Rue La La CEO warns fashion retailers, Amazon of disruption

Just as many retailers were beginning to once more feel comfortable with improving consumer confidence and rising earnings, Rue La La CEO Steven Davis fired a warning shot across the bow for businesses that aren't pursuing e-commerce and mobile in the right way: They are ripe for disruption.

In comments he made to Yahoo Finance, Davis was particularly critical of traditional fashion retailers, who he said may have been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that they have been relatively unscathed by the convenience of e-commerce thus far.

"Fashion and off-price fashion were all later-adopting e-commerce categories," he said. "I think ultimately what we're going to find is the economics of continuing to run that traditional large format fashion retail store, be it a department store, be it ultimately an off-price retailer, will be really challenging to do over the next five to 10 years."

So why haven't those retailers been hit as hard as the computer, electronics or book stores of the world? Davis said it simply comes down to the fact that fashion is turning out to be one of the last retail sectors to be adopted online. Thus, the e-commerce blow hasn't been dodged. It's just four or five years behind. That has led some retailers to double down on brick-and-mortar strategies, something he believes will be damaging in the long run.

"Right now you have the largest square footage expansion in off-price retail—everybody's chasing it," Davis said. "Off-price brick-and-mortar retail and the giant expansion of square footage will ultimately prove to be a big mistake, and it's going to be hard to support that in the future."

That isn't to say traditional fashion retail will disappear entirely. Shoppers still want to try clothes on before they buy them, but Davis believes the trend will be geared more toward "mono-brand" stores, much like the focused success of Apple Stores (NASDAQ:AAPL).

But it wasn't just traditional retailers that Davis had warnings for. He also said that even the Amazons (NASDAQ:AMZN) of the world will have trouble adapting to mobile shopping, making them ripe for disruption.

"The biggest mistake...any retailer can make is thinking that all mobile is transitioning the businesses we have today to mobile," he said.

That's exactly the mistake, he argued, that Amazon is making. While the e-commerce giant's gargantuan selection has proven to be a winning strategy for desktop shopping, that jungle gets much more difficult to navigate on a phone.

Amazon may already be making moves to remedy that situation. Several of its recent initiatives, including last week's launch of Amazon Business, indicate that the e-commerce company may be repositioning itself as more of a technology company, more a medium for goods and services, than a merchant per se.

For more:
-See this interview with Steve Davis
-See this Yahoo Finance story

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