2017 has been a year of tremendous social unrest. From sexual misconduct scandals to the nearly daily PR scandals surrounding the Trump administration, people are more responsive and sensitive to injustices than ever before. Advertising was no exception.
In addition to the numerous PR disasters within the world of politics, several major corporations found themselves in hot water following their own instances of branded disaster. 2017 reached a fever pitch in terms of cultural appropriation and societal insensitivity.
Although retailers enjoyed a record $5 billion in sales on Black Friday 2017, there’s one thing people weren’t buying: Diamonds. Black Friday 2018 was the worst day for mall sales of diamonds in 25 years. Sigmet, the parent company that owns Zales, Kay and Jared stores, announced that its 2017 sales have been light and it will shed 125 stores in 2018.
Jewelers, from mom-and-pop stores to the malls, are reporting dismal sales and closures. In the third quarter of 2017 alone, 165 jewelry stores (from a total of 6,752 stores closings) closed, and more will close in 2018. At the low end, Charming Charlie, a mall-based store, has filed for bankruptcy. The teen jeweler Claire’s is heavily leveraged, with $2 billion in debt that will come due in 2019. But it’s not just costume jewelry that’s hurting. Diamonds are facing their own reckoning too.
Walmart shoppers can expect to see robots roaming the aisles in 2018. After a successful testing pilot, the retailer plans to introduce robots to 50 stores by the end of January 2018, with more to come. These robots, which do not resemble humans, consist of a large, two-foot high canister base with a tall extension arm outfitted with a scanner and a camera. They cruise aisles, scanning shelves for out-of-stock items, things put in the wrong place by customers, incorrect prices, and wrong or missing labels. They move continuously through the store, alerting human employees of errors.
Walmart says the robots are 50 percent more productive and three times faster than a human. Plus, claims Walmart Chief Technology Officer Jeremy King, human employees are bad at this task. "If you are running up and down the aisle, and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn't do that job very well and they don't like it."
In the world of online shopping, unhappy customers can freely and anonymously voice their opinions. But the brick and mortar retailer will know little of their experience. It can’t tell if they are happy and spending money, or if they have a problem they will later complain about online. Walmart wants to change that.
Super-investor Warren Buffett has been a keen observer of the retail sector for decades. He predicted the demise of Kmart and Sears in 2005; today those stores are headed towards bankruptcy. Now he has divested his investment portfolio, held through the Berkshire Hathaway company, of another retailer’s stock: Walmart. Some analysts say this sends a signal that all is not well with the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer.
The country’s largest shopping mall will be closed on Thanksgiving. Officials with Mall of America, which averages 42 million annual visitors and is anchored by such companies as Nordstrom, Sears and Best Buy, said the center wants to offer workers time with their families. “We think Thanksgiving is a day for families and for people we care about," said Jill Renslow, the mall's senior vice president of marketing. "We want to give this day back.” The mall will re-open at 5 AM the Friday after Thanksgiving, but the move could impact as many as 14,000 employees who work at the mall or one of its many tenants.