Writers tend to be introverted, so I have no problem working mostly online. (As you get older, it’s harder to be social in the conventional sense—many of your friends and colleagues have passed on, after all. The crowds in the pubs are younger; if you go to church, you only see irascible oldsters like yourself worrying about their mortality; and so forth) But three news items from the business world caught my attention recently. First, venerable Macy’s is closing a slew of stores. Second, bookstore-barn-giant B&N just fired their CEO. And third, the Trump casino in Atlantic City will file for bankruptcy. What do these news items have in common? Their cause, the internet. At least partially. Let me explain.
People are spending more time online, whether via smartphones or computers (their distinction is only semantical now), and whether buying, playing, or socializing. All department stores from Macy’s to Wal-Mart have been affected by online buying. People don’t go out and buy as much anymore. And if people get out to shop in these hectic times when you might not be sure you have a job next week, they often don’t buy; they just look (window-shopping is the old descriptor), assess their options, and go home and order the goods online. Some pundits call this the Amazon effect, usually in a pejorative sense, but that gives that retail giant way too much credit.
B&N bookstores’ problems are just bigger ones that every bookstore shares and are comparable to the department stores’—online buying is preferred by many customers. The B&N bookstores are big barns for books; the department stores are big barns for clothing, home furnishings, and other goods. The merchandise is different, but the effects of the internet are the same. There are other effects, of course. B&N has been in a downspin since they spun off the Nook business. Macy’s has been hurt from the top and the bottom—your elite stores like Nordstrom’s and Lord and Taylor’s pretend to have better quality merchandise and your Targets and Wal-marts the same products at better prices. And then there’s Amazon.