Retail upheaval points to service-oriented opportunities for local businesses

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the decline of some retail stores, a worrying trend considering that my work focuses around helping these types of businesses find new customers and grow their business.

A New York Times article published June 25 reports on several local businesses that are feeling the pinch or expecting to close entirely as a result of changes in the consumer spending model.

The article states: “Moreover, while stores in these places are shedding jobs because of e-commerce, e-commerce isn’t absorbing these workers. Growth in e-commerce jobs like marketing and engineering, while strong, is clustered around larger cities far away.”

There are several opportunities here, some for business owners and some for the workers employed by them.


My stepdaughter’s job hunt has made me think about how the choices retail workers make can greatly impact their future job prospects.

She’s 24 years old and has primarily grocery store experience. One of her goals was better pay. Was she also thinking about the long-term viability of each place where she applied? Under the current health care laws, she will be facing the prospect of paying her own medical insurance in less than 2 years. Was the possibility of benefits a factor in her decision?

She applied at small retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores, and, because we are lucky enough to live in the Portland metro area, an Amazon customer fulfillment center. In the end, she got job offers from the natural grocery store, a pasta restaurant with several locations, and Amazon. She chose to become a host at the pasta restaurant.

Arguably, a food-service related job is a great bet for the Portland area, a mecca to foodies. Opportunities for advancement and benefits will be minimal, but tips sweeten the deal.

Both the grocery store job and Amazon were offering benefits after a short initial employment, but she turned them down because she preferred the nature of the work she would be doing for the pasta restaurant.

Business owners

Another article chronicles the emergence of “zombie malls” – those whose anchor stores have closed, leaving dozens of smaller retailers with much less foot traffic to count on.

How are business owners facing this scary reality? Is it possible to shift into another line of business that Amazon cannot compete with?

Business Insider article lists businesses that won’t be as pressured by Amazon, including deep value companies like Costco or Walmart and luxury companies like Tiffany’s and Sotheby’s.

In addition to these, service businesses also are better positioned to weather the shift to online shopping. Although many service-related businesses have adopted an online component to boost efficiency or manage costs (think food delivery), services where expertise and good customer service are a must will continue to thrive.  These include plumbing, home renovation, veterinary services, dentistry, car detailing, pet grooming, cleaning services, moving companies, teaching, tutoring, and training, landscaping, painting, and many more. As people get busier and busier working jobs and raising kids, chances are, they will need more help doing the types of tasks people used to do themselves to save money.

Some retail stores that specialize in one main product category can make the jump to more of a service orientation by educating their customers about the use of the products. In the Portland area, many craft brew suppliers cater to the desires of hobby brewers. Those just getting started need guidance so they spend their money and time more wisely.

An initial free seminar offers new customers a sample of the business owner’s expertise and cements the relationship. Additional workshops or classes make it easier for customers to keep coming back. Loyalty programs keep customers engaged.

Focus on consumer behavior

The bottom line here is to stay aware of how people want to shop for goods and services. If they hate to shop for certain items, they will look to save time or money by shopping online. For me, that’s dog and cat food and treats, hard-to-find items like sprouting seeds or electronics, ebooks and audiobooks, and gifts for family and friends.

If they need to pay less for regularly purchased items, they will also go online to shop for things like pet prescriptions and household goods.

Small local retail stores should not try to compete with Amazon on its own turf, where it can easily outperform them on convenience or price. Instead, they should focus on the value they can add to the customer’s experience.

One thought on “Retail upheaval points to service-oriented opportunities for local businesses”

  1. I’m reading The Industries of the Future which takes things a step further taking a look at the next economy.
    The service industry is not immune to job loss. For example, the Hajime restaurant in Bangkok uses robot waiters to take orders, serve diners and clear tables. Some countries are also providing grants to companies focused on elder care robotics and here in the US robots are providing educational instruction to homebound students.
    The job market is certainly changing. But it’s so much bigger then Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and the decline of retail jobs or Google and Facebook owning the digital ad revenue category leaving all locally owned media companies fighting for the remaining one-third of the pie. One common denominator is collection and application of the data and how it will lead to the creation of the industries of tomorrow.
    Exciting but equally scary for those just entering the workforce.

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