The Human Touch

Growth is sometimes painful

As all little tikes know, growth is sometimes painful. Like those whom we cater to, the childrenswear industry is also going through a period of transformation—and it hasn’t been easy. The survival of 20th Century retail giants like Sears and Kmart are in doubt. JC Penney is threatening to close another 138 stores, and Amazon is on pace to control half of the e-commerce market by 2021, according to investment and asset management firm Needham. To put that in perspective, Walmart’s share of total online purchases is only 5 percent, CNBC notes.

There’s little question retail is going through an evolution, but just what it will become is the million dollar question. Recently, there has been much talk about the physical store of the future that speculates on everything from robots and facial-recognition technology to 3-D printing stations and drones—a blend of the digital age and physical, if you will.

Yet alongside store closures and doom-and-gloom headlines, there are pockets of hope. One bright spot is the small independent specialty boutique—the only place like it, the pillar of the community, a place where everybody knows your name. As we discovered in our reporting, people in neighborhoods like Brooklyn, N.Y. and Venice, Calif., flock to mom-and-pops like Wild Was Mama and Burro’s, respectively, for their gift-giving purchases (flip to page 10 to see how retailers and manufacturers are making the most of the vibrant baby clothing and product category). Additionally,  Bain & Co. offers some hope for brick-and-mortar: Although 70 percent of high-end purchases are driven by online activity, some 75 percent of sales will still occur in stores by 2025. As Marc Simhon, new president of Bon Bébé relays in our Up Close (page 34), “The [retail] landscape looks dreary in a lot of different sectors, but there are still enough doors to do business out there.” Like Simhon, I’m an optimist. As retail morphs into the stores of the future, remember whom they serve: us, human beings. And we will always want a positive and personal shopping adventure. So whether that means pods with gender-neutral interchangeable pieces or virtual fitting stations, people will always want to see, feel and touch the clothing and products that touch their babies. And if they can smell, hear and taste something? Even better. As you explore this issue dedicated to the infant and toddler market, pause to appreciate physical stores and their imminent change. When it comes down to it, we all have to grow.


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