I used to love to go shopping in the traditional way – drive to a brick-and-mortar stores. We would go to the big Sears, the Belk downtown, and of course the local bookstore! And, then we got to go to the cafeteria for lunch! Such a treat for us little girls in a small town.

I was off to college when the Malls appeared. This was my younger brother’s era. My mother and he would go to the stores and stay all day. Once he got his license, the mall would become the social atmosphere where he could hang out with his friends.

The malls were still in full swing in the 1980’s when I came to Colorado. Lerner’s was my hangout and all those heavy shoulder padded dresses, sensible two-inch heels, and panty hose (remember those! Ugh!) were business attire of the day. The Mall also had those unique boutique shops that introduced us to flowing skirts and blouses made of polyester (horrible fabric that it is!) which allowed us to dress for the nightclubs for dancing the night away. My work wear and play wear were different animals. Of course, being in such an active environment, compared to the south, I was introduced to sporting goods stores (not your father’s place) to every kind of outfit and associated gear imaginable to allow us to bike and hike the hills and mountains. I was young and ever moving.

Today, however, life has changed. The malls are not what they used to be. The shopping experience has changed to an environment that we do not recognize. Disposable income decreased dramatically, and inflation reached a high of over 7% in 2021. The pandemic kept shoppers away for over two years, and recovery is slow. Lack of goods on the shelves is due to the manufacturing shutdowns as well as bottlenecks in the delivery. As a result, there are currently large numbers of empty stores, shuttered and forlorn looking.

The older generation looks at shopping in a unique way. We no longer have stores that cater to us as a group. The media focuses on a much younger demographic, knowing that we as seniors will not buy unless we really feel it is a fair price. Most older shoppers have years of experience in finance compared to young people and want our money’s worth. Perhaps we have come to the realization that it does not bring us satisfaction in buying what we don’t really need such as an expensive dress or something in home goods. We are homeowners, after all – and would rather spend our money on cabinetry or new plantings for the yard. According to researchers, people like to go to stores for experiencing the product. They like to feel like they are receiving in person expert advice. The stores used to guarantee availability and returns were not perceived as difficult compared to online (although I have learned this is an exaggerated difficulty depending on how you persist with the online retailer).

Our economy is based on retail and consumerism, and people will always buy more than necessities, but the last nail in the coffin for me shopping in a store is something called a “Crime Spike Fee.” Denver shop owners have decided to add a 1% tax on their goods and place the burden of increased shoplifting losses on the consumer. Shoplifting is increasingly rampant, and the losses are astronomical for the shop owners. They may claim this on their insurance and on their taxes, but they have been telling the media that they are operating at a loss. The owners report that even though it is a crime, the police have told them they will not pursue property crime investigations. Therefore, there are no consequences for the people who steal from them, especially in downtown Denver. People can just walk in and threaten the owners and take whatever they want. While I completely understand there is a need to recover their losses, and that shoplifters, or any theft for that matter, takes its toll on retailers (another blog post in the making), is it right to pass on those fees to law-abiding consumers? Why do we as consumers always have to bear this burden? Shoppers are being more frugal with their money. They do not want one more tax to shoulder. I believe most people will stop going to these stores in the future if they feel victimized. Thus, these stores will close and owners will lose once again.

These last two years have changed our lives forever. There will never be a “get back to normal” stage, a sentiment that I often hear espoused from seniors I am in contact with each day. We all must be willing to change, and help retailers change the way they do business. The supply chain will eventually be fixed, and availability will open back up. Having less employees to help the consumer is something the stores will have to come to grips with unless pay scales, benefits and other necessities become a guarantee for these workers. Employees want to feel invested in a place of business, but they now have the capability to get better jobs if more incentives are offered to them. Business owners must take heart and think about how they can re-shape their businesses in the future and provide a great service for both their employees and their customers.

Consumers want to feel welcome and needed in a store. The more an owner caters to them, the more they will buy. I am not an expert, and I have never owned a retail store, but I know what I want as a consumer. I don’t mind going on a shopping adventure in a new place if I know it will make me happy and I can purchase items at a “reasonable price.” I am willing to pay more if I really like an item. But, if I see this fee on my bill, I will not make a purchase at that store. It’s just wrong. Enough said.

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