2020 might look scary for retailers, but there’s hope on the horizon

They’re calling it the retail apocalypse. More than 2000 retailers closed stores in the first three weeks of 2020, according to BusinessInsider. Nobody seems exempt – even big names like K-Mart, Sears and Macy’s have closed stores. Retailers as varied as fashion chain Forever 21 (178 stores) and Gap (230 stores) to Bed, Bath & Beyond (44 stores) and stationery giant Papyrus (254 stores) have been impacted. 

It seemed 2019 went from bad to worse for many retailers with more than 9200 stores closing. In Australia it was described as a “blood bath”. 

Australia’s sixth largest wine company, run for more than 140 years, went into voluntary admission. Then came EB Games and fashion retailer Bardot. Curious Planet, a bookstore, closed, and then came Jeanswest.

It’s enough to strike terror into the heart of any retailer. But is there hope on the horizon? Potentially.

January can be a boom or bust time for retailers. You might have had a bumper Christmas, timed your sales just right, had a flurry of new customers or a welcome return from loyal supporters. Or that’s what you hoped for and, instead, January reveals the tragic reality that it’s time to call time on your beloved business. 

It’s a decision nobody in retail takes lightly. It’s heartbreaking and is always a last resort. Banking on Christmas and finding the bank is closed is a final gasp for many retailers. It’s why we push so hard for customers to buy local please! Often a closed shop window reveals the hidden trauma of trying to keep it open.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The crisis is not over for retailers, but there’s hope that it’s slowing – and potential for some turnaround.

Online retail is often cited as the reason for bricks-and-mortar store closures, which is a real shame, as we are going through the same struggles. And hopes of one day opening a store are dashed with every store closure.

Online retailers are also competing not just with storefronts but with marketplace retailers, who can sell for less than cost price with mass production.

But being in retail, in a local business, teaches you above all else that you must be agile. You must be quick. You must recover quickly. Foot traffic can no longer be relied on – so we stand shoulder to shoulder. 

Longevity is no longer seen as important in the market anymore. In a way, this isn’t a terrible thing. It encourages retailers to push and continue to provide the best possible service. Because now, in 2020, that’s all that counts. 

Ever increasing competition isn’t always a bad thing either – though we might all despair at online marketplaces that we could never realistically compete with, we can recognise that the attitudes of consumers are changing just as quickly as they ever have.

While online marketplaces like Wish and Aliexpress might have been flavour of the month last year, consumers are now are recognising the carbon footprint of shipping a 50 cent headband from the other side of the world. There is an understanding that for a headband to be 50 cent it has to have been made by someone who was not earning anything near a living wage, let alone a minimum wage. 


The push against fast fashion and toward long-lasting quality products bought locally is a crucial push for retailers. Our customers are telling us – ignore this message at your peril.

Customers are telling us they want recyclable and combustible packaging. They want products that last and products that can be reused. Being an adult toy retailer, we can’t help with reuse, but our priorities heading into 2020 are on the ethics of how we do things.

We care about the same things our customers do. We care about our carbon footprint. We care about being more than a retailer – being a source of information, support, and expertise. We are hearing loud and clear the desire for a shopping experience. 

It looks as if 2020 may well be the year of pop-up stores with classes, online retailers whose staff you can meet at product speed-dating events, behind-the-scenes warehouse tours, and walking the talk with your ethical responsibilities.

Retailers are now looking at giving their staff a living wage. They’re developing environmentally friendly policies, extending flexible office hours and driving initiatives that support their wider communities. It’s a better future as we face trying times. 

The old adage of the customer is always right is an eternal truism we can keep drawing from. Customers are telling retailers the direction they need to head in. We just need to listen. 

Nicola Relph owner and operator of Adulttoymegastore. New Zealand-owned and operated, their office and warehouse is based in Wellington.

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