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That is spelling big problems for mall chains like The Limited, which has shut all 250 of its stores, and Wet Seal, which filed for bankruptcy. Department stores like Macy’s and J.C. Penney — anchors for the malls — also are closing stores. Sears Holdings Corp. has said there’s “substantial doubt” about its future, but believes its plan to turn around its business should reduce that risk. The number of “distressed” retailers — those with cash problems and poor credit profiles that are facing strong competition — is at the highest rate since 2009, says Moody’s Investor Service. “Retail is increasingly becoming boring,” said James Reinhart, CEO of the used-clothing marketplace thredUP. He says much of the merchandise at stores is homogenous, while online “each day there’s a whole new assortment.” Department stores make regular announcements about the next way they’re going to win customers back, like offering more athletic-inspired clothes or adding tech areas. But they’re fighting a market in which people already are buying fewer clothes, spending online or at discounters when they do, and demanding more personal and convenient ways to buy. Brands like Stitch Fix and Bonobos offer curated selections based on people’s preferences, while companies like thredUP capitalize on shoppers’ increasing willingness to buy secondhand items from mall brands like J. Crew, Anthropologie and Athleta at big discounts.
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