Make us your home page
Instagram

Despite 25 years of changes, the retailing song remains the same

A crew from Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Largo demolishes the former Burdines store at the former Clearwater Mall.

Scott Keeler | Times (2002)

A crew from Sonny Glasbrenner Inc. of Largo demolishes the former Burdines store at the former Clearwater Mall.

All I wanted was four pairs of socks.

Gift card in hand, I asked the Nordstrom clerk where I could find them. Not here, came the answer. But he could find them lickity split at another store, he said, whipping out the latest in retail technology, an iPad.

Several apologies, two cash registers and 15 minutes later, the socks were ordered.

"You know, we used to do this all in a few minutes on the phone," apologized the exasperated clerk.

Nordstrom will certainly tune up its latest brush with tech gadgetry. Still, the experience struck me as I retire this week after 25 years on the beat: the retail world once again bungling the automation of a task that it was already doing well. To steal a phrase, the more retailing changes, the more it stays the same.

In my time . . .

• Nothing was altered more drastically than the grocery store landscape. Publix gained market share while Walmart muscled its way from zero to second place in only seven years. Albertsons is gone, Winn-Dixie and USave are shadows of what they were, and Kash n' Karry survived by transforming itself to Sweetbay. Meantime, Fresh Market and Whole Foods arrived to woo foodies, while Aldi, Save-A-Lot and now dollar stores go after the low price, limited selection crowd. Despite many attempts, no one in Florida could turn a profit from online groceries.

• A parade of department stores disappeared: Maas Brothers, JByron, Burdines, Robinson's, Maison Blanche, Gayfer's, Ivey's, Montgomery Ward and Jacobson's. They were replaced by midmarket Kohl's, Dillard's, Macy's and high-end newcomers Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. That, plus the arrival of Gucci and Louis Vuitton, shut up the "we're not worthy" naysayers convinced Tampa Bay was some fashion backwater. Saks left Denver and San Diego but has been in Tampa for 14 years.

• Reflecting changed shopping habits, Sunshine Mall, Clearwater Mall, Gateway Mall, Pinellas Square, East Lake Square and Floridan Mall were leveled as replacement malls sprung up further out in new suburbs of Brandon, Citrus Park, Wiregrass and by 2014, an outlet mall in Wesley Chapel. Once International Plaza and Ikea opened, about $1 billion in annual retail sales (and the sales tax revenue that goes with it) left Pinellas County as residents took their shopping to Hills­borough County.

• Many local chains vanished: Eckerd Drug, Joel n' Jerry, JumboSports, Colony Shops, Homestyle Buffet and What a World. But thanks to locally grown Outback Steakhouse, Checkers and Hooters, the bay area is fertile breeding ground for restaurant chains — Bonefish Grille, Lee Roy Selmon's, First Watch, Carmel Cafe, Pete & Shorty's, Burger Monger, Red Elephant Cafe, PDQ, LifeFit Foods, Brass Tap and World of Beer.

• HSN evolved from a bargain basement carnival to a legitimate fashion and home decor retailer. The pioneer TV shopping network now gets 43 percent of its $3 billion annual sales online and last week caught flak from mobile app customers grumbling they had to watch ads for a casino to play HSN video games on their cellphone.

• Internet retailing wiped out some big electronics, music, book and video chains. Nobody figured you could sell shoes to women online until Zappo's sold $1 billion of them annually. Amazon.com, already a retail colossus, is now moving into upscale fashion but fighting an uphill political battle to keep its advantage of not collecting sales tax.

But today eight of the 10 largest online retailers including Walmart and Sears are deeply entrenched in running stores, too. They are the established players morphing into full-fledged multi-channel retailers that sell anywhere a shopper wants to browse or buy — in a store, at home in their pajamas, on a laptop at Starbucks or from a smartphone that doubles as a catalog filled with customer reviews and a point-and-shoot credit card.

The point is more technology just for the sake of technology overlooks what has not changed. Shoppers still balance three factors in choosing where they buy: price, selection and how a retailer treats them.

My bet is they will be doing the same 25 years from now.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Despite 25 years of changes, the retailing song remains the same 05/28/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.
  5. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]