There was a time when back-to-school shopping options were limited to whatever stores were within driving distance.
It's taken brick-and-mortar retailers awhile to figure out that those days have long passed.
The National Retail Federation, the industry group that's supposed to hold retailers' hands and tell them everything will be O.K., has mixed news for store-based retailers as they head into back-to-school shopping season. While the group estimates that parents will spend $83.6 billion this year amid increased consumer confidence, 46% of shoppers with children in grades K-12 will shop online this year. That's still less than the 57% who'll hit department stores and the 54% who'll shop at discount stores, but that also isn't where the story ends.
Parents of college kids -- or parents who've had more than a decade to figure out back-to-school shopping -- plan to do most of their shopping online. The 44% who'll shop from their laptops or mobile devices eclipses the 40% who'll go to discount stores and the 39% who'll visit department stores. Sadly for office supply stores, only about a third of parents or less will be coming through their doors with back-to-school lists.
You don't have to have a kid in school to figure out that the retail landscape is changing. While Sears (SHLD) and Kmart close stores and maintain their death rattle, Amazon (AMZN) makes a bid for Whole Foods (WFM) , gets into Blue Apron's (APRN) delivery business and decides what corner of the retail marketplace it's going to swallow next. Kids no longer have to hope their summer vacation or cool aunt takes them past a Forever 21 or Uniqlo: Delivery services will drive right past the sad strip malls of their faceless town in Nowhere, U.S.A., and give them a wardrobe straight out of Brooklyn or the Harajuku District.
Brick-and-mortar retail chains that relied on malls and parochial desperation are now foundering. BankruptcyData puts the number of retail bankruptcies in the U.S. at more than 300 through the first half of 2017 alone. Back in April, Credit Suisse issued a report says that the number of individual brick-and-mortar store closures in 2017 could top the record set in 2008, resulting in over 140 million square feet of retail vacancy. Moody's, meanwhile, put the number of retail chains teetering on bankruptcy at 22, or higher than the 19 in the same position at the height of the recent recession.
With back-to-school shopping ramping up and retail awaiting a seasonal bump that's crucial to their survival, shoppers are venturing into a retail marketplace drastically different than what they saw during the winter holidays or even in the spring. After surveying the damage, we've found five retail chains that consumers likely won't be visiting while preparing their kids for the first day of school. Unless you like vacant stores or nonrefundable purchases, here are just a few of the options that are off the table for back-to-school shopping in 2017:
Filed for bankruptcy: February 2You're going to see "teen retailer" on this list quite a bit, which is what happens when you tailor your entire company toward the most fickle consumers on earth. There was little separating this chain from Pac Sun, Aeropostale, Abecrombie & Fitch (ANF) , Hollister and other like-minded (and similarly troubled) chians, which was a big part of the problem.
Filed for bankruptcy: March 6
We're actually surprised there aren't more electronics retailers on this list. This Indiana-born electronics chain managed to survive Sears, Best Buy (BBY) and multiple electronics chains during its more than 60-year existence, but it didn't see Amazon coming and drowned in a miasma of insufficient online presence and inadequate free shipping options. Also, that name remains a branding nightmare.
Filed for bankruptcy: March 8
Stop. Just stop buying from RadioShack. We don't care if the one near you is still open. We don't care if a RadioShack helped you make a transistor for a school project three decades ago. We don't care that there are still somehow more than 1,000 of these stores left: We're going to live to see this once-great niche chain become a bunch of Sprint (S) stores. Get out while you can.
Filed for bankruptcy: June 11
There are already 450 stores going away as part of the "restructuring" of this heavily indebted chain. Consumers already have The Children's Place, Carter's and every discount store in the country to fall back on and may not be so eager to see how Gymboree emerges from Chapter 11, if it does. Gymboree was great when it was running play centers and was completely different than any other children's chain out there, but selling off those play spaces made it incredibly expendable, as owner Bain Capital is likely aware.
Filed for bankruptcy: January 7
"This isn't goodbye," you say? You have no stores after closing all 250 in January. You have an online presence, but the Sycamore Partners private equity firm paid $26.8 million for you and stuck you in a dead-weight portfolio with Talbots, Hot Topic, Nine West and Belk. Why should anyone shop at an online retailer that's basically in brand limbo? We can't think of a compelling reason.
Filed for bankruptcy: November 13
When your CEO makes people's skin crawl, your marketing campaign looks like vice-squad evidence and your only redeeming quality is that you make your clothes in this country, the clock is ticking. American Apparel closed the last of its stores in spring and, to consumers who don't particularly care that Gildan paid $88 million for the rights to the brand and its intellectual property, it's been functionally dead ever since. A generation is going to have a hard time explaining this one a few years down the road.
Filed for bankruptcy: March 10
Sports Authority is gone. Sports Chalet closed along with it. Cabela's is a breath away from being just another arm of Bass Pro Shops. In that environment, it isn't a surprise that Gander Mountain hit tough times and had to have Camping World (CWH) -- basically an RV retailer -- rescue it from bankruptcy. Even with that lifeline, its 70 remaining stores are less than half of what the chain had at its peak less than five years ago.
Filed for bankruptcy: April 4How does a discount shoe store end up in so much debt. Well, a leveraged buyout by private equity in 2012 doesn't help, but relying on a self-service model that looks ancient to anyone who's been using Zappos for the last decade or so certainly doesn't help. Payless only closed 800 stores out of 4,400, but given the sheer number of discount options available both in stores and online, there are many places where parents can pay less than they would at Payless.
Filed for bankruptcy: May 15
How did this chain have 1,200 locations at the beginning of the year? Creditors likely asked the same question, which is why cutting 400 stores at the beginning of the year wasn't enough to keep this teen retailer out of bankruptcy. The kids aren't coming back to the malls and the environment that led Rue 21 to over-expand roughly a decade ago has disappeared. What we're seeing isn't just the death of teen-driven mall retail, but the death of a great dad joke. You'll "rue" the day, indeed.
Filed for bankruptcy: Oh, it's coming
Our Brian Sozzi has been sitting at Sears Holding Corporation's death bed for years now, holding a mirror beneath this company's nose and checking its pulse. CEO Eddie Lampert just keeps selling off assets like Lands End and Craftsman and closing stores to fuel its burgeoning real-estate business. If Sears' suppliers aren't confident enough in these retailers to stay aboard, there's no way that a consumer should going into a Kmart or Sears with any confidence. Not only are you likely not getting a great deal, but there's a chance that your location may not even exist by the time your kid's school hits Thanksgiving break.