This week I was saddened by the news that US retailer Coldwater Creek has officially filed for bankruptcy and will be closing. As sad as I was, I certainly wasn't surprised. I feel bad for those who are going to lose their jobs, but as for those in the higher up decision making positions, they kind of had it coming. I will tell you why.
Coldwater Creek has unfortunately done the same thing that so many companies have been doing over the past decade--trying to be too trendy. Back when my mom and I first discovered them, they sold high quality goods that had a unique appeal. They had a nice variety of stuff for sale as well--gift items, jewelry, men's clothing (gasp!), home goods. I looked forward to the catalog coming because there was always something that caught my eye, either for myself or as a gift for someone else. And their clearance sales were the bomb, I remember one time getting $1200 worth of stuff for about $250, all of it nice quality and most of it I wore for several years because it was well made and classic styling but still up to date.
About 10 years ago they opened a store at our local outlet mall, my friends and I were all excited. I shopped there regularly, I even had a credit card that earned points towards more Coldwater Creek stuff (I actually earned enough points to get a lamp for free!). It was nice having a store close that I could go try things on at and not have to worry about shipping things back if they didn't fit, plus they ran terrific sales. It came in very handy for someone who worked in a professional office situation.
Then things started to change. The clothing not only went towards more trendy stuff, but also things that I found very unappealing. I don't want to wear a bag, I like tailored, well fitting clothes with a classic style. They also raised their prices considerably. The final nail in the coffin was when the quality went horribly downhill. I placed an order a couple of years ago via the catalog and ended up returning the majority of it because even at clearance prices, it wasn't worth it. Most of the last couple of things I bought ended up headed to the Goodwill because they didn't hold up. My closet at one time looked like an advertisement for Coldwater Creek--I now own only two pieces of their clothing, a white tank top and a velvet dress. I can't tell you the last time I set foot in one of their stores. Sad.
The reason I'm calling this a cautionary tale is that I think the Coldwater Creek bankruptcy should be a wake up call to many of the retailers in the US (and probably other places). Don't forget your roots, don't forget your core customers, trendy isn't always the best way to go. I'm concerned because I see too many companies doing exactly what Coldwater Creek did, and in this uncertain economy, it's dangerous. I'll be honest, if anything were to happen to Lands' End or LL Bean along these lines, I'd be one unhappy camper, but I see them doing this and it scares me. I read several different clothing related blogs and the comments seem to be the same--everyone has the same complaints with clothing that doesn't fit correctly, quality lacking, and some standby items just disappearing. I was also surprised to see that many of these people are doing the same thing I am--turning to thrift and consignment stores to find what they are looking for, and saving money at the same time. While that's great for the environment and the organizations that benefit, not exactly great for retail or the overall economy.
Solutions? Reduce the number of items offered and improve the quality of what is still offered. Quit catering to all of the trends, stick to the items that you are known for and incorporate a trend or two. The biggie--quality control. This is a problem everywhere, not just in the clothing industry, and it seems as though no one in positions of authority cares. We are outsourcing everything which while I'm not wild about, I do realize that not everything can be made domestically. The problem is that retailers aren't checking items to be sure that they live up to the customers expectations as well as safe to have in our possession. It's not been all that long ago that we had the scare with children's toys containing high levels of lead. That never should have happened, but retailers seem to be more concerned with profits than safety. NOT acceptable. Today I am cleaning my kitchen and I will be throwing out something that has not lived up to my expectations. It didn't hold up, and I'm not sure that it's safe to use anymore. It wasn't cheap, and I see many of the same complaints on this company's website, yet they don't seem to be addressing it. I won't buy anymore of it and that seems to be the general consensus. Not good for an item that this retailer promotes constantly and used to be of good quality. I know because I have one of their older pieces. They would rather lose customers than improve the quality back to previous levels. Hmmmm................
The one thing that retailers need to realize is that we as a nation have changed our buying habits considerably due to the economic downturn of a few years ago. Many families are still trying to get back on their feet financially, so when they are shopping for anything, they aren't buying as much as they used to and they want quality. We also realize that we don't NEED as much as we thought we did, many families had no choice but to do without some of these creature comforts. Throw in television influence from shows like "Hoarders"--collectively many of are realizing that we have way too much stuff to begin with and even if finances are back up to pre-recession levels, that urge to buy has lessened. Plus with the increased technology and the internet, when we do shop, we are much better informed and prepared. Shoppers are the savviest they have ever been.
I hope that this and some of the other recent company closings are a warning for those who are skirting the edge. I'm holding my breath on some of my favorites, keeping my fingers crossed that they make it through this crucial time. Now is the key time for retail businesses to get their act together, it's make or break. I just hope they are paying attention.