Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Editorial: Local business can fight back against online onslaught

May 17, 2017 at 11:50 p.m.

Once upon a time, this was shopping: You'd head over to the store, go inside, fill a buggy with your items, check out, pay and head home with your purchases.

Nowadays, there are other options. Online retailers — those with websites to take your order, folks at a distribution center to box it up and ship it to your door — have been taking an increasing slice of traditional retailers' market. We have seen the impact of that in East Texas and across the nation as brick-and-mortar stores are closing, shedding workers and launching new initiatives in an attempt to cut costs and stay relevant.

One of those new initiatives is another new way to shop.

National retailers like Wal-Mart, and local ones like Skinner's Grocery & Market, now have systems for you to place your order online, drive to the store and have your purchases waiting to be loaded — or even to be delivered.

Such innovations are a response to the fact online shopping at Amazon.com and other websites is taking a larger share of retail commerce every year. It has become so popular that many stores are seeing sales drop and struggling to survive — both major national chains and local mom-and-pops.

As reported in Sunday's editions of the News-Journal, companies like those mentioned above and others have decided to fight back. We hope many other local businesses follow suit in striving to better understand their customers — and keep them.

As they do so, we suggest keeping in mind that this online trend is not some phase that will peter out. Most business owners and managers realize that but a surprising number do not. They seem to think they can get by doing business as usual — or cut their way to profitability by reducing staff, services or hours. They are wrong.

Businesses of all types should be investing in better technology and ways to interact with customers. Social media and an online presence can help any business reach customers.

While embracing the digital realities, however, do not forget good, old-fashioned efforts that make a business part of our community. Sponsor a youth sports team, provide backing for a community event, and encourage employees to be involved in civic organizations.

This may sound self-serving, but advertising also remains crucial. Traditional media like local radio and newspapers, both print and digital, get your product in front of engaged local audiences every day. That is something national websites cannot do, and it can help set your enterprise apart.

We are blessed in East Texas with a strong local business community that provides many benefits. Our locally owned businesses provide jobs and pay sales taxes that support local services and people. We wish to see them continue — and thrive — as the marketplace continues to change.



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