Monday, February 7, 2022

What Happened to Retail?

While going through Infidel753’s Sunday Link Roundup, I came across an interesting post about the declining future of brick-and-mortar retail. It posits that while COVID hasn’t done it any favors, the decline has been in effect for years now.

Anyone who lives near what used to be a mall can attest that physical stores are going away fast. The main culprit is, indeed, online shopping. COVID is just piling on.

While far from perfect, it’s hard to beat the vast selection of whatever you want, delivered to you within days, or sometimes even same-day (if you live in a market with an Amazon warehouse.)

When you look at what people want out of a retail outlet, it comes down to these main things:

·        Wide selection of items in stock

·        Helpful and available clerks

·        Low prices

These “wants” are why brick and mortar is fading. All three can no longer be had at the same time.

To have a wide selection you need room for it, or in other words, a large showroom. Retail real estate is expensive. You also have to front the money to buy the additional stock to sell.

To attract reliable, intelligent, personable clerks, you need to pay a living (or at least significantly above minimum) wage. You should also provide health insurance and benefits if you want serious, career-minded people. Multiply all that by the number of clerks you need.

Both of these two things raise costs considerably. To be able to turn a profit, prices have to rise accordingly, which is counter to charging low prices. Unless the owner is willing to take losses, (and what business owner would be?) you simply can’t have all three.*

*I suppose there could be a business where the product is dirt cheap to create and the demand is such that high prices are supported, but there aren’t many. How many iPhone stores can a market tolerate?

Add to that the convenience, low cost, and increasing reliability of online shopping and you see why it’s pulling people out of stores.

To run an online business, all the money goes into the nuts and bolts. You get your website set up, which is primarily a one-time outlay (aside from maintenance and security updates) you have your warehouse space, which is cheaper than retail space, buy your stock, and then have a minimal crew to stock the shelves and pack the boxes.

I, for one, leapt at the chance to avoid going out to shop and buy stuff from my computer in my jammies. I pretty much buy everything but groceries online and have since the mid-2000s. That probably has more to do with my own anti-social tendencies than anything, but it works for me.

To me, the real tragedy is that there’s a whole employment sector that was there when I was young that has since disappeared. Where are young people supposed to get jobs now, with a whole industry that relied on them is just gone? Grownups all say, “Get a job! Don’t be a slacker. Don’t take handouts,” etc. But where? Doing what? Malls are gone. Movie theaters are on life support. Restaurants are struggling. All carry risks of getting themselves sick with COVID or being abused by jerks who don’t care about anyone but themselves.

Frankly, I’m surprised there are any brick and mortar establishments left at all.

I spent 12 years in record/CD retail, video rental, and several more working in a grocery store and at a gas station. It wasn’t much but it allowed me to pay for my own college education. With the way tuition has skyrocketed (and wages haven’t) doing that is pretty much impossible today. The only way to get oneself a college education, (short of being independently wealthy or having parents pay your way), is to get student loans, which end up as a never-ending albatross around people’s necks for the rest of their lives.

As much as people have always complained about retail stores, we’re really going to miss them when they’re gone.

Book’em Danno

Regarding the book burnings in Texas, Tennessee, and other repressed places, I have only this to say:

Here endeth the lesson.

More Dad Stories

My dad used to be an altar boy so, in light of all the modern priest/altar boy scandals,  I asked him if a priest ever did anything untoward with him.

Dad said there was one certain very old priest with whom all the altar boys had a problem.  Seems that when they would help him up out of his genuflect, he was known to pass some gas on them.  He said when you saw those robes billow, you knew you were in trouble.  Anyway, the altar boys policed this themselves by assigning the altar boy with the least seniority to this honor.


Infidel753 said...

I buy almost everything online now (but I don't use Amazon -- you have to draw the line somewhere). Sometimes it's because I'm looking for something really unusual that a local store is vanishingly unlikely to have, but mostly it really is the pandemic. I just don't want to take the risk of going anywhere with a lot of people around unless absolutely necessary.

I think restaurants will come roaring back after the pandemic ends. That's something that can't be duplicated online, and it's one of the things I most miss from pre-covid times. But they're going to need to pay their employees better. If prices go up somewhat, I can live with that.

Movie theaters seem to have been doing everything possible to drive customers away even before the virus hit. Skyrocketing prices, endless commercials (not just movie trailers) before the movie, and at the dominant chain here, you could no longer just buy a ticket and sit anywhere you want, you had to buy a specific seat (so if a cellphone asshole sits next to me, I can't move?). With today's large, high-quality TV sets and computer monitors, theaters just don't offer enough advantage to offset all that.

Probably the elderly priest's gassy eruptions were still less offensive than what came from the other end during sermons.

It's Infidel753, by the way (Infidel752 is just across the street).

bluzdude said...

Gah! Update has been made. Sorry buddy, I was going from memory and intended to go check the number before posting. Well, as far as the digits go, as Meat Loaf says, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad.

I've been to one theater that required assigned seating and thought it went against everything theater-y about going to the movies. How does one know if they're sitting right beside someone? When I buy ballgame tickets online, you can see the occupied seats and space yourself accordingly. In a theater, I always want to avoid everyone, but especially loud people, children, and those with noisy food.

I'm also looking forward to a restaurant resurgence. In fact, I just went out to dinner with Sweetpea on Sunday, only the 2nd time we've done so since March 2020.

Bohemian said...

I don't like online shopping, I like the experience of going shopping... which a lot of us Gals do and clicking from the computer and never getting out would drive me to insanity. It's like Audio Books, you're having someone 'read' to you but it's not the same as enjoying a good Actual Book. As for the Book Burners, we assume they ever learned to Read, Right? *Winks* If I were the Young, I'd be Obsessed then with Reading what they wanted to keep you from absorbing... it would add to the desire to see what they're trying to prevent you from seeing, learning, knowing. I see Books making a comeback at the Bookstores and I'm glad. I'm seeing Vinyl making a comeback in Music and I'm glad. As for Brick and Mortar being unable to be competitive, this is Truth... also the Small Biz Owner can't compete with the Corporate Giants and Billionaire Boys Club of Retailers and Franchises. Quickly being erased from the Landscape is the Small Biz Entrepreneurs and cozy Family owned Restaurants. Except... in large Immigrant Communities where those things still flourish, which is why I like living in a Metropolitan area rich with diversity, it's like traveling around the World but staying in your own Community to experience more than just one Culture. Of coarse if The Cult of IQ45 had it's way, they'd try to do away with anyone different too... they are an ever more unhinged segment of the population and it's spilling it's poison across borders now... even Canada is having something that resembles an Occupation of the Lunatic Fringe.

bluzdude said...

I never had much experience with banned books but I'm sure it would just make me want to read them all the more. I know it worked that way back in the 80s when they had the record labeling controversy. All it did was make kids go buy the "explicit lyrics" albums.

Me, I once sat through a church service wherein the priest went on a diatribe against the movie Life of Brian. Got me so pissed off I went to see it as soon as I could. Became one of my all time favorites.

I don't understand the allure of vinyl. I lived through it, worked in record stores selling them, and I turned cartwheels once CDs came out. Vinyl was easily damaged and they skipped all the time. That was the bane of my existence, both personally (when MY records skipped) and professionally (when people returned THEIR records that skipped.) CDs ended that immediately.

Bohemian said...

Yes, but you can't get the Graphics delight of an LP Album Cover on a CD!

bluzdude said...

No question, the graphic display and notes in LPs were far superior. At first CDs tried to compete by jamming booklets into the jewel boxes. Doesn't seem like they even bother anymore. And that's a shame because I've always been a junkie for examining all the liner notes for interesting tidbits about the artist.

Also, LPs were far superior items to have autographed, which was important to me back in The Day, when I had many such opportunities. An autographed album becomes art, worthy of displaying. An autographed CD cover just went back in the rack.