The end of brick and mortar retail?

The former JC Penney entrance

The former JC Penney entrance

Shylah Dozeman

On a brisk August afternoon, Kendra Ortega and her daughter ventured to JCPenney excited for back-to-school sales, ready for a day of trying on clothes and rummaging through the best jeans. As they approached the store, they realized that the sale signs were not for anxious students, but for the dying business. “WHOLE STORE 75% OFF, EVERYTHING MUST GO.” Will stores like these continue to go out of business as current generations become more reliant on technology? 

   Technology will always be part of everyone’s life, especially in the retail industry. Not only is it used in the household, experts estimate it influences 50% of store sales, and this number continues to grow according to the Harvard Business Review

   It is also obvious that Generation Z, or “iGen”, is the most tech-savvy generation and helps others participate in the online world. Teenagers often help their relatives navigate how to purchase items online instead of trying to find them in a store. However, this could end up being a major problem for the dying retail industry if the reliance on online stores, such as Amazon, becomes too heavy for “iGen”. 

   One might think that teenagers would automatically choose to order something online since they are comfortable with technology. Someone ordering online can easily do so in the comfort of their own home, and, especially appealing to introverts, there is no human interaction. Ordering online is also helpful for people with multiple specifications because they can check off a box rather than having to explain every detail to an employee. 

   But obviously, the most prominent reason would be its convenience. In a survey of one hundred West Ottawa students, over 80% of those who said they would order online did so because it was “easier” than ordering in person. 

   Soph. Sam Tracy said, “Ordering online just seems to be the fastest and easiest way to get things. It doesn’t require you to talk to someone like phone ordering does and it doesn’t make you go out and take more time buying things. If I need something immediately I’ll buy it in person, but that rarely ever happens.”

   But these new ways of shopping do not necessarily mean in-store retail is doomed. Although ordering online may be more convenient, more students in the survey said they would rather order in person. Some people favored purchasing products in person because they wanted a hands-on experience. Soph. Savanna Karsies believes that purchasing items in person is a “better experience [with] the opportunity to see and feel the things you’re buying.”

   In fact, many West Ottawa students believe that shopping online only causes trouble. For instance, Jr. Isabel Shepard would rather go to the store in person because “if [she] were to buy the product online or over the phone it may not be what [she] expected it to be when it arrives.”

   With these perspectives in mind, store owners shouldn’t have any concern for their future profits. However, there is a recent factor that many people have tried to forget, Covid-19. Since the pandemic began, students have been quarantined, Michigan residents have been told to stay home, and masks have been mandated. These restrictions required businesses to find another way to reach out to their customers, technologically advancing their stores in many ways. 

   Delia Dejong, the front-end manager in charge of the online ordering department at Blain’s Farm and Fleet, has seen first-hand the impacts of Covid-19 in her department. “We see that web orders are getting longer and bigger as to where even two years ago, just prior to Covid, we had maybe one web order a day, and then right after Covid… we were busy non-stop running back and forth, they would come in like crazy.” 

   Blain’s has always had a drive-thru area for large equipment, but when they started advertising the accessibility of web orders due to Covid-19, the department expanded astronomically. However, the drive-thru department has continued to thrive even after the restrictions were lifted. “I don’t think it’ll completely go away,” Dejong said, “It’s convenient for moms who have to work and don’t have time to unstrap five babies out of a car seat and then put them [back] in the car, it’s just so much easier.”

   Obviously, the online industry has been growing since before the pandemic, but it also accounts for the burst of reliance on technology. Clearly, most of Generation Z does not have a problem going into stores to buy products and should not be blamed for the dying retail industry in the future. Even though they may be more comfortable with technology than the other generations, they obviously aren’t all afraid of social interaction, and many even enjoy it.