clients and customers and many may just straight up become obsolete. The Internet and “online shopping” (people shop for doctors, lawyers, entertainers and educators just like thy shop for clothes these days) is definitely messing up everybody’s game.  But is the Internet a cause or is it more of an effect for retailers in particular? This is what is not so clear for me.

The cadre of brands that are having trouble in America (and other places in the world) is pretty humbling. The group includes Macy’s, Michael Kors (Michael Kors???) Payless, Retail Shack, Sears/Kmart, Victoria’s Secret and others. In the case of Victoria’s Secret, the writer opines “The venerable brand is contending with shifting fashion tastes as rivals embrace inclusive and comfortable styles.”

Hmmm. That word “inclusion” strikes a note. One only has to look at how a brand chooses to market its clothing and products to wonder, as a consumer “hey, is someone like me a part of this experience when I never see anyone like me in the marketing campaigns?” Especially with new operational models like, say, a brand like Fenty — run by music icon Rihanna – which makes inclusion such an important part of its DNA. And it makes me wonder whether some or all of these brands lost customers or had trouble “attracting customers to their stores” because customers who historically felt like they were not “included” never developed brand loyalty in the first place (because, how could they really?) and immediately decided to jump ship and shop online once that option became available?

Could Brand loyalty be the problem in other words? And could the problem come from the brands themselves who failed to understand the importance of courting, attracting, RESPECTING and retaining customers by employing policies that make customers feel welcomed in their stores? In other words, it is even worse than not being included. In some cases, could it have been that customers felt unwelcomed like they did not belong once inside; or worse that they couldn’t even go in? Were too many customers made to feel like “undesirables” where some of these brands are concerned? This is not an accusation. It’s just a question. Were they?

If customers were made to feel like undesirables, if that had something to do with all these failures, brand strategists may be wondering how to make customers feel more included and welcomed in their stores to stem the hemorrhaging they are experiencing with all these bankruptcies and store closings all over the place. And that’s a damn good question. There are probably many different ways to do it. But they should probably think about in store personnel as a starting point: security guards, cashiers, salesgirl and sales guys, for example, who interact with customers from the moment they step into the store (and sometimes even before they step in). Is the team welcoming to customers – or are certain customers routinely made to feel stressed out and harassed for daring to patronize these enterprises by being profiled, stalked, ignored, insulted etc, by store personnel? Because one really has to think about this seriously. In the times we live with so many options, who the heck would want to continue to have such an experience if they can simply shop online and avoid the humiliation that routinely comes from entering certain stores to spend their hard-earned paychecks?

Maybe brands don’t mind having to close so many stores. Maybe e-commerce is more financially advantageous for brands in the end. But the fact that they are moaning about it means that in at least some cases, some brands are worried about this trend: that consumers don’t want to go into their stores anymore. And if that is the case, they need to evaluate all the reasons why. I believe that in at least some of the cases, it is the in-store experience that certain consumers have, as a matter of routine, when they patronize these brands. Over time, not only is brand loyalty lost but a real resentment against these brands set in. Before you know it, not just store closings happen, but the entire brand disappears – and with them, so many people are losing their jobs (including the in store personnel who drove the customers out with their unwelcoming attitude in the first place).