It’s one of those questions that can’t be avoided this time of year: “Are you done with your Christmas shopping?”
Everywhere I turn, there it is, whether I’m picking up the kids from school, catching up with friends, or making small talk at the post office. My answer, by the way, is always ‘no’ — unless you’re asking me on December 31st. (By the way, if you’re one of those people who brags about having every gift purchased and wrapped before Thanksgiving, we can never be friends.)
Last weekend, the question came up during a holiday party at our town’s fire station, where my husband is a volunteer. This time, instead of skirting it, I listened with curiosity, wondering if there were others like me who perpetually need another week to prepare for Christmas.
Gabby, one of the women I was speaking with, said, “I am done, but I’m not really happy about it.”
“Why?!” I asked with a mix of jealously and confusion.
“Well, I did two-thirds of my shopping on Amazon this year.”
“And this is a bad thing?” I asked, still perplexed (particularly since as I’ve referred to Amazon Prime as ‘mommy’s little helper’ on more than one occasion).
“I try to shop locally,” Gabby said, adding that some of her best friends are small business owners. “But I have to admit, it’s hard to do that when the deals are better online.”
Before I could give my two cents, another woman chimed in. “I did pretty much all of my shopping on Amazon, and I’m not sorry.” As a frequent speaker at healthcare events (and therefore a frequent traveler), she relies heavily on sites that enable users to shop from home — or the road.
“Don’t get me wrong, I certainly try to support local businesses, but during the holidays, it’s just too hard,” she said.
I feel the same way. Although I love the convenience and wide product selection of marketplaces like Amazon, I hate to imagine the impact it has had on the retail world. Thanks to all of the research out there, I don’t have to.
Here are some of the more jarring statistics on holiday shopping trends:
- This past Cyber Monday, digital transactions reached a record $6.59 billion, marking a 16.8 percent spike from a year ago, and making it the highest grossing online shopping day in US history (according to Adobe Insights).
- 83 percent of shoppers are expected to use desktops or smartphones to do their holiday shopping this year, according to a Deloitte survey, which also found that consumers plan to spend more of their budget (51 percent) shopping online than in a store.
- Last-minute shoppers are no exception. In 2016, nearly half of all online sales in the United States during the prime shopping period of Dec. 18-20 were made on Amazon. On Christmas day — when most stores are closed — Amazon gobbled up 46.1 percent of online sales (USA Today).
Clearly there’s a trend here. The good news is that none of the statistics I found spelled doom for local businesses, which have been leveraging tools like Instagram and events like “small business Saturday” to remain competitive. Malls, on the other hand, haven’t fared so well. According to a Time magazine article, more than 8,600 stores could close in the next year, many of which are brand-name anchor outlets that were once coveted by real estate developers.
“Clearly there’s a shake-up going on,” said Steven M. Lowy, co-CEO of Westfield, which operates dozens of malls around the world. “We understand the need to change and adapt.”
Hopefully he’s right, because if malls aren’t willing to consider some different strategies, they could go the way of Kodak.
Fortunately, some of the more forward-thinking developers are looking to boost traffic by welcoming non-retail attractions like fitness centers (once considered the “pariah” of the mall scene) and gourmet grocery stores, and supplementing food courts with high-end offerings like steak houses. Some have taken it a step further with features like aquariums, roller coasters, and bowling alleys, and have hired architects and designers to make malls more aesthetically pleasing, according to McKinsey.
In my opinion, these are steps in the right direction. Rather than trying to compete with the “endless product selection, price comparisons, and always-on nature of online,” malls can win people back by offering the one thing online shopping doesn’t: a physical place where people can shop, eat, and socialize, face-to-face.
If this isn’t enough to attract young shoppers, malls can offer wayfinding apps and mobile guides to help shoppers find what they’re looking for.
The bottom line is, there’s enough business to go around, and shoppers shouldn’t be made to feel like they’re choosing one method over another. They should feel just as satisfied going mall-hopping with a friend as they do browsing sales from their couch — whether or not that happens depends on how whether the retail giants are willing to change their ways.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some shopping to do.