The Drive-Thru: Macy’s and Pier 1 Imports close stores, Barneys employees speak out, and Walmart unveils a grocery robot

Fatburger is one of the most underrated chains out there, Irene said in our weekly taste test.

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Fatburger is one of the most underrated chains out there, Irene said in our weekly taste test.
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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Hello! If this is your first time reading The Drive-Thru, welcome to BI Retail’s weekly rundown of the biggest news in shopping, food, and more.

I’m Shoshy Ciment, a junior retail reporter interrupting your regularly scheduled programming to fill in for Kate Taylor as she heads to sunny Orlando, Florida, for the ICR Conference. And no, this freezing Florida native is not jealous at all.

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2020 has barely begun, and yet the retail news cycle is in full swing, complete with store closures, bankruptcy rumors, and automation galore. Here’s everything you need to know.

Pier 1 Imports and Macy’s are closing stores

Pier 1 Imports is closing stores.

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Pier 1 Imports is closing stores.
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Shoshy Ciment/Business Insider

On Monday, Pier 1 Imports said it plans to close 450 stores – or about half of its roughly 950 locations – as the company’s sales struggle. The closings could affect thousands of workers.

I visited a store over the summer and saw firsthand why the chain has been struggling. Read about my experience here, and learn more about the rise and fall of the once-beloved home goods retailer here.

Also, Mary got her hands on a list of the 30 stores Macy’s is closing in early 2020. She also reported on Macy’s decision to close a call center in Arizona, a move that will affect 800 jobs.

What does this mean? 2020 has barely gotten started, but it looks like the retail apocalypse is dragging on. Already more than 1,700 stores are expected to close this year.

Barneys employees are fed up

Barneys stores have devolved into chaos.

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Barneys stores have devolved into chaos.
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Bethany Biron/Business Insider

Luxury department store Barneys is also going through a rough time. Staffers of the retailer, which was bought out of bankruptcy by Authentic Brands Group, were recently delayed their paychecks due to a “cyber incident.”

Bethany obtained an email that was sent by Barneys’ corporate HR to all employees on January 3, saying that workers were “likely to be paid” on Thursday, January 9. Workers were indeed paid that day, nearly a week late.

Morale at the once-illustrious retailer has hit an all-time low, according to Bethany’s reporting, and theft is on the rise at stores.

“It’s been a mess, just a mess,” one employee told Bethany. “It’s upsetting. Nobody wants to work and not get paid. Especially under these circumstances, the last thing you want to do is not get paid.”

Read the whole story, about frustrated Barneys workers who say their liquidating store has devolved into chaos, here.

Walmart introduces a grocery-picking robot

Walmart has a new grocery robot.

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Walmart has a new grocery robot.
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Business Insider/Hayley Peterson

On Wednesday, Walmart unveiled Alphabot, a new automated system for picking and packing online grocery orders at rapid speeds.

Hayley ventured out to Salem, New Hampshire, to see the system, which resides in a 20,000-square-foot facility that is attached to a Walmart store.

“Demand for this business continues to grow,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of central operations for Walmart, told Hayley of the company’s online grocery business. “Systems like [Alphabot] allow us to scale enormously.”

Why does this matter? Alphabot is estimated to pick and pack orders up to 10 times faster than a human, Hayley wrote. As demand for online grocery services grows, more retailers could turn to automation to fulfill orders more rapidly.

See photos of Walmart’s automated system here.

Taste test: One of the most underrated chains in fast food

Irene loved her experience at Fatburger.

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Irene loved her experience at Fatburger.
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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Irene had a blast eating her way through Los Angeles, California. On her trip, she stopped by a Fatburger restaurant, which she deemed one of the most underrated chains out there.

“A good burger should simply taste good. And Fatburgers taste really, really good,” Irene said. “So why isn’t Fatburger a bigger deal? Maybe it’s the name. It’s certainly not the burgers.”

Read Irene’s full taste test here.

Everything else you need to know:

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