I’m about to enter Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv after a morning at The Kirya. Before the inevitable countrywide lockdown, I want to ensure all my medical-related errands are in order. While the situation hasn’t escalated to state-mandated panic mode just yet, I have instructions from my commander to get in and get out. This isn’t a normal jaunt in Tel Aviv, where I can hit up my favorite bakery and stroll along the boardwalk. No, this excursion to Tel Aviv is a mission with one aim and the pressure of time and space.
I left my kibbutz on the earliest bus, heading into Sderot and onto the train. The Sderot train station was apocalyptically empty. The initial car I got on was also vacant, safe for the transportation worker who told me, “Soldier! This is a sterilized car—you need to go to a different one.” I nodded my head, accepting my new fate as I followed the man to a different yet equally as desolate car.
AshquelonAshdodYavneRishon all passed by in a haze until Bat Yam brought company to my car. But unlike most moments of public transportation in Israel, the goal of these new passengers was not to crowd together as close as possible, despite the abundance of seating, but rather to spread. Say what you will about coronavirus, but it is the most un-Israeli plague that could have ever hit my tactile-obsessed nation.
I got to Tel Aviv HaShalom and ran into a friend (Hi Segev!), instantly greeting him with a hug. Yet as I disengaged from the embrace, I realized that perhaps a hug was most definitely not the best greeting at this time of distancing. Like any other Israeli, though, I couldn’t help it—hugging and touching are in my nature.
The Kirya also possessed a unique sense of disconnection. The finger scanners were boxed up and hand sanitizer was everywhere. There was even a line to get into the shekem (aka canteen, if you will) to moderate how many people were inside at a given moment. It all felt very un-Israeli.
As I return to Azrieli Center for my departure, the security guard asks me where I’m going. I’m almost never questioned when I’m in uniform. I usually flash my choger (that good old military ID) and I’m good to go. Yet because of this crisis, no one—not even a charming soldier like myself—had a good enough excuse to roam around the mall. Either, you were going to the train (me) or you were going to the pharmacy (the two soldiers behind me). There was no shopping, evident by all the closed stores.
Walking through a closed Azrieli was gloomy, as if all the retailers had died. And in a sense, they had.
Like any good English student, I am well versed in Barthes’ death of the author. What I hadn’t realized was that corona might just be the catalyst for a Barthesian death of the retailer.
Commerce of the past decade has dramatically shifted its focus. No longer are the salespeople the most important factor of a sale, nor is a store’s ambiance. Now, it’s all about the product from the consumer’s perspective. The educated consumer of today doesn’t need the edgy saleswoman at Urban Outfitters to convince them to buy something. The consumer’s mind is already made up far before they step foot in a store, whether subconsciously or not.
Due to the influence and exposure of social media, the consumers of today have endless inspiration for their cultivation of personal style. They know what they want. They do their research online, ready to make a purchase when they walk into a store. It isn’t about the sales team or a retailer’s window display; it’s about the consumer and the product.
Corona and the current global health situation heighten the obsolescence of retail stores. In Israel, I can’t leave my house to purchase the new shirt I want (this is a hypothetical—I’m not shopping, Mom, don’t worry). The only option is to buy it online, turning to ecommerce. Even when there isn’t a shelter in place edict, shopping online is the preferred method. Ecommerce connects the consumer directly to the product, killing the retail experience in the process.
While online shopping in Israel specifically is still debatably as time consuming as shopping in person (shoutout to the loving inconsistencies of the Israeli Post), globally this is the new normal. (Trust me, I had Amazon Prime in my past life as an American college student).
Coronavirus’s impact on the world shouldn’t be snubbed, nor should the unimaginable losses it has caused. Yet another death is looming amid this global health catastrophe: retail stores are the next to go.