Local Business in the Hands of Holiday Shoppers - Paycheck

Local Business in the Hands of Holiday Shoppers

As surprising as it may be to many our more politically-minded readers, the earlier sunsets and longer shadows are a hint of more things than the reality that a national election is now less than two weeks away.

         With November comes the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the two months that determine whether many retail stores turn a profit for the year.

         Like so many things, it will be a bit different in 2020.

         For the last few years, major retailers have been scaling back the once-legendary “Black Friday” sales on the day after Thanksgiving as they wrestled with competition with online sales, the reasonable desire of employees to spend Thanksgiving with their families before beginning a hectic season of mandatory overtime, and the questionable value of the inevitable news story about a pre-dawn (and frequently drunken) fistfight over the last remaining flat-screen TV.

         Covid-19 will speed up that trend, as it has so many other changes in the economy.  The days of midnight openings on Black Friday and all-night sales are clearly gone as stores struggle to meet new and higher standards of cleanliness, and the most enticing deals may well be offered online, with the product to be picked up in a local store in the days ahead.

         Beyond the giant retail chains, two competing tendencies seem likely to shape this year’s Christmas shopping—something that I heard summed up by a pair of sisters at a drug store in a notably struggling strip mall in northwestern Pennsylvania.

         Donna was looking forward to seeing small, local stores that have been limping along for months back at full swing and looks forward to finding the things on her Christmas list, helping the local economy by sticking to small stores, and seeing neighbors she hasn’t seen in months.

         Her sister Susan’s plan ran in another direction altogether.  “Before this year, I don’t think I’d ever ordered anything over the Internet—but when everything closed down, what choice did I have?  Really, I’ve gotten used to the convenience and everything showing up just a few days later at my door.”

          Those three things—online sales, big box stores adapting to changing circumstances, and local stores—will together fill America’s shopping needs this year.  There is not much question that most of the giant retailers and online stores have access to enough capital to whether any storm, nor that those that do not face issues unrelated to the pandemic.  The strength of independent retailers in the years ahead, though, may be in the hands of shoppers like Donna.

Michael O'Connell

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