Can stores lure holiday shoppers away from their computers?
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Black Friday was more like blah Friday this year, said Leslie Patton at Bloomberg, as online shopping and weeks of deep discounting continued to erode the post-Thanksgiving doorbuster rush. Foot traffic to stores dropped 6 percent, while e-commerce spending was up 16 percent — and that was before deal-hungry consumers set another record with $9 billion in purchases on Cyber Monday, the online retail spend-a-thon. As Amazon's sales surged, some shoppers actually mourned the loss of the "frenzy that once spawned human stampedes, anxiety, and carnival-like atmospheres inside shopping malls." Retailers are "trying everything they can to keep up with Amazon" as well as "dozens of buzzy e-commerce startups," said Sapna Maheshwari and Michael Corkery at The New York Times. They are no longer looking for the same flood of customers checking out the aisles. In fact, the "ideal transaction" for many big retail chains like Nordstrom and Kohl's today is "a consumer who browses online" but visits stores to buy the merchandise, cutting shipping costs and reducing the chance of a return. For now, the strategy of attracting those shoppers is working, but it may be a "short-lived" victory. Whatever stores do, Amazon always seems to respond "with new ways of delivering inexpensive items as quickly and conveniently as possible."
Don't kiss traditional stores goodbye yet, said Sharmila Chatterjee at USA Today. Online sales are still just 23 percent of holiday shopping, and "e-commerce may be in for a reckoning." Just as stores tried to compete with the internet through discounts, "today's online retailers are trying to mimic brick-and-mortar's potential for instant gratification." But the costs of faster shipping are ballooning. Amazon's free one-day shipping for Prime members has cost almost twice as much as the company's original $800 million estimate. Amazon can afford this; others can't. Quarterly earnings at Target, Walmart, and Best Buy remain strong, said Sarah Nassauer at The Wall Street Journal, in part because of how they have balanced online and in-store shopping. Target now has dozens of workers at each store "collecting products from shelves or putting items into boxes" for faster deliveries, and Walmart has made more workers available to help customers.
Efficient shopping won't replace the classic holiday shopping strolls of the past, said Alexandra Jacobs at The New York Times. But a few stores are still making a game effort at the kinds of holiday attractions that used to draw crowds "four-deep on the pavement for the free show." This year, New York's Macy's has created "old-fashioned windows devoted to the story of Virginia O'Hanlon, the little girl who wrote to the New York Sun in 1897 asking if there was still a Santa Claus." The Philadelphia Macy's, in the historic old Wanamaker's store, still does its classic Christmas concert on the massive Wanamaker Organ. Convenience isn't the only thing shoppers are looking for, said Sarah Halzack at Bloomberg. Many are still "seeking something social and experimental." And, if well executed, "lively displays, well-stocked shelves, and strong customer service can still lure people in."