By Sabrina Almeida
Has the recent news about Sears store closures and the uncertain future of malls rattled you? Only if you are a baby boomer or a Gen X shopper, perhaps!
My sons think that going to brick-and-mortar stores is a complete waste of time, especially when you have Amazon at your fingertips 24/7!
The younger one can’t wait to get his university ID card, which presumably entitles him to some discounts. Pardon my ignorance… I’m not an online shopper. I need to see what I’m buying first hand—whether it’s clothes, shoes, jewellery, home accessories or electronics. Specs and photos, no matter how detailed, don’t work for me. That makes me old-fashioned or an alien in their world. On a quest to convert me, they are constantly throwing the A-word at me, whenever I say want to make a purchase.
Now with grocery shopping expected to go online in a big way, thanks to Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, there could be more commercial real estate lying vacant and people out of work. Along with diminishing retail jobs, we can also expect to see a lot more socially-unskilled teenagers and young adults.
Most teens begin their careers in grocery stories, fast food outlets and malls. While hours may be few and the money just enough to introduce them to a Starbucks lifestyle, it affords them important if not critical soft skills on how to communicate and deal with people!
After all, with the customer and boss always being right, you must just swallow your attitude and try not to choke on what comes your way from irate shoppers and the type-A supervisor.
As I laughed at stories of the woman who asked for two dress sizes smaller than what she fit into insisting she was right, and the family that affixed clearance tags on regular-priced merchandise—I realized the invaluable life lessons these low-paying jobs gave first-time workers.
Ever told your teenager that the difference lies in the detail—those perfectly folded or stacked shelves of merchandise teaches them to pay attention. At least at work, if not at home.
Constantly telling them to be friendly and polite or how to make ‘small talk’? Dealing with customer queries and complaints is the ideal way to learn patience. Keeping your cool as the line builds up at the cash counter teaches them to work under pressure. While making polite conversations about the weather or the event your shopper is preparing for contributes to a positive experience and possibly a customer for life. High- value job skills.
Over the years, I observed how some kids who mumbled answers to my polite questions and never met my eye, blossomed with retail work experience. They no longer shied away from conversation and could even tell you a joke or too. As confidence replaced awkwardness, they were a pleasure to meet and interact with. The difference between those who worked and didn’t was stark.
As more kids retreat into the online world, spending an alarming number of hours on their phones and computers in their teenage years, their conversational and people skills have greatly diminished. The result—they are awkward among people their own age they might not meet regularly or know, let alone adults. Retail jobs which were easier for them to access and while still in high school, made that critical breakthrough.
With brick-and-mortar stores likely to be replaced with more warehouses to store and ship merchandise purchased online, most can expect to be working in stockrooms with minimal human contact. Sears Canada is not the only one reeling under the impact. A Wall Street Journal report in April stated that Bebe was closing its 170 stores and going totally online while Rue21 planned to shut 400 of its 1,100 locations.
Empty spaces in malls years after store closures are an indication of what is to come. And it’s not encouraging economically or socially!