It’s easy to get down in the dumps about retailing today, with stories of the “Retail Apocalypse” flooding the news. But despite increased competition and increasing expenses, there are many ways in which this isn’t such a bad time to be an independent retailer.  It’s also not a bad time to be alive – if you need a pick- me- up, read the BBC article Seven Reasons Why the World is Improving.

In coming up with my seven reasons why the retail world is improving, I should note that I have a lot of perspective.  Our shop is celebrating its 45th anniversary on May 1, so we started out as shopkeepers back before Amazon and even Walmart were a serious threat.  While some things were easier back then, here are ways in which life for retailers has gotten better:

  1. The buy local movement.  I am very grateful that our customers place value on supporting businesses like ours, and I know that this is the result of the efforts made by Dane Buy Local, AMIBA, and other organizations to educate the public about how important it is to shop local.
  2. Social media. We are now able to communicate continuously, and personally, with our customers – and both Facebook and Instagram are virtually free.  We are also able to pass on information from our fellow businesses and our suppliers in a way that was never possible before.
  3. Concern for the environment.  There have been great improvements made in using recycled materials and being able to recycle shipping cartons and packing materials.  Plus we have fewer shoppers asking for gifts boxes and bags when they don’t really need them, saving us money and lessening our carbon footprint.
  4. General prosperity.  The vast majority of people can afford to make some purchases beyond the necessities of food, shelter and clothing (96% of all American homes have TVs, for example).  That means we have a large base of potential customers, despite concerns about the economy. I wouldn’t have wanted to be selling gifts and decorative accessories during the 1930s, when there were 15 million unemployed in our country.
  5. The internet. We wouldn’t have Amazon as our biggest competitor if it weren’t for the internet, but we also would not have store websites that allow us to have a presence far beyond our four walls.  Whether you do e-commerce or not, the internet is a great way to reach customers when they’re not in your store. And while we love sales reps, trade shows and catalogues, we find that good vendor websites are a useful supplement.
  6. Smart phones. These pocket computers/phones/cameras help us keep in touch with store business no matter where we are, and many shops use phone apps for employee scheduling and other tasks.  The cameras are perfect for recording video and taking photos to use in social media, and for taking notes at trade shows.
  7. Email.  True, my inbox overflows most days. But it’s an efficient way to communicate with staff, our reps and vendors – and especially our customers. We send out an email blast once a week to the 8,000 people who have shared their email address with us, and about 1/3 of them read what we write.  This costs us very little in comparison to print advertising, and because we create the email ourselves it can be very spontaneous and up-to-the-minute.

I found it hard to limit myself to seven reasons while retailing is better today than in the past. How could I leave out the store’s computer/POS system, which makes inventory tracking, payroll, and bookkeeping so efficient?  I also wanted to mention the improved speed in getting deliveries from vendors and the use of digital and 3D printing to make custom products available with a low minimum.  And it would be a mistake not to include the fact that the quality and range of merchandise available today is exciting, especially thanks to young “makers” and designers.  We’ll continue to have our challenges, but I think that there are so many ways that retailing has improved. What would be on your list?

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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