Whither retail.

Author:Rundies, Jeff

Now that we've all been through the annual frenzy that is the Christmas shopping season, it is time to reflect on the state of retail in America. Not because retail isn't doing well; it is, despite the fact that the impression is that retail is morphing into e-commerce. It is time to reflect on the state of retail because brick-and-mortar retailers are having trouble evolving. They have looked at the enemy--online retailers--and decided that the best way forward is to become online retailers rather than look at their own heritage and try to discover a way to make it better. It seems ironic to say this in such an internet-centric world, but brick-and-mortar stores, I believe, need to make themselves more user-friendly. Instead, it seems they are driving their own customers to the web--and not necessarily to their own websites.

I have a friend--my age, who grew up in the golden era of shopping malls--who proudly proclaimed this year that he wouldn't set foot in a store, opting instead to do all of his holiday shopping on his laptop. No lines. No Christmas carols. No frenzy. No parking. My friend was not alone, of course, and it strikes me that e-commerce is the ultimate "guy shopping:" We men don't, b(u)y and large, shop, we decide on something, laser focus on where to get it, buy it and move on. Women browse/shop as an activity. Men look at it as a mission. Let the men have the web--I say go with your strength and make stores themselves even more woman-oriented.

Brick-and-mortar retail seems to be going through the same pangs that the newspaper business has. Having been beaten to death by the surge in e-commerce, these two staid, venerable, and vulnerable, old business models seemingly refuse to change, to up their game, and sit idly by as the internet steals their thunder and makes them shells of their former glorious selves. It shouldn't be. They are stores, and should act like a store, rather than playing at the fringes of hot e-commerce.

Before we panic, however, some perspective is needed. The retail news buzz around Thanksgiving weekend's Black Friday and Cyber Monday was on internet sales, and the numbers were impressive: Reports indicated that Thursday-Monday online sales topped out at $12.8 billion, up 15.2 percent from the same period last year. In fact, internet holiday sales have posted impressive gains each year for awhile. Not coincidentally, these positive internet sales articles were on the web. Truth be told, total retail...

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