The news on the economy continues to be a drag on holiday spirits. Everyone from presidential candidates to the local barber make the current state of our country’s financial malaise the most important topic of conversation. The outlook for the coming weeks and months overshadows other topics which, in other times, would be argued and debated among friends: the lack of an NBA season, the eminent departure of our last troops in Iraq, or the likelihood that a falling satellite might land in our neighborhood.
The negative nature — as well as the conversational intensity — of economic discussions is leading many to predict a very lackluster retailing quarter for the coming holiday shopping season. While overall economic indicators show some spark of recovery, no one is suggesting that shoppers will spend more freely in November and December. And why should they? Anyone who can fog a mirror knows that the economy is hurting. If not from the media, we certainly see this in the unemployment lines, foreclosure signs and “Going Out of Business” sales.
There is a Bright Spot
USA Today is reporting that Moody’s Investors Service predicts that online retailing during the 4th quarter of 2011 will be up 15% over the previous year. Compared with a piddling 3% overall retail increase, you can understand why more and more retailers are focusing on improving their online marketing strategies. I suspect we’ll see much, much more attention paid to Cyber Monday, even from traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Cyber Monday could well be the lifeline for many retailers who need a boost to improve same-store numbers, and satisfy nervous investors.
I’ve always been bullish on online retailing. It’s what convinced me in 1995 that the Internet would be the great retail landscape it is becoming today. Catalog shopping has always been huge in this country, going back over 100 years. It stood to reason that the convenience of online shopping could supplant printed catalogs. What I find fascinating is that retailers are still struggling with how to sell to online shoppers (see The New Target Website).
The Future is Now
What I visioned in 1995 has already happened. We are selling and buying more using the Internet. We are creating personalized shopping experiences through our social networks, blogs and iPads. We are feeling safe about shopping online, and people we considered prudent only a couple of years ago for not shopping online for security reasons, we now consider to be irrational and behind-the-times.
Yet, it will be quite a while before online retailing exceeds offline shopping. In fact, I personally doubt it ever will. Shopping is fun for many people. Shopping trips are a social, communal activity, allowing you the opportunity to see, touch and share in person.
But online shopping will find its important niche within the retail landscape: convenience. Pure and simple, online shopping is convenient. It’s immediate and accessible. And we now understand how it works.
Go Forth and Shop
So, go out and shop. Get up at 4 am on Friday morning after Thanksgiving and shop until you drop. You’ll need more stories to tell the young ‘uns at Christmas dinner. But, if you want to see some amazing bargains this year, as well as round out your gift list with ease, shop online. Get a nice warm mug of hot cider, pull on your snuggie, grab your iPad and shop like it was 2011.