Alaska retail staying relevant despite convenience of online shopping

Shoppers out in force for Black Friday on Nov. 29. (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Black Friday surges billions of dollars into the global economy every year. With the ease of online shopping, consumers can find deals and have their Christmas list sent right to their doorstep.

So the question is, does Black Friday still have appeal for those who once hit local retail stores in droves to get their hands on the latest and cheapest deals?

According to Anchorage Economic Development Corporation President Bill Popp, the answer is not so black and white.

“Online shopping is always going to be at the disadvantage at the fact that the consumer can’t touch it, pick it up, move it around, look at it, put it on, taste it, try it,” Popp said. “All of those different things, you can’t do online – and that’s the one advantage that local retailers will always have in being physically here.”

But Popp acknowledges the huge competition online sales bring to local retailers and says the local customer experience will need to adapt in order to be economically relevant.

“Retailers who just kind of rack it out are going to be at a disadvantage in the coming years because of the online experience,” Popp said. “Nationally, this year 12,000 retailers are going to close their doors, and only approximately 4,000 retailers are going to open their doors nationwide.”

That three-to-one ratio of stores closing versus stores opening, Popp says, proves the retail landscape is changing across the United States. This trend is already manifesting in Anchorage, with major retail stores like Nordstrom’s and Pier-1 Imports closing shop.

According to AEDC’s recent Economic Overview of Alaska, retail is the state’s second-largest employer, employing 17,828 people at an average annual wage of $33,613. In terms of Gross Domestic Product, in 2018 retail was one of Alaska’s largest industries, bringing in over $1.1 billion. The total annual GDP in Alaska for 2018 was around $25.4 billion. While retail may seem like a small overall percentage of Alaska’s total economic production, Popp assures it remains vital to Alaska.

“Mom and pop shops, large national retailers - if they have a physical presence in our community, that is good for our community to shop locally,” Popp said. “We see far more value in spending your dollars on the ground here in Anchorage, than sending them out over the internet to a national online retailer.”

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