Even before the coronavirus shutdown, our economy was increasingly moving into more of an internet economy, where a lot of consumer commerce was done through online ordering. With the shutdown, that process has accelerated to warp speed. We’re to the point now where Amazon, Fed Ex, UPS, and U.S. Postal Service trucks are an everyday sight in our neighborhood, appearing at all hours. And when you walk down the street you see packages left on a lot of doorsteps.
It’s been a godsend during the shutdown, when the “brick and mortar” stores are for the most part closed by governmental order and people have turned to the internet to supply everything from groceries to clothing to shoes to whatever might help to keep their kids entertained while they are cooped up indoors. It’s hard to imagine what this period would have been like without the online economy to fill the void when the traditional stores were shuttered. That’s the reason you see signs in many places, like the one above, thanking the hardy delivery people for playing such a key role in helping people to make it through this extraordinary period.
But . . . what’s going to happen when the reopening occurs? Are people going to go back to the real-world stores, or will the shift to online shopping be permanent? That’s a crucial question, because while the online world is convenient, it employs only a fraction of the people who worked in the brick-and-mortar retail world before the shutdown. If the American shopper goes into full online mode and the local businesses close, we’re going to have a serious, systemic unemployment problem. And there’s also a local, community element at play. The online behemoths are usually located far away — and perhaps overseas — the stores in your neighborhood typically are small businesses, owned by people in the community who have an interest in the community. I saw a sign recently that read something like “Amazon won’t sponsor your kid’s baseball team.” There’s a lot of truth in that sentiment.
Like everyone else, we’ve done our share of online ordering during this shutdown period, and have appreciated having that option. But when the shutdown ends, I’m going to focus on trying to buy from the local businesses and brick-and-mortar stores that have been so hard hit by the shutdown, and perhaps even be a little more generous than normal in my spending. These parts of our community are going to need help to get back on their feet.