Thu, 29 Oct 2020

by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- Grace Kim, a 50-year-old management consultant outside Washington, D.C., said she will do most of this year's holiday shopping online.

"I'll do my holiday shopping mostly online this year," she told Xinhua, adding that she'll start making her purchases soon to avoid the mad rush of expected deliveries.

Sherrill Mosely, a business consultant outside of Washington, D.C., echoed those sentiments, saying she will do the same this holiday season.

Americans are expected to do more online shopping this holiday season than in any prior year, due to lockdowns and reluctance to venture outdoors. The trend is likely to impact a major chunk of the U.S. economy for years to come, experts said.

E-commerce giant Amazon delayed its annual Prime Day -- a day of slashed prices for myriad products -- until earlier this week, to coincide with the holiday season.

Electronics giant Best Buy kicked off its Black Friday sale this week, over a month earlier than usual. Retail stores are doing the same, as they try to compensate for a lack of sales at their brick-and-mortar locations, which has occurred due to government-imposed lockdowns.

Shipping will also be much heavier than usual. Amazon said the company is adding 100,000 new employees in a bid to keep pace with a surge in shipping needs from online shopping this holiday season.

FedEx is taking on a 27 percent increase in workers from last year, numbering 70,000, in an effort to deal with a significant increase in e-commerce, as reported by CNBC.

A survey by Affirm found that 70 percent of respondents said they are more likely to purchase an item that's on sale now, as opposed to waiting for the sales that come closer to the holiday season. RETAIL SALES COULD SURGE

According to a note from Marshal Cohen, chief industry advisor for retail at NPD, the holiday shopping season "won't be a bust."

Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and the presidential election will be distractions for consumers, but "it's not enough to take away from the spirit of giving that drives the holiday retail season," he said.

For product categories that didn't see as much activity earlier in the year, such as fashion apparel and accessories, pent-up demand could "make holiday their time to shine," Cohen said. LONG-TERM ECONOMIC IMPACTS

Experts fret that the shift to online shopping, while a massive benefit to tech companies and the stock market, will have a negative impact on millions of brick-and-mortar retail employees.

In June, the height of the lockdown in many U.S. states, nearly two million retail workers had been laid off, furloughed or given new roles, such as assisting curbside pickup. Dozens of retailers have filed bankruptcy claims. Over a quarter of American jobs were supported by the retail industry before the pandemic hit, according to the National Retail Federation.

Retailers may continue to see layoffs as the costs of store sanitation rise, and as stores have trouble paying employees due to government-imposed restrictions on capacity, or stores' own decisions to limit the number of customers to curtail the pandemic's spread.

Experts said this shake-up of the industry could have an impact on the industry for years to come.

Aside from the pandemic causing a deep recession and high unemployment, it has also likely accelerated trends that were already underway, such as the move toward a digital economy.

This is very likely to increase long-term unemployment in the retail space and to have a depressing impact on real commercial property activity, Desmond Lachman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Xinhua.

To be sure, as Amazon's announcement that it has increased employment by 100,000 people would suggest, there will be employment opportunities in the digitized part of the economy. However, it is far from clear that those new opportunities will be nearly sufficient to absorb those laid off in the retail space, Lachman said.

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