Why 2017 Will See Desperate Department Stores and Anxious Apparel Chains
It was a hard year for many retailers. Amazon.com amzn continued to run away with the e-commerce prize, and consumers, though in much better shape financially than they have been in many years, are getting increasingly bargain-hungry. The result has been declining sales at many major retailers (particularly department stores) and store closings by the hundreds.
But a new year offers the industry a clean slate, whether it be a new CEO or new initiatives to break that sales skid. Indeed, 2017 will be a decisive year for many retailers, as investors will feel many have had enough time to show they can figure out a way to update how they do business in the e-commerce era.
Target tgt and Kohl’s kss in particular are under pressure to show their turnarounds are still on track. Meanwhile Walmart wmt can’t let up for a second if it hopes to begin to narrow the e-commerce gap with Amazon.
Department stores up and down the price spectrum are under growing pressure to show they can still be relevant and central to the shopping experience. And apparel chains have been talking for about two years about how they plan to address fast fashion and increase the quality of their products agin.
2017 promises to be a decisive year in which retailers plow ahead in the internet era and which get left behind, possibly for good.
Here are the top 10 stories in Fortune will follow most closely in 2017.
1) What Will Macy’s New CEO Change?
Macy’s m announced in June its long time CEO Terry Lundgren would be stepping down in 2017 and be replaced by veteran Macy’s executive Jeff Gennette. Though well regarded, he’ll have to prove that a 33-year company veteran will be up to the task of renewing the department store chain with fresh ideas at a time people are buying their clothes and beauty products elsewhere. Macy’s has been closing dozens of stores and doing everything from beefing up its wedding business to adding Apple aapl boutiques, and yet the sales declines go on.
2) Will Gap Inc Snap Its Losing Streak?
The owner of Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic has reported seven straight quarters of comparable sales declines and the turnaround CEO Art Peck has been promising has been slow in coming. He is trying to make the apparel giant more nimble and better able to react to trends and increase the quality of clothes at a time consumer see apparel as a commodity. The company has managed to cut costs, and Old Navy, its biggest brand seems to be back on track, but Peck has now been in the corner office for almost two years, so any continuation of Gap Inc’s problems in 2017 will be on him.
3) Will Barnes & Noble Find a CEO Who’ll Stay?
Barnes & Noble stunned the retail world this summer when it fired CEO Ron Boiré after barely more than year, pronouncing the former Sears Canada CEO a “poor fit” with the bookseller, and dealing with its third chief executive exit in three year. So the retailer turned to founder and top shareholder Len Riggio to steer the ship while it looks yet again for a new boss. Barnes & Noble got a bit of a break from the plateauing of e-books, but its online sales are in decline and its stores in need of an update. The retailer needs to show there is a room for it between Amazon.com and the resurgence of independent bookstores.
4) What Will Happen Next With Target’s Food Business?
One of Target tgt CEO Brian Cornell’s big plans when he started two years ago was to fix the discounter’s food business and give it a more defined raison d’être. But in 2016, the executive he brought in to fix the grocery business left and Cornell himself said Target had no intention of becoming a full service grocer. So that leaves unanswered questions about Target’s food strategy. Grocery is a key driver of shopper traffic and with Walmart aggressively upgrading its food areas, Target stands to lose a lot of its overall business while it figures this out.
5) Will Jet.com Send Walmart’s Online Sales Through the Roof?
Walmart surprised many this summer when it shelled out $3 billion to buy Jet.com in the hopes of rejuvenating and re-igniting its online business. The retailer has added millions of items to its online assortment thanks to its marketplace overhaul and online sales growth is on the upswing again. At the same time, it remains to be seen how Jet.com itself can help Walmart’s namesake website and there is the chance for cultural clashes between the two as they integrate.
6) Will Sears Make It Through the Year?
Well it should, despite itself. Sears Holdings shld has already shown us for the past decade how a retailer can hang on for a loooong time despite sharply declining sales year in, year out. But lately, Sears sales declines are getting worse and it is running out of things to sell off to maintain a cash cushion. And a new threat has emerged: J.C. Penney jcp has resumed selling appliances for the first time since 1983, taking aim at one of Sears’ biggest businesses. CEO Eddie Lampert’s promised turnaround still hasn’t materialized, in fact its problems are worsening. And he’ll be able to kick the can down the road for only so much longer.
7) Can Whole Foods’ New 365 Chain Win It New Shoppers?
Whole Foods Market wfm opened its first low price “365” grocery stores this year and plans to ramp that up significantly with 10 more in 2017, a much bigger test for a chain meant to win the grocer derided by some as “Whole Paycheck” for its high prices more millennial shoppers. But Whole Foods will be going up against a Walmart that has spent a fortune upgrading its grocery aisles and added many fancier items. At the same time, with business slowing at its main grocery chain, Whole Foods needs 365 to be a home run.
8) Here Come More Germans!
The ramped up expansion of German discount grocer Aldi in the last few years has put a ton of pressure on the likes of Walmart and Kroger kr in the competition for lower income consumers with its inexpensive, no frills stores and popular private brands. But in 2017, a brand new German rival is hitting U.S. shores: Lidl is planning to open 150 stores, with more to come later. The growing ubiquity of small format, low cost food stores threatens to upend the U.S. grocery industry and force Walmart, Whole Foods et al to really raise their game.
9) Will Luxury Department Stores Get Back on Track?
Upscale retailers Neiman Marcus, Macy’s m Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and HBC’s hbc Saks Fifth Avenue have all had trouble this year getting people to come to their department stores. (Their outlet chains are doing fine.) Shoppers no longer want to wait nine months from when they see something at a runway to show to when they can buy it. And the internet has made it easier to comparison-shop turning even luxury items into commodities.
So these chains are all investing in upgrading their stores, focusing on getting more exclusive product to win back some pricing power and seeking to quicken the product cycle to react more quickly to how younger luxe shoppers buy, rather than their older mainstay customers.
10) Can J.C. Penney Continue to Outperform Rivals?
Penney has worn the Comeback Kid moniker for a couple of years now, regularly outperforming Kohl’s and Macy’s, among others in sales growth. And under CEO Marvin Ellison, the retailer has shifted the focus away from apparel, boosted its private label brands, returned to appliance sales and updated its woefully inadequate e-commerce. So far that has worked. But Penney’s comparable sales declined in the third quarter of 2016 and it has cut the long hanging fruit in its cost reductions. With Macy’s and Sears closing dozens of stores each, many malls they co-anchor with Penney will lose traffic, something that will hurt Penney. Ellison is betting the market share he will win from those rivals will more than offset sales lost to shoppers who are going AWOL at the mall.