Ten years ago, the airwaves were ripe with complaints that big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target were driving local mom-and-pop stores out of business. How quickly times change: Now the big-box stores are the ones struggling to find a reason to exist as online shopping begins to eat into their market share. The Washington Post has a profile of the struggles facing large retailers as they head into the biggest shopping day of the year:
Customers like Harders have big-box retailers — including Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us — stumped and pulling out all the stops to lure shoppers out of their homes.
“With brick-and-mortar stores, you have to pay rent, you have to pay your bills, so companies are starting to say, ‘Wait, how do you get more people in our stores?’ ” said Trae Bodge of RetailMeNot.com, a Web site that specializes in online coupons and discounts.
Target has begun offering free WiFi to help customers access the company’s mobile app and online coupons. J.C. Penney is giving away free family portraits throughout November, as well as complimentary haircuts to children attending elementary school, a promotion the company started in August.
And Wal-Mart and Best Buy have promised to match online competitors’ prices in an effort to combat “showrooming” — the practice of scouting out items in retail stores, then buying them online for lower prices.
The big retailers are right to be concerned. As online shopping develops, e-commerce will continue to eat into brick-and-mortar shopping. But what’s bad for Wal-Mart is good for all of us. Online shopping is greener, takes less time, reduces congestion, and allows better-informed consumers to make smarter decisions, as compared with brick-and-mortar competition.
This isn’t to say that showrooms are going extinct. People still like to see things and try them on before buying them. But after decades in which shopping malls seemed to be taking over American life, we may be facing a turn of the tide.