Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What will the return of retail look like in the coming months - years?

Recently, because of the Pandemic, there has been a great deal of talk about the ability for retail to recover from “stay-at-home” restrictions put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Having spent a great number of years working in retail, and then owning a small retail store while simultaneously creating a life in technology, I think I understand the viability of the question - can small retail return? Can any retail return, big or small? And if so, which type of retail has the better chance?

Small retail stores of today have one thing big retail does not and is often lost in online buying: the knowledgeable individual working in the establishment. The person who is really into what they are selling. They are (or can be); enthusiastic, excited, and totally enjoy what they are doing. They are willing to tell all they know. Most are also very customer oriented and love the fact that people come to them for their knowledge and guidance on purchases. They can be, and often are, a great influence in the market.

I must admit, when working for Federated Department stores in the early 70's we had people who would learn about the products they were selling. They even had training sessions. Today big retail will hire people to ring up the sale and make sure their area is clean - training went away as a reduction in cost. The only place I have seen knowledgeable people in big retail is in the cosmetics department. It is downhill from there, so why go?

I am aware of the small business owner who went into business for themselves and not the consumer. These business owners will most likely not return. They were not there originally for their customers, but for the prestige of owning a business. The ones that loved retail will try to get back and may be able to pull it off. They need support. They need friends. This IS their Life!

 What started me down this was an article this morning in the New York Times by Alexandar Alter "Bookstores Are Struggling. Is a New E-Commerce Site the Answer?"  - Warning - you may have to join, sign-in, or subscribe, to read. 

It was very insightful about the plight of the small bookstore owner during this pandemic. Today there is an online option for the small bookstore owner to stay in business, however, will it work when things open back up? Will it change the way they run their business in the future, or will it hurt them?

I am an avid reader so my own personal experience: In the 60's/70's I went to a small bookstore, and although it was part of a chain the chain allowed the manager to be a quasi-owner, and she was fantastic. She would even call when a new book was published by a particular author she knew I liked, and had knowledge about the book. I ONLY shopped with her. The store is gone as is the chain and now I shop at Amazon.

On the other side of this bookstore quandary: I have an author friend who just published another book. In his email he pointed us to Amazon to buy the book. Before I finished reading the email I bought the book on my Kindle. I am not a young person; however, I have gotten over the need for the tactile feel of paper.

As an afterthought, what small businesses s can return? Good question. How about hardware stores where knowledge can be sought after, beauty salons, coffee shops who allow conversation, perhaps ice cream stores. 

A great deal of knowledge can be had online today in almost every category, the small business can be a source of influence with specific products as can friends and other associates. This pandemic has increased the online sales volume (from what I read) but has definitely put more people online searching for information, which is what it is all about.

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