Lord & Taylor: When a Brand Counts for Nothing

Lord & Taylor went into bankruptcy at the start of the month. It appeared it would keep open some of its stores, as many as 14, and its website. Yesterday, the site was dominated by a new message: “Going Out of Business.” New discounts will be as high as 20% to 40%. No wonder. In a liquidation, everything goes.

Lord & Taylor was founded in 1826. It is the latest proof that no matter how long it has been part of the consumer department store landscape, a visible and respected brand cannot offset a sharp drop in sales and a crippled balance sheet. In the Brand Z Global Most Valuable Brands 2020 report, Amazon was at the top of the list with a valuation of $415 billion. The most valuable strictly retail brand was Home Depot at $58 billion. The only other retail brands in the top 50 were Walmart at $45 billion and Costco at $28 billion. With the exception of Lowe’s, which barely made the list at $14 million, no other American retailers were on the list.

Lord & Taylor is a much more upscale brand than the other troubled old retailers that may disappear completely. J.C. Penney and Sears are at the top of the list. However, these are middle-class retail brands. Lord & Taylor usually has been put a cut above them, in the higher-end retail category.

The Lord & Taylor brand never made a migration online, at least not in any meaningful way. Even when it went more downmarket with less expensive clothing brands, it could not salvage enough revenue to carry the burden of retail store costs and debt. There is no evidence its customers moved to lend it a hand when they heard it was in trouble. They simply shopped elsewhere. Perhaps brand loyalty in retail has come to an end.

Lord & Taylor must have employed a few thousand people to keep open the 38 stores it had, a corporate office and its e-commerce business. They will be gone, and the brand will be barely remembered a few years from now. Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights.