The numbers indicate Black Friday was something for which retailers could be thankful. And most tellingly, more shoppers were perusing deals on their phones while their turkey digested than were lining up for Friday’s door busters.That’s a really important trend, especially in New Jersey, officially the Garden State but far better known for its shopping malls than its cranberry bogs. The idea that online shopping could continue to erode the brick-and-mortar shopping industry would have enormous economic impact here. Retail doesn’t create the kind of high-paying jobs that are most desirous for the state, but plenty of people draw their pay from the industry, and the commercial real estate market is kept healthy by reliably strong tenants.
But we’re not saying anything you don’t already know. Retail is an industry that must seriously rethink itself as razor-thin margins get even thinner while digital competitors take an ever-larger chunk out of bottom lines. Some, like Walmart, are doing so through acquisition, including its celebrated purchase of New Jersey-based Jet.com last year. Others are designing retail spaces that are heavy on entertainment features, like the American Dream project in the Meadowlands.
Ironically, the state may still benefit as the retail industry goes ever more digital, with companies such as Amazon continuing to open fulfillment centers. But retailers — especially small and independent shops — have got to find more creative ways to engage with their communities, whether through initiatives like Small Business Saturday or social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. Given how vital independent retailers are to the health of downtown reclamation projects throughout New Jersey, the stakes are high for the real estate community and municipal and state governments, which would do well to consider themselves partners in this effort. Early reports indicated small-business retail was down from past Small Business Saturday events.
The writing has been on the wall for retail for quite some time, and a great many players in the industry have largely ignored it. But whether your business is a downtown store or in a major shopping center, the story gets a little sharper each holiday shopping season. This is a tough space in which to innovate, but the industry needs to move the needle here, or risk a continued drop in traffic at the holidays and more brands like Toys R Us filing for bankruptcy protection.