Thursday, 23 December 2021 13:49

'Retail apocalypse' is a false narrative according to industry expert

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Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association. Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association. Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — If you are checking your list twice this week, small businesses across the state are ready for you to stop by. With national supply chain problems plaguing online retailers, small brick and mortars say that last minute gifts are on their shelves, giving them an edge over online retailers.


“The smaller retailers are benefiting some because their customers aren’t worrying about if I order it, will it get here in time?” said Andy Ellen president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association. “If I see that item on the shelf, I can touch it and walk out of the store with it.”

Alarm over the state of retail sounded this year after stores were closed last year and this year store traffic on Black Friday dropped 28.3% compared with 2019 levels. But there is good news.

“Everyone has this narrative about the retail apocalypse, but 2021 is the first year since 2017 that more retail stores opened than closed,” said Ellen.

“I think you had a lot of people who took advantage of a situation while they were sheltered at home during COVID and said I’m going to leave my job and start my own business,” Ellen added.

Factors like labor shortage and government regulations on shipping put a stranglehold on the national supply chain this year, sending shoppers back to the stores when that gift ordered online didn’t arrive. According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, out of nearly 7,500 shoppers surveyed, 25% plan to buy their last gift this week, and 6% say they will probably be shopping on Christmas Eve.

Called “Super Sunday” in the retail industry, nearly 150 million people shopped this past weekend, down more than 25% from the last weekend before Christmas in 2019.

That is why local small businesses are hoping that shoppers come in for those last minute ready-to-go gifts, advice, and ideas. Many of these stores are new to the market, as more people venture to open a small retail store with new strategies.

“People also pivoted a little bit because they realize they can do a retail business in a smaller space than they would have as long as they layer an online presence on top and its not as quite as big an outlay in overhead and rent,” said Ellen.

Even with open doors small retailers are continuing with curbside pickup, delivery, and building an online presence.

“U.S. shoppers are more prepared to deal with the complications of a pandemic than they were last year and have more experience with the options available to them,” Bjoern Petersen, president of Sensormatic Solutions, wrote in Forbes.

One item on your list you may have some difficulty finding? Candy canes.  There is a shortage of peppermint this year, after production of the raw oil was down almost 10% in 2020. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the U.S. produces about 70% of the world’s supply of peppermint oil, but problems in this year’s crop, including labor shortage and a fungus that attacks the plants, has reduced supply of mint candy.