Online shopping will impact small towns

Saturday, December 3, 2016

With the Christmas holiday shopping season in full bloom, there's an avalanche of discussion over the future of traditional brick and mortar stores vs. the ever-expanding online sales.

Even a casual observer can see that the shopping trend is gaining traction with online sales.

Statistics from just the Black Friday weekend show that nearly 30 million transactions were made online which marks an increase from last year when those sales topped $2 billion. Brick and mortar stores lost another 5 percent this year after dropping $1 billion in sales last year and that number is sure to grow before the final count is tallied.

Now don't mistake this trend for an instant end to the traditional shopping malls and smaller stores. If you've had a chance to shop this year, it certainly appears the crowds are as large as always and the sales just as brisk.

But you're fooling yourself if you don't recognize that more shoppers - especially younger generation shoppers - have fully embraced the ease and convenience of shopping at home.

The impact of this shift in shopping habits and trends is understandable given the ease of online browsing.

But this trend is also alarming especially in smaller towns which rely on the jobs and the convenience of having local brick and mortar stores nearby.

If this trend continues - and there's absolutely no reason to believe it will not - the face of retail marketing in this country will also change the face of small town America.

Like most of you, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of elbowing with other shoppers to boost the holiday spirit. But I also recognize the unique opportunity to sit comfortably at home and avoid the crowds, the limited parking and the long wait in checkout lines.

Just read the financial pages and you'll see that many long-respected retail giants are in financial trouble. Some of those giants have outlets here in our community.

I would never suggest that traditional brick and mortar stores are going the way of the dinosaur. But the numbers are clear and the changes in technology are changing so rapidly that our shopping habits will never return to those of yesteryear.

Very soon online sales will eclipse brick and mortar sales in virtually all categories. And with that change, more retailers will abandon opening new stores in favor of beefing up their online presence.

As one of a more senior generation, I have long bemoaned the rapid advances of technology that make my world unrecognizable.

But at the same time, I cannot ignore this one single shift in our shopping habits and worry about the impact on our community and others.

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