Walking through the mall near my apartment is as quiet as walking through a graveyard. Where, I ask, have all the people gone? Worse, where are the stores? Nordstrom, Payless and Radio Shack have disappeared and Sears, given the few people wandering the aisles, seems to be hanging by a thread. The movie theater is no more and many of the stalls on the food mall are dark. Even the skating rink, once a practice mecca for Olympic hopefuls, is now postage stamp size, a victim of another mall refurbishing. I think I’ve seen four since it opened.
What’s curious is that retails sales are up by 3.6% over last year. (“The Death of Retail is Greatly Exaggerated,” by Phil Wanda, Fortune, June 15, 2017, pg. 34.) One might assume on-line shopping has replaced bricks-and-mortar stores because customers like the convenience and deep discounts. But that assumption would be only partially correct. Some physical stores are thriving in this economy. Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, T. J. Max and Best Buys are among them.
One reason these retailers are holding their own is service, not simply help with making purchases, but giving advice how to use and maintain the product. Expertise and making the customer feel special isn’t easy to replicate on a computer screen. So, bricks-and-mortar shops are transforming themselves into destination spots where a person can find classes, fashion advice and even brunch parties. (Blogs 11/9/16, 4/1/16.)
The renaissance in bricks-and-mortar hasn’t escaped the attention of on-line retailer, Amazon. Sensing a trend, it has opened 7 physical bookstores and plans to open more. (“You’ll Laugh! Cry! Maybe Buy,” by Erin Griffith, Fortune, June 15, 2017, pg. 94.) They are getting into other kinds of personal services, like grocery shopping, too.
My guess is Amazon is right to sense a trend. If I’ve learned anything about human nature in my 80 years, it’s what Aristotle knew centuries before. Man is a social animal. At the mall a person can at eat, learn, flirt.