TUPELO – Neilson’s Department Store, which opened in 1839 and is the oldest store in the South, has survived wars and economic downturns during its 178-year history.
But the store may be facing its greatest challenge to date — the online shopper.
“Online shopping is easily the most significant competition we have encountered in my experience,” said Will Lewis Jr., whose family owns the Oxford store.
But the Lewises aren’t wringing their hands hoping something will happen. Like many store owners, they’ve made adjustments to their business model to stay competitive.
“The younger generation in our family-owned business made me realize that this era had arrived, so about three years ago, we embarked on a new business plan, rented 3,500 square feet to a restaurant, remodeled and downsized the lines we carried to attempt to avoid what could be found in abundance on the internet,” Lewis said. “At the same time, we hired a general manager who had been in the market and knew how to better deal with vendors who could help us try to be unique.”
With the lucrative Christmas holidays around the corner, retailers are doing all they can to capture every dollar they can, whether it’s the customer walking through the door or the customer clicking on their website.
“We hope to be in a niche in the market where the customer wants to see what they are buying, and we have to think that market will be there in some form,” Lewis said. “I am glad I have the young generation to deal with the future. I don’t know what technology will bring to small business.”
A hint of the future happened just last year.
For the first time, shoppers made more purchases online in 2016 than at a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
But that shouldn’t be a big surprise, as retailers have seen the train coming, with whistle blowing. In 2015, consumers did 48 percent of their shopping online, 47 percent a year before that.
“I shop online almost as equally as I shop in stores,” said Polly Godwin of Saltillo. “I am a bargain shopper so I look for deals.”
Barbara Giacometti of Tupelo says her shopping habit is more dependent on where she can find a particular product.
“Although I have always preferred to shop locally, it’s becoming impossible at times to find products due to some stores cutting back on inventory,” she said. “It’s less stressful to find things online rather than bother wasting precious time and money looking for certain goods. I have noticed CVS, like many other retailers, are offering better prices online than they do in stores. Is it fair? Are they cutting off their nose to spite their face? I would say yes.”
The Amazon effect
There is no question that Amazon has been the force behind the explosion in online shopping.
Since the start of this year, retailers have announced more than 3,100 store closings. Much of the blame is placed at the feet of online shopping, which allows customers to shop for practically anything, anytime and anywhere, all with a click, tap or swipe.
Mike Breazeale, an assistant professor of marketing at Mississippi State University, said many retailers have failed to embrace the changing habits and tastes of consumers.