As the CEO of retail data analytics firm Skypad, Jay Hakami finds himself on the phone with a lot of brands; top labels like Michael Kors and Tory Burch, whose goods sell in department stores from coast to coast. And over the past eight weeks, when Hakami has them on the phone, they’ve all had the same complaint—sales are down—and they’ve all wanted to know the same thing: When are stores going to reopen?
That’s a loaded question right now. The country began a gradual reopening late last week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on the safe resumption of business and, as of publication of this article, all but four states are in some stage of slowly restarting their economic engines. But reopening is a state-by-state phenomenon that varies regionally and by the types of businesses permitted to unlock their doors.
In sum, then, nobody really knows when all of America’s department stores will finally open back up. But thanks to this database, Hakami is as close to knowing as anyone. If he’s getting sales data in, it means the store is open. And today, as a nod to the shopping community that brands miss so acutely, Hakami is unveiling an app that consumers can use to find out which stores in their area have turned the lights back on.
“We’re excited that stores are reopening and we wanted to show it,” Hakami said. “That’s why we wanted to give something back to the brands that have been asking us when the stores are reopening. Nobody has that information, [but] we could showcase that information.”
The app, called Open Sesame, took 10 days to build and features a map of the country and allows user to search by state and region (the figures in the yellow circles indicate the total number of stores open) and also by retailer (Nordstrom, Saks, Macy’s). Right now, users might feel underwhelmed by the number of open stores they can find, but Hakami’s team is updating the map in real-time, and as the pace of reopening picks up, the platform will soon—hopefully—become a crowded place.
Though Hakami said he created the app as a nod to brands, it’s available free of charge for anyone to use, including consumers. And if consumers head out to department stores to shop, that helps brands, too.
While each state has its own multistate reopening plan, retailers like department stores face more hurdles than simply waiting for a green light from regional authorities. Social distancing mandates will almost certainly limit the number of shoppers that can come into stores, and many of the customary trappings will be eliminated. Many retailers have already shuttered their fitting rooms, asked employees to wear gloves and masks and busied themselves with sanitizing everything in sight.
These impediments aside, department stores can’t reopen soon enough for countless fashion and accessories brands for whom online sales have been unable to make up for the loss of a brick-and-mortar presence. According to the most recent figures from the Commerce Department, retail sales fell by 8.7% for March. That was bad enough, but certain sectors of retail were hit harder still, especially department stores (sales down by 19.7%) and sporting goods (down 23.3%). Worst off were apparel sellers, whose March business fell by a whopping 50.5%.
Little wonder, then, that Hakami’s conversations with brand executives have been yielding “all gloom and doom,” as he puts it.
Asked how long he plans to keep Open Sesame up and running, Hakami said, “I’d like to have it be as short [a time] as possible.” After all, a fully restored retail landscape will obviate the need for an online tracker like this. “When the stores are all open,” he said, “I’m happy.”