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 [email protected] 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. Carrollwood fitness center employs scientific protocol to help clients

    Business

    In 2005, Al Roach and Virginia Phillips, husband and wife, opened 20 Minutes to Fitness in Lakewood Ranch, and last month they opened the doors to their new location in Carrollwood.

    Preston Fisher, a personal fitness coach at 20 Minutes To Fitness, stands with an iPad while general manager/owner Angela Begin conducts an equipment demonstration. The iPad is used to track each client's information and progress. I also included one shot of just the equipment. The center recently opened in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  2. Olive Tree branches out to Wesley Chapel

    Business

    WESLEY CHAPEL — When it came time to open a second location of The Olive Tree, owners John and Donna Woelfel, decided that Wesley Chapel was the perfect place.

    The Olive Tree expands its offerings of "ultra premium?€ extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) to a second location in Wesley Chapel. Photo by Danielle Hauser.
  3. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  4. New York town approves Legoland proposal

    News

    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  5. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]