The Shopping Experience

Online shopping is easy.  Going to an actual store takes a bit more resolve. There’s shopping and then there’s the shopping experience.

Most of the time, I go to a physical store to find a specific item.  Like when I need to try something on, clothing or shoes, in particular.  Rarely, do I go to an enclosed mall or outside shopping center to just browse and have a shopping experience.  I understand wanting to walk around, maybe stopping for a favorite designer drink, and clearing your head of work or other issues.  I’ve done it.

When I was a kid, going downtown or to the shopping center up the hill was a great experience.  Looking, and wishing I could buy things, was something I did enjoy, even if I came home empty-handed. As I got older, and my life more hectic, my shopping changed to going somewhere with a purpose, and leaving when I had achieved it.  As physical stores have closed, or shrunk and reduced inventory, shopping is even less enjoyable.

Today, I went to an electronics store to see if they had a new Blu-ray disc.  I visit this store every other month or so, and most visits they have changed the layout of the store and inventory.  It’s usually not a satisfying experience.  I used to love seeing the Sunday newspaper want-ads for this store to see the sale and new items.  Occasionally I browse the electronic sale ad because most of what they are selling, I’m not buying.  If I need a cellphone or flat screen TV or laptop, they have me covered, but it’s years between purchases.

My visit to the store today was another disappointing visit.  The organization of movies had changed yet again, and the new organization of items left a lot to be desired.  The new release section took me a few minutes to figure out, partially because it was mostly empty and the shelf labels were almost too small to read.  After not finding what I was looking for, I did browse some of the other racks of DVDs. It was an exercise in futility.  I remember when the area was larger and more clearly defined.

This store is following the trend of other stores including Wal-Mart.  Stock only a small selection of popular items and force customers to order on-line. Or use streaming services.  Instead of going to a physical store and not finding what I want, I can order from Amazon using my phone and skip the disappointment.  Or purchase a viewing online.

Empty storefronts on Main Street

The world of commerce has changed greatly in the past twenty years.  Before the internet, local businesses were dealing with the Wal-Mart behemoth, and seeing Main Street turn into empty storefronts, as commerce shifted from traditional downtown to suburban areas, usually with good highway access. In small town American, highways usually run right through downtown. Years ago, to speed up travel, and maybe to relieve congestion, loops were constructed around many towns as highways were improved. Notice how downtowns began to die as businesses relocated along the highway route, and sometimes outside of city limits where land might be cheaper and building requirements might be less restrictive.

Wal-Mart is still the behemoth in most towns and small cities, but retailers in general have felt the Internet taking away business.  City and state governments feel the disappearing sales tax revenue, which is only now beginning to be collected by Internet companies and sent back to the states of origin.

Beyond all of that, shopping is not a leisurely experience, at least for me.  Traffic, parking and long walks must be anticipated.  Visiting my hometown, the downtown area is still a destination for both townspeople and visitors, and where parking and long walks are also issues.

But, the experience is more pleasant.

This town is dealing with other retail issues; the downtown is turning from a healthy mix of retail and restaurants to mostly restaurants and bars.  Part of the reason for this is the escalating building rents.  Eating and drinking establishments will attract customers but won’t keep them downtown without shopping.  Difficulty in parking is a deterrent.

While more people are moving downtown to live, as more loft and apartments are built, retail is being driven away by high costs.  Downtown residents need retail, groceries and other available products.  There’s a market, but it must be an affordable market.

A 137-acre development in Overland Park, Kansas called BluHawk, one of several regional development projects planned or under construction.

Years ago, my pals and I would meet downtown or visit a mall together, shopping was almost incidental, it was the experience of hanging out together.  People still do that, but they do it less at enclosed malls, which is why malls are closing.  People are still interested in shopping areas as cities instead are seeing mixed-use developments that cover many entire blocks.  These areas, usually built with tax incentives, combine shopping, residential, hotels, office buildings and often with parks or common areas, and even museums or sports facilities.  As exciting as these can be, they are not immune to economic issues.  Several in my area are having problems paying back the investors who bought the bonds that finance the development.  These mixed-use developments are so popular, that there are many under construction.  Clearly, these mix-use areas are the future, shopping, working, entertainment and living. One wonders if they can all survive since every city has one or more in the works?

If you build it, they might come at least to see what it’s about, but will they come back? And if you don’t have my Blu-ray available, I won’t either.

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