Have you been shopping lately?
I don’t mean picking up groceries or grass seed at the big box store. I mean “real” shopping along Main Street or in a mall.
It seems many people are venturing back into the market, trying on clothes and shoes, looking at new garden furniture offerings and checking out the new florists and food shops that have popped up since their last visit.
Maybe you hadn’t really noticed how crowded downtown counters and mall parking lots were lately, but Amazon and other online retailers were certainly aware of it. The same goes for Facebook and other websites whose ad revenue has been steadily declining all spring.
E-commerce is still booming because we’ve all learned how quick and easy it is to scroll through deals on your couch in your pajamas at midnight and expect your stuff a day or two later. You can even wake up in the middle of the night and tell Alexa to get you something you forgot earlier.
Easy, yes, but how satisfying is it?
Maybe you’ve recently rediscovered the thrill of finding something unexpected as you pass a certain store and walk in to try or test it and have decided this is for you.
In 2021, e-commerce sales totaled $870.8 billion out of an estimated $6.6 trillion in retail sales. In 2020, the percentage of e-commerce sales was 14.2 but it increased to 17.9 the following year. Now, all reports show that e-commerce numbers have slowly started to decline while the number of all retail sales continues to grow.
Those big numbers include all sorts of stuff – not just items you can get at a market, but also vehicles and gas, restaurants and food deliveries, medicine, artwork and everything. which is described as “finished goods”.
Some of the priciest items that boosted e-commerce sales months ago included automobiles and appliances, but long waits for deliveries encouraged consumers to hit the road to find what they wanted. already in stock somewhere.
While many restaurants were closed to indoor dining, food delivery orders resumed, as did produce from local supermarkets and grocery stores. But the current availability of dining options has persuaded some people to go back to eating out and doing less prep at home.
All these changes happening all over the place are causing unease in the retail sectors.
E-commerce giants like Amazon had built gigantic warehouses and hired tens of thousands of workers. They don’t want to see sales drop even a little bit. On the other hand, local retailers want to be able to serve their customers with a wider range of products and faster service, but they are hesitant to invest in more locations and more staff until they are convinced that these changes in retail will last.
It’s unlikely, of course, that any of us will give up the ease of shopping on the website altogether, but when we’re no longer confined to our homes, how many of us will want to go back to the streets main or the mall looking for delicacies?
Reports show that the decline in e-commerce almost exactly matches the rate of increase in in-person shopping. Amazon’s sales in the first quarter of 2022 showed a decline for the first time in its history, and none of the analysts can be certain whether this is simply a blow or foreshadows a continuing trend.
Did everyone misjudge the situation when all those forecasters said “e-commerce is the future of retail”? Does our return to normal mean going back to our old ways of buying local for what we want.
The merchants in your community certainly hope so.
Former Member of Parliament for Jersey City, Joan Quigley is President and CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corp.
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