Cause for concern? Macy’s online shopping only: ‘This could be a trend’

The Macy’s location at the Dover Mall is one of the two stores out of the chain’s 546 being converted into a fulfillment center for this holiday season. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Those heading to the Dover Mall won’t be able to shop at the Macy’s location in person unless they already picked out what they want to buy online, and some locals see the shift as a bad omen for the mall’s future.

Dover’s Macy’s location is one of the two stores out of the chain’s 546 being converted into a fulfillment center for this holiday season.

“Macy’s has piloted a new model during the holiday 2020 season at Macy’s Southwest Plaza in Littleton, Colorado, and Macy’s Dover Mall in Dover to further integrate our stores into the fulfillment pipeline,” said Caroline Ng Cohen, the director of media relations at Macy’s.

“These two locations will serve as Macy’s Omni Service Centers,” she said.

“They will continue to operate an at-your-service center for seamless in-store pickup orders, curbside pickup orders, returns and bill pay, among many other services, while the remainder of the store will be dedicated to support fulfillment operations,” Ms. Ng Cohen said.

The move comes as online shopping and in-store pickups have become the preference for many shoppers in the COVID-19 era.
“We offer Macy’s customers a variety of options to shop with us — including Macy’s mobile app or shopping on, shipping to their nearest store or visiting a store,” Ms. Ng Cohen said.

“As a result, we’ve seen an increase in demand across the network to get our customers their product when and how they want it,” she said.

Several area officials expressed concern with the change.

“You hate to see any retail establishment leave, especially one that is a national chain that has a national name, because they’re a draw,” said Judy Diogo, president of the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

“I think this could be a trend for a period of time and I think on a national level we will be seeing that,” she said. “There are a number of national chains who have been saying they don’t know how long they’ll be able to hang on, and most of that is due to the COVID pandemic.”

Dover’s Macy’s switch to a fulfillment center comes as online shopping and in-store pickups have become the preference for many shoppers in the COVID-19 era.

Dave Hugg, Dover’s director of planning and inspections, said this change was part of a nationwide shift in how companies use their retail spaces.

“With a lot of their stores across the country, you can order online and it’s almost like a catalog store,” he said. “Years ago Sears had catalog stores where you placed your order, then you picked it up and you really didn’t have racks of clothes or anything like that.”

He said a similar practice has become common with large chain retailers recently.

“They’re using parts of their store for what they call ‘last mile,’ or ‘end of the chain’ transactions so that you cannot only in many cases shop in the stores but also use them as your pick-up and drop-off points for online orders,” Mr. Hugg said.
Still, he was surprised this was happening at the Macy’s location in his city.

“In the last conversation I had with the mall manager, which was a couple of months ago now at least, he said Macy’s wasn’t on any list to be closed,” he said. “It was doing reasonably well, but I haven’t heard anything since then.”

Mr. Hugg said that although the new model was better than the store being empty altogether, the change isn’t good news for the mall.

“I don’t what kind of foot traffic the Macy’s store actually gets,” he said, but “an anchor store like that which closes, no matter how they close, even if they’re open for certain kinds of transactions, that can’t help the mall.”

Mr. Hugg said anchors are an important way for malls to bring in foot traffic.

“Typically the smaller businesses inside the malls are built to depend on foot traffic, so if you’re not getting the kind of foot traffic you were getting through the mall because of this kind of a transaction, that can’t help,” he said.

But Ms. Diogo said both Dover and the mall still have a lot to offer.

“We have a lot of retail here. We have a very diversified retail market,” she said. “You still have J.C. Penney in the area. You still have Boscov’s. Those are still the other two anchors in the mall. We also have a number of really nice boutiques in our downtown area.”

Ms. Diogo hoped that those laid off from Macy’s would be able to find jobs at one of the area’s other retail establishments.
Ms. Cohen Ng said everyone working at the Macy’s location in Dover has been notified about the shift.

“All colleagues will be considered for potential opportunities to continue with Macy’s in new roles at their current location or be placed in open positions at nearby Macy’s stores,” she said. “If the colleague isn’t selected to go forward, they may be eligible for severance.”