There’s an old adage that says “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Imagine never driving your own car to the neighborhood mall or shopping center. Imagine that the high price of gas making those trips a luxury rather than a pleasurable necessity. So what do you do? You keep the car which is on near empty in the garage, sit down in front of the TV, with a cup of coffee, your laptop and click into to your favorite store. It’s another virtual shopping trip that is done almost daily for you and me. But we ask ourselves is it done out of desire? Necessity? Time? Convenience? Money? Will that virtually be America in the 2020s and beyond? Will most of shopping for clothes and food be done on an electronic device from your home/office? Will stores downsize and shoppers return to small downtown communities for a personal neighborhood shopping experience?
Flashback 100 years to the1920s, except for neighborhood general stores and the corner pharmacy, most shopping was done from the kitchen table through thick catalogs published seasonally–the biggies were Sears and JC Penney’s. The lucky shoppers who had a telephone in the house called in their orders while others used the mail-order. And then it often took weeks, or months for retailers to get the merchandize packed and transported through the post office that then delivered by railroad (keep in mind you did not get to track its voyage through its tracking number on your phone). The merchandize wasn’t dropped off at the eager shoppers’ doors by a big brown UPS truck or Amazon Prime van in one to three days; delivery took weeks. No such thing as last-minute shopping back then.
I am a grandmother now and this was how my grandmother shopped when she was a young wife and mother in South Carolina. But things changed quickly with each generation. As cities grew, so did downtown shopping and huge department stores were born. For me as a child, there were few things as exciting as driving the 20 miles to downtown Miami with mom and grandma for back-to-school shopping at Burdines (bought out and renamed Macy’s in 2004-2005). And then a decade later in the early 1970s getting my first job at Burdines, but then, in a sprawling suburban shopping mall. Shopping malls have thrived most of my life, there was nothing better than a weekend trip to the mall with girlfriends or mothers and daughters with a conversation-filled lunch thrown in. I really think I was raised in a mall.
Technology has changed things quite a bit, Millennials and Gen-Z often make quick purchases on their phones or computers instead of making the trek to a mall and I’m sure they cringe at the idea of having to speak to someone through the phone to make a purchase! The irony and food for thought I offer with my observation throughout the years is: with all the other profound worldwide changes in every industry and walk of life, we found out that you can shop faster, scan merchandise in a matter of minutes, compare prices in seconds, stay safe during a pandemic, shop while your kids nap, save gas money, avoid getting sore feet, and not spend money on lunch. You can do all of this shopping through a catalog from your kitchen table, couch or bed … oh geez, I mean phone! Isn’t it true what they say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same?”