Will e-commerce kill the mall?
Andrew Redden, Ec.D.(F) / December 10, 2013
I’ve never been the type that likes to window shop and wander around shopping malls. I only go if there’s something in particular I need, something that I can’t find downtown, since I’m a “laser shopper”.
However, with increasing family commitments, hobbies and a busy work schedule, I’ve found online shopping to be evermore attractive.
Let’s take for example a pair of shoes I wanted to purchase from a particular store that was located in a nearby mall. Unfortunately the store wasn’t on Main Street, so I’m stuck going to the mall. A problem with malls is they get busier than usual during the Christmas shopping season. I’d likely go on a weekend when I’m not working, and if I went without my wife, I’d likely take one of my two kids under the age of 5 with me. I’d have to put boots, coats, hats and mits on them, load them in the vehicle along with snacks and whatever else needs to come along. While in the shoe store, it’s likely that I’d be having to keep one eye on my child (among the crowds) as they take various shoes off the shelf and the other on what I actually planned to find in the store. So instead of all that, to find my shoes I opted to remain in the comforts of my home, continue to play floor hockey with my son, and while my son retrieves his ball that went under a couch, I went to the store’s website on my tablet, found the shoes I wanted, picked the size and ordered them. Two days later, the delivery truck pulled up in front of my house around dinner time, while keeping kids entertained as dinner is prepared, and I went to the door and the shoes were handed to me. I opened the package, took out the shoes, tried them on and they were a perfect fit. Then of course my daughter insisted on trying them on.
Anyway, I realize that as an “economic development guy” I should be all about supporting the local merchants. Don’t get me wrong, I shop local as much as possible. Nonetheless, where I’m going with this is that e-commerce isn’t going away, so what does it mean for communities and economic development? While I think about the preceding enjoyable experience I had ordering online with home delivery, each time I see a sea of cars filling the mall parking lot, I wonder if e-commerce will affect mall shopping in the coming years? Some believe e-commerce will turn major shopping centres into urban wastelands.
With e-commerce here and not going away, how can it support economic development? Here’s a thought: I remember hearing someone moan about a new place they were moving to because it didn’t have a particular clothing store that they liked to shop at. However, with many retailers now offering online sales, one can live just about anywhere that a delivery truck can access, or has Canada Post delivery. Someone can live in Tudor & Cashel Township (for example) and purchase from a store in Toronto online, just like someone who actually lives in Toronto and probably pays way more money to live there. And just like I did, they can have an item shipped to them. So I wonder if e-commerce will help accelerate the migration to rural communities? Likewise, are downtown and rural businesses taking advantage of e-commerce as much as they could be to increase sales?