On Black Friday this past week, more shopping than ever was done online: an estimated five billion dollars were spent. While this was still a gain for companies like Apple and Walmart that have large online presences, the biggest winner was obviously Amazon. According to the company, over 200,000 toys were sold in the first five hours alone.
While classic retail storefronts claim that they can survive despite this loss of potential sales to the internet, it is more apparent every year that they are struggling. Foot traffic is decreasing and new monikers like “Small Business Saturday” are being made up to galvanize shoppers. Former juggernauts in the retail business like Macy’s, Sears, and Toys R Us are going bankrupt, closing locations, or both.
For much of Black Friday’s biggest attractions, this movement online makes perfect sense. Televisions, phones and other technologies are reliably mass-produced, and consumers generally can get a good idea of what they are getting from just looking at specifications online. This is the reason Cyber Monday has caught on so quickly; the convenience of ordering items online is much more attractive than the thought of going out at odd hours, waiting in line, and fighting off everyone else doing the same.
That isn’t to say that the movement of sales to Amazon is a good thing. The slow death of Black Friday signifies the even slower downfall of physical stores in general (at least, in their current incarnation). It seems as though if a store cannot beat the convenience of Amazon nor the cheapness of Walmart – one of the few thriving retailers – they are destined to either die or remain a niche place. This is truly something to be lamented, even if it seems good to the consumer for now.
There is value in being able to have the prospective purchase there to inspect or try out before buying. The obvious first example here is clothes. I myself have made more than a couple regretful purchases due to clothes looking or fitting differently than I expected from the pictures and sizing given for the item. Everyone from Uniqlo to individual Ebay sellers want to make a profit, so it is in their best interest to only show an outfit in its prime. Being able to try the clothes on in order to test their actual aesthetics on the body has worth that is difficult at best to replicate. As much as in-person clothing shopping trips tire me out, at least I am able to come out of them feeling confident about my purchases.
This theory of trying things out extends past just clothing. When Toys R Us first announced their bankruptcy, for example, I saw much discussion on the worth of toy stores. Thinking back on my own experiences, I remembered how exciting Toys R Us was as a child. While I fully admit that this is completely a ploy to get kids in an environment where they will beg for anything and everything, I enjoyed stores like Toys R Us as a kid for also allowing me to compare the different options available. While this can be done online, the physical feel and look of a specific toy was always my most important concern. Having the tangible objects in front of a person can change how they perceive them.
Finally, many places can give value beyond just a storefront. Depending on the type of store, they can serve as discussion places for like minded people, social grounds for friends, and even members of communities. Just because companies want your money doesn’t mean that there are not real people working behind the counters and throughout the stores, especially true for local businesses. This closeness and personality simply cannot at present be done online, especially when each webpage on Amazon lacks any character from the actual sellers.
So, it is with a heavy heart that I admit that the traditional storefront is dying. While I am hopeful for there to be some sort of evolution that revitalizes the idea of a physical market, I can only see despair for the previous mainstays as they must bow, like the rest of us, to Jeff Bezos.
Peter Fenteany is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.