Are Outside Forces Really To Blame For Barneys’ Bankruptcy?

According to information found on Retail Dive, Barneys New York is apparently the victim of high rent and the consumers’ shift to online shopping.

While those things might have contributed to the luxury department store’s bankruptcy, The Retail Doctor points to another culprit that can’t be blamed on outside forces.

There’s No Room for Attitude

Bob Phibbs (a.k.a. The Retail Doctor) first visited Barney’s in New York City in 1993. At the time, it was one of the only high-end men’s clothing stores that sold exceptional new brands.

After locating a few clothing items without assistance or acknowledgement from the store’s staff, he asked a sales associate where he could try on the sweaters and shirts he’d selected.

“You can’t,” replied the Barneys’ employee.

When Phibbs asked to speak to the manager, the sales associate reiterated that trying clothes on in the store wasn’t allowed, but he could take them home and try them on.

Confused, Phibbs asked him what the difference was, only to have the sales associate sniff the air and walk away. “Their our-way-or-the-highway attitude was something they prided themselves on,” he commented.

The Retail Doctor isn’t the only shopper who has been disappointed with Barneys’ service. In fact, an online search of consumer reviews revealed that 63% of them were bad. Check out one of those reviews below:

“I have spent quite a bit with Barney’s. My last purchase was close to $2,000 for a sweater. I then purchased shoes at the online warehouse and they didn’t fit. They actually charged me $9.95 as a restocking fee. REALLY? . . . This left such a bad taste in my mouth, I’ll no longer buy at Barney’s! Great way to treat your customers!”

And here is a recent Google review:

“This location has a stellar selection, however I’ve had subpar service on more than one occasion. Which is a shame because there is also quite a few amazing staff members! Recognize that you’re working with high end clientele who visit expecting attentive service during their shopping experience.”

Here’s what a reporter for the New York Times wrote about Barneys, “It was unabashedly elitist, proudly exclusionary — you got it or you didn’t, and if you didn’t, that was your problem, not theirs — and imbued with an arrogance that, at a certain point, began to chafe.”

“Yes, shopping habits have changed with the growth of online and rental clothing sites,” says The Retail Doctor. “But that has necessitated making going to a store much more about a human experience than just buying expensive stuff.”

Customer Experience is a Key Brand Differentiator

“Having a them and us attitude may attract a type of customer who uses it as a badge of honor, but how many sales are you missing when most shoppers expect to be treated better in a luxury store?” asks The Retail Doctor.

The same can be said of a camera store, an apparel store, or any other store for that matter. It’s the retailer’s responsibility to make their store as welcoming as possile, and ensure that it provides an easy and frictionless shopping experience.

Stores that don’t deliver a great experience will lose out because customers today don’t base their loyalty on brands, products, and prices. Instead, says Customer Thermometer, “Their loyalty is far more dependent upon the service they receive, their experience of a business and their level of satisfaction.”

The following quotes from Customer Thermometer confirm the importance of good customer service:

  • 68% of customers believe the key to great customer service is a polite customer service representative.
  • 48% of consumers expect specialized treatment for being a good customer.
  • 89% of consumers have switched to doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.
  • The majority of Americans have decided to not go through with a purchase because of a poor customer service experience.

Retailers must learn that their pretty products won’t secure customer loyalty. It has to be earned through superior customer service.


“Blaming online retail for your woes or real estate prices going up are loser’s limps,” says The Retail Doctor. “Fix the customer service, you fix your retail sales.”

In today’s competitive retail landscape, there’s no room for attitude and indifference when it comes to customers.

As ShipEarly points out, a company’s competitive edge is based on the experience they deliver to their customers. Retailers that want to secure repeat business and customer loyalty must be willing to fully invest in the customer experience.

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Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and two small business e-books. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime. A graduate of Brigham Young University, she worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current writing position at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with small business owners.