The current recession is causing a sea change in the way retailers do business.
For years, retailers could afford to be sloppy about running their businesses because customers kept buying. No more. Stung by the worry that shoppers -- who cut spending by the most dramatic amount in at least 39 years this holiday season -- may not start spending again for a long time, stores are making drastic changes. They are cutting out marginal suppliers, hiring outside experts to keep inventory lean, holding special events for those who are still buying and making extraordinary efforts to gauge customer satisfaction.Sounds good to me. Recessions are always good for cutting the fat out of the system. And we haven't had a serious recession for 20 years or more. Not a bad run. But it is time for change.
The new discipline will be mostly good news for shoppers, who will find stores less cluttered and see an array of products at lower prices, from ordinary groceries to jeans from brands they could once only aspire to.
Of course, the downside is that consumers who want something out of the ordinary -- an olive green prom dress, for example -- may have to look harder. Stores are rooting out offbeat, unpopular colors and styles, which will mean fewer choices.
Sales clerks are also checking back with customers to see if they're satisfied with their purchases.
"We are in a sea change," said Millard "Mickey" Drexler, J.Crew's chairman and chief executive and former CEO and visionary of Gap Inc.
Pricing goods within reach of strapped consumers is also a big focus, given the way nervous consumers have stopped shopping.