Are stores in NJ doomed this pandemic holiday season?
In a year like no other, holiday shopping will be dramatically different. A new CreditCards.com survey finds 71% of holiday shoppers plan to make the bulk of their purchases online — up from 51% last year.
The top reasons for online shopping this year were convenience and to avoid human interaction. So does this spell doom for New Jersey's brick-and-mortar stores that typically look toward the holidays to help make up for losses experienced through the year?
While the pandemic will make recovery hard for New Jersey's retail industry, physical stores are not completely doomed, Dr. Nathan Fong, associate professor of marketing at Rutgers University School of Business in Camden, said. But there could a be a shakeout where not every retailer is going to be able to adapt quickly enough to weather the storm this year, he added.
Fong said online shopping was already popular but the pandemic has just accelerated the trends, making it harder to change peoples' habits. For New Jersey's retail industry, the savviest retailers are already trying to figure out ways to plan for that future.
In order for stores to survive the holiday shopping season, Fong said customers need to feel safe in them. If they know stores have gone to great lengths to ensure mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitizing, customers will feel more comfortable lingering and shopping.
Fong said visitors to New Jersey malls typically like to make a day out of it with shopping, dining and other forms of entertainment. Typically when people are browsing, they find themselves walking into stores that were unplanned.
"So that brick-and-mortar retail is really important for discovery and a little more spontaneity, which is how a lot of us used to do our holiday shopping when going out for our gift buying and getting ready for a holiday entertaining," Fong said.
Online shopping will definitely make it harder for people to "discover" these stores. So he said those stores may need to increase their digital marketing game to be able to reach customers who are shopping online but might be open to the idea of a visit.
On Black Friday, it's important for stores to have doorbuster deals but Fong said it's going to be difficult to just rely on that tactic to beat online retailers in the pricing game. He said stores need to have monthlong deals throughout December.
One thing that is in the favor of stores is that people have missed regular dining and shopping during the pandemic. Fong said offering consumers a chance to do that again during the holiday shopping season might be attractive.
"Brick-and-mortar retail on some level is here to stay. It's just a matter of what formats are going to work and at what scale," he siad. "People are always going to want to do some shopping in person."