Why E-tail Is Beating Retail

Lots of folks are lamenting the loss of brick and mortar businesses. Losses primarily attributed to web-based purchasing, particularly from Amazon.

In part the change is simply cyclical, the big, new guys beat up on the old guys. Think back to when malls first came to your town. Who suffered? The downtown shopping districts wilted as huge indoor malls with plenty of free parking and a bright shiny newness sprouted. In smaller towns it was K-Mart, then Walmart, that sucked the life out of the small local retailers. In communities large and small the old-time retailers often had just let things go. The stores had gotten worn, lighting wasn’t great, aisles were jammed, floor coverings were tawdry. The new places were a lot nicer to shop.

Some of used to joke that K-Mart never opened another checkout lane until there were at least 20 in line at each of those that were open. That’s a business killer. Look where K-Mart is today.

Then you saw what had been grocery stores pick off other businesses by making dry cleaning, banking, mailing and florists available at the grocery store. Many even added coffee shops, grills and buffets that hammered the local cafes.

And finally Amazon became more than a bookseller – much more. Amazon became the place for virtually anything you wanted to buy. Quick, free shipping, sometimes within hours, cemented the deal. But low prices and availability made it too good to pass up.

Here are a few examples of experiences folks I know have had over the past year.

One person was looking for an unusual light bulb for a bathroom light fixture. He went to the local electrical goods store where he had bought bulbs and electrical parts for years. They quoted him a price of about $260 for the bulb and said it would take a couple of weeks to arrive. Then the clerk made a surprising suggestion – “Why don’t you see what you can find online?” My friend did. Same bulb, 2 for about $60, delivered in two days from Amazon. Hugely convenient, massive savings.

Another was looking for American Ginseng, a heath product recommended by her doctor. She tried local grocers and drug stores to no avail. A few clicks on Amazon found the item, reasonably priced and it was in her hands in two days.

Another was looking for a watch battery. Tried Walmart with no luck three times in three weeks, tried a couple of big box stores where he found it for $3.99. Looked at Amazon, found a 20 pack for $4.99. Huge savings. Arrived in two days.

What comes next? Who knows, but price and service will continue to be important to many shoppers.

‘Click-and-Collect’ Boosts Retailers

The assumed demise of bricks-and-mortar retail stores in the age of e-commerce doesn’t appear to be playing out the way the real estate industry thought it would. In fact, a melding of in-store and online services – even for some brands that started out as digital-only – seems to be a winning strategy aiding a retail resurgence, says Todd Caruso, a senior managing director at commercial real estate brokerage CBRE.

“We are really seeing an upstart renaissance” within the retail sector, adds Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research at Cushman & Wakefield. Still, plenty of challenges remain for retailers, including oversaturation of physical stores and not enough investment in online platforms or in-store shopping experiences, Brown says. “You can’t compete with the likes of Amazon when it comes to convenience. You have to give consumers a reason to come into your store.”

Some bricks-and-mortar operations are tapping into consumers’ desire for instant gratification by offering online shoppers a faster in-store pick-up option and online returns. Such a tactic appears to be boosting traffic at physical stores: More than 53% of Americans say they use “click-and-collect” options which enable the online purchase of a product and an in-person pick-up at the store, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Of consumers who use click-and-collect shopping options, 61% report using them at least once per month. Further, 67% say that when they go to a store to collect their online purchase, they end up buying additional items from the retailer.

“The use of click-and-collect demonstrates the ongoing convergence of physical and digital,” says ICSC President and CEO Tom McGree. “Consumers want options when making their purchases, and the retailers who are offering the most channels are seeing more purchases being made.”

That may help explain why foot traffic at physical stores is climbing. Nearly 80% of consumers report visiting physical stores as much or more than they did two years ago, according to ICSC, with entertainment and dining venues seeing the most traffic.

Smile, There’s Good News

Canadian Salmon Saved

Thanks to the knowledge of First Nations and modern technology, Canadian workers have freed millions of salmon trapped after huge landslide. Helicopters, heavy machinery and nearly 200 workers frantically worked to free millions of salmon trapped by a landslide in British Columbia’s Fraser River.

Crews leaned heavily on local Indigenous communities to help gather tens of thousands of fish. Government crews in the area worked relentlessly to clear debris after the rockslide discovered in a late June created an impassable 5m-high waterfall.

Each year, several species of Pacific salmon – sockeye, chinook, pink and coho – travel up the Fraser River to reproduce. But the newly formed barrier has blocked the fish from accessing critical watersheds for egg laying.

Weeks of excavation allowed thousands of salmon to pass through carefully constructed channels, as many as 3,000 salmon per day were transported by helicopter and thousands more were to be transported by truck after the road was rebuilt and a fish ladder was built.

Emergency crews have leaned heavily on local Indigenous communities, and their knowledge of salmon spawning, to help gather tens of thousands of fish.

“First Nations’ technical knowledge in fish capture – from beach-seining crews to a second fish wheel – underpins the operation,” said the government in a media release.

Store Owner Is Beloved

This 58-year-old immigrant’s San Francisco corner store is so loved that people throw birthday parties there

Valentino Market, which Elie Chahwan, a 58-year-old Lebanese immigrant, has owned and operated for 17 years, is more than just a place to buy snacks or a bottle of wine – it’s a living museum to Cow Hollow residents.

Receipts he found under a crawlspace date back 100 years, to when it was a wholesale operation. He keeps a photobook of black and white pictures of the neighborhood when the streets were full of horse-drawn buggies, and shelves overflow with donated antiques from the same era. A refrigerator-worthy drawing from a 5-year-old customer proclaims it to be “The Best Store in the Galaxy,” a sentiment shared by a trio of commemorative plaques from the California Senate, House and Mayor.

The place has soul, but more importantly heart. Elie (pronounced eel-ee) is the only person on-staff and seems to know every customer’s name. Customers have their Amazon deliveries sent to the shop for safekeeping. He’s clearly a local legend, but when asked why Valentino has become such a neighborhood favorite, he pauses like he’s never considered it.

“This business is hospitality and service,” he says. “It has to be you. You have to be nice to people. I’m not perfect, but I try, I’m here 12 or 13 hours a day.”

The community has noticed his dedication, to say the least. He keeps several boxes of Christmas cards behind the counter and even more at home. Every year kids decorate his car for the Union Street Easter Parade and their parents throw birthday parties at the shop. Two years ago Elie had a heart attack, and his customers delivered pages and pages of well wishes to the hospital. The store is filled with custom Elie merchandise gifted by customers, from a blue baseball cap with bright yellow print that reads “Elie is cool” to a custom bobblehead showing him as a cowboy. “When I moved here, I really wanted to do a country store. I guess I’m a cowboy at heart,” he says, pointing to a photo of him dressed as a sheriff for Halloween.

Every year customers throw him a surprise birthday party, which typically features a vocal performance from one of his favorite customers, Emilio Bernardini, an Italian American WWII veteran who stops in every day.

Another reason Elie has become such a fixture is that he treats everyone equally. Sean Penn regularly sat outside the shop drinking coffee, but Elie never bothered him for a photo. When Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski lived down the street, they became good friends.

Elie clearly loves his job, though it’s not an easy life. He Facetimes with his extended family in Lebanon every day, but he’s so focused on the shop that he’s never settled down to marry. Finding quality help is also a challenge now that potential part-time employees make more money driving for ride-sharing companies. Regulations on tobacco products have driven down business. Although his private label brand of wine bottled in Lodi still sells well, the more expensive bottles in his 55 degree cellar don’t sell like they used to.

“I’m very blessed. I’m away from my family, everybody is in Lebanon, but they are my family,” he says of his customers. “It’s hard, but true people here can make you live like a king. You forget all your problems.”

Louisiana Teen Provides Clothes for Classmates

When Port Allen Middle School in Port Allen, Louisiana, began soliciting students for ideas on how to improve operations, 13-year-old Chase Neyland-Square had a suggestion. He wanted to create a closet full of donated clothing and school supplies that could be picked up by any under-privileged classmate who might need them.

Neyland-Square’s idea materialized in a pantry behind a stage in the school’s gymnasium. The closet houses two racks of clothing and more in bags, including shirts, dresses and shoes. Rows of school supplies are also available for students who might need notebooks or pens. Neyland-Square organizes the inventory while school staff distributes items. Neyland-Square named it PAM’s Pantry and said he plans to come back after graduating to continue tending to it, possibly helping it to grow into a non-profit organization.

The closet was the result of a brainstorming session for the Student Program for Arts, Recreation and Knowledge (or SPARK) that began at the school in 2016. The goal of the program is to solicit and implement practical solutions to make the school better for students.

Minnesota Woman Help Hungry Neighbors

Every day when Jamie Hendricks gets home, she gets to work checking her pantry and filling it up.

The food isn’t for her family, its for her community in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Hendricks’ planted the North End Free Pantry in her front yard. She got the idea from “Little Free Libraries,” where neighbors lend and borrow books. But she’s replaced books with food. So many people took the free food, she had to replace her two-and-a-half-foot pantry with a seven-foot one.

“That told me that we have a much bigger problem a much bigger need in our community than what I had even thought,” said Hendricks.

Every day when she comes home there’s usually some things gone, Hendricks said. In St. Paul, 20% of people live below the poverty line; that’s more than 8% above the national poverty rate.

Angelique Rush knows what it’s like to choose between paying bills and buying groceries for her husband and four kids. “Now we don’t get paid for another three days, so we are at the pantry trying to figure out what we can feed the kids since they’re out of school,” Rush said as she approaches the pantry. She’s hoping for some breakfast and something to make that her kids can warm up while she’s at work.

Rush learned about the pantry on Facebook. She’s gone to food banks, but they have limited hours and some require proof of income. She says she and her husband make $75 too much to qualify for food stamps.

“Having the pantry and it being anonymous, it helps a lot,” Rush said. “It makes it so you don’t have to answer to anybody. Or feel shameful.” Rush says there’s nothing worse than having little food and nothing her kids want to eat. “As a mom it makes you feel really sad that they don’t want to eat ramen noodles or they don’t want to eat the soup you got, but they have to because you don’t have anything else to feed them. It’s really hard.”

Hendricks says her life experience led her to create the pantry for others. “When we grew up, we didn’t have a lot of money,” she said. “That was the same when my daughters were young, but we always found a way to be able to make it and to be able to help other people.”

Free food pantries have popped up nationwide. One online directory shows more than 700 listed.
Hendricks’s neighbor Rosie Thuhl sees the impact as people come for food everyday.
“It’s not only that (people are) taking but people are almost two, three times a week bringing stuff,” Thuhl said.

“It kind of provides a little bit of hope for people,” Hendricks said. “And not just in the sense that there’s something there but that other people care.”

What kind of world would we be living in if everyone did a small thing like Hendricks? “A non-hungry world, that’s for sure,” Rush said. “It would make it easier for people to survive.”

Man Donates Kidney to Stranger

“I’m just a guy who deep down always wanted to do good,” saya Jon Potter. Potter, 29, vowed to say “yes” to anyone who asked for help.

Potter vowed to never turn down a request for help after he said no to a woman who asked him for a ride to a domestic abuse victim’s shelter. He instantly felt terrible for refusing her, but when he went to look for her, she was gone. The moment inspired him to always help others in need, to the extent that the former flight instructor became so inundated with requests around his native Pittsburgh that he quit his job to become a full-time good Samaritan. He even recently donated a kidney to a stranger.

While trawling through Instagram, Potter saw a plea from Michael Moore, 57, who was looking for a kidney donation. Moore had declining kidney function and was on dialysis.

“My daughters actually took it on themselves to begin a social media campaign. We originally got the idea from the nephrologist. She said, “You’ve just got to look wherever you can,” Moore said.

Inspired, Potter was tested and learned that he was a perfect match for Moore. Before donating his organ to Michael, Jon also had to lose 20 pounds. Potter went through with the surgery on August 13.

“It’s amazing what kind of energy you have when you just say yes all the time. I can’t even describe it,” Potter added.

Potter’s kind actions started with a man who posted on Reddit that he needed someone to help install a TV antenna. After that he responded torequests by serving as a cat sitter, repairing vinyl siding, furniture moving, fixing roofs and changing tires. He even once raised $700 for a teen who was injured while intervening to stop a hate crime.

Potter has become so well-known around Pittsburgh that people hire him instead of a professional to do maintenance work. His helpful actions started off free of charge, but people insisted otherwise. He has since formalized what he does by creating the website Pittsburgh Good Deeds, where people can request help but also take a leaf out of his book by offering their own services to others.

‘It turned into everyone wanted to pay me,’ Potter said. ‘I was still doing good deeds, but people were like, “Hey, I need this home repair done, can I pay you?” And I was like, “I guess so.”‘ However, if people can’t afford to pay him, there is no obligation either. To date, he believes he’s probably done over 1,000 good deeds.