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Opinion: Brick-and-mortar retailers need to up their game

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While headlines tend to spell doom and gloom for brick-and-mortar retailers, they’re far from dead. But they’re definitely bleeding. recently reported more than 300 retailers filed for bankruptcy so far this year, a 31 percent increase from the first half of 2016. Most of the filings were from small companies, though big names like Payless ShoeSource, Gordmans, Gander Mountain and The Limited are notable exceptions.

The rise of online shopping often is cited as a catalyst.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce sales improved 14.7 percent in the first quarter to an estimated $105.7 billion.

Still, e-commerce only made up 8 percent of the total $1.24 trillion in estimated retail sales during the first three months of the year. Overall retail sales were up 5 percent from a year earlier.

That’s a little better than in 2016, when total retail sales ranged from quarterly percent changes of 2.1 percent to 3.8 percent. Meanwhile, e-commerce gains were as high as 15.5 percent in second-quarter 2016, according to the Census Bureau.

Worth noting, too, is responding companies were asked to separately report brick-and-mortar and e-commerce sales. So, the bureau’s report includes retailers with both kinds of sales.

While not dominant by a long shot, it’s clear e-commerce is gaining on traditional retail. The Census Bureau report shows e-commerce steadily climbing against retail as a whole. E-commerce sales made up about 3.5 percent of the total in first-quarter 2007 and have risen ever since.

From a consumer standpoint, online retailers have the advantage of convenience. When you have products shipped directly to your home, it cuts down significantly on the limited and vital free time you have outside of work. When you can spend less time and, sometimes, less money, it’s a no-brainer.

Recently, my household started receiving HelloFresh subscription boxes. For those not familiar with the craze, customers receive groceries in a temperature-controlled package after ordering through an app or website. Others in the space are Blue Apron, nationally, and Farm 2 Counter Inc., locally.

As for HelloFresh, my only experience with this food model, the boxes are filled with delicious, healthy meals that are properly proportioned. Each box contains only the amount of ingredients needed for the particular dish. Do you really need an excess of a specific type of vinegar, little used spices or a whole head of cabbage when just a few grams suffice? My home certainly doesn’t. It’ll either go unused or rot before it’s needed again. That’s just wasteful.

As far as price it’s sometimes more expensive, but factoring in the time element, it evens out. Time is sometimes just as important – or more so – than money.

This online retailer is providing a needed service in a convenient, better way than traditional grocery stores. That’s the kind of ammo a company needs to chip away at ingrained American grocery stores.

Companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) – the top-ranked business on the Fortune 500 for five straight years – are smartly taking notice of these trends.

In May, Wal-Mart launched grocery pickup service in Springfield at two stores. Through the free service, customers enter their shopping lists through a Wal-Mart app or website and an employee gathers the products. Customers then pick up the items at the stores without leaving their vehicles.

In town, the Hy-Vee store and Price Cutter’s new Ruby’s Market sells meal kits similar to the services by HelloFresh and Blue Apron.  

These specific brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting perceived competition from only-online sources. Are they perfect? No, but these types of innovations show they’re trying to keep up with consumer trends.

When competition heats up, it’s important to adapt and come up with better ideas to keep your company on top.

That retailers continually cite online sales when reporting bad news is simply an excuse, and not a good one.

The business philosophy, “adapt or die,” contains increasingly important advice. Businesses should print that out and tape it on their mirrors. Otherwise, they’ll fail like many others before them.

Springfield Business Journal Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at


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