It’s no secret that the world is changing. In recent decades especially, technology and the globalization of commerce has made several once well-known business brands completely irrelevant. It’s odd how fast it happens, but seemingly overnight big-name companies lose popularity as an increasing number of online options become available, or as larger, more successful organizations with a technology-first focus buy them out and change their structure. It’s tough to successfully own a commerce or user-focused business in today’s day and age. There are so many retail giants that drive down prices and take customers away from the little guys.
The main reasons that these businesses were erased from our world view? They were unable to keep up with the drive to go online. When people can order anything they want with one click and have it show up to their front door with free 2-day shipping through any big-name stores like Amazon or Walmart, or when people can transfer money around the world with no added fees through startup online-only transfer services, it’s difficult for smaller companies without that same online presence to keep pace. Let’s look at this list of businesses that are no longer relevant, and why they’re no longer on the map.
You remember it – the camera that you could snap a picture with and be holding that same picture in a matter of seconds! Of course, polaroid has many more products in addition to their iconic polaroid camera, but that’s what they’re known for. In the early 2000’s-2010’s, Polaroid was at a critical juncture in their business lifecycle. Digital cameras were all the rage, and with companies like Nikon and Canon quickly developing cameras and digital photo products to meet the consumer demand, Polaroid couldn’t keep up by simply selling their iconic point-and-shoot print-out cameras.
Polaroid is still around, and they did manage to salvage their brand in light of the digitalization of amateur and professional photography, but they aren’t as “big” as they once were. While their brand remains a household name, only true analog photography die-hards and artistic photographers still own and regularly use a Polaroid camera.
Blockbuster was once the only place you could go to find movies and old TV shows if you wanted to rent them. There were other brands like Blockbuster – such as Family Video – but Blockbuster was the more popular location for video rental. However, in recent years, streaming has become the only way users access video rentals. There are countless streaming services available – from Netflix to Amazon Prime – and by the time Blockbuster stepped up to offer Blockbuster on Demand (a video streaming service), they were too late. Of course, it didn’t help their case any that everyone still views them as a video rental storefront, not a streaming service.
MoneyGram has struggled financially in recent years, particularly after the 2007-2009 economic crash. However, things seemed to be looking up for them in the early 2010’s when they partnered with Walmart to provide a money transfer service. Unfortunately, this stroke of luck didn’t last long. MoneyGram and Walmart parted ways, leaving MoneyGram to compete with online-only money transfer services like TransferWise and CurrencyFair. These online transfer services and other services like them offer money transfer opportunities with the best exchange rates and low or no transfer fees. MoneyGram is struggling to keep up with this level of competition. Recently, Ant Financial has entered a bidding war to acquire MoneyGram. In a recent letter, Ant Financial stated that if this acquisition goes through, they’ll be diversifying MoneyGram’s services and steering away from a solely-remittance based offering platform. Not surprising, given the intense competition in the money transfer industry right now, and exchange rates that keep improving more and more.
Although loan sharks are still alive and kicking, they are no longer anywhere near the levels of profitability they have been. With tightening regulation over payday loans in the UK and the USA, the APR these companies can take has been vastly limited in comparison to the past. Additionally, with the rise of P2P funding and business loan companies, there is just more access to cheaper funding than what loan sharks offer.
Tower Records was once a massive music distribution chain with physical storefronts. They were incredibly popular, and were well-known for their massive inventory selection and their excellent prices. In 2006, Tower Records filed for bankruptcy and underwent a liquidation process. Although they still have an online store, they are nothing like they were in their glory days. Tower Records, like many companies that relied heavily on a physical store location, struggled to keep up with audio streaming services such as iTunes. The ability for customers to purchase music online only continued to expand, and Tower Records could no longer afford to maintain their physical presence.
RadioShack’s bankruptcy story is relatively recent – they just filed in 2015. Once known for being the everything-technical store that also sold bits and bobs like RC Airplanes, RadioShack served customers since 1921. However, in recent years, more and more people have been getting their tech accessories and gadgets from bigger stores like Best Buy, or ordering them directly from an online retailer such as Amazon.
While it’s unfortunate that these businesses were put out by online-first companies, it’s not uncommon for the retail landscape to change over time. While these changes feel strange, in another 20 years things will be completely different than they are even now.