Nebraskans can now buy just about anything online that they can find in a store, but researchers say it’s still not clear how Internet shopping impacts the holiday sales. Economist Meghan O’Brien says it’s hard to nail down the numbers.
She says there is some data available, but she says they haven’t quite caught up with on-line shopping. O’Brien says every year people spend more money on the Internet, but in the aggregate on-line sales declined, but sales declined across the board. She says on-line sales did fall at a lower rate than sales at “brick and mortar” stores.
O’Brien says the Internet can serve as a research tool for Nebraskans, as well as a place to buy. She says the Internet and on-line retailers allow people to compare prices and find the best deals, so the retailers that have a brick-and-mortar presence along with a well-managed Internet site, are in the best position to capture sales on-line and in their stores. O’Brien says the down economy has people looking to big discount stores for the best deals and those stores have the best resources to maintain and advertise their Internet site.
She says it’s a “Catch 22” for smaller retailers as they need the Internet to stay competitive, but because they are smaller, they have less ability to use the Internet to be competitive. O’Brien says it plays back into the hands of the big discounters like Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon, because they are most able to effectively use the Internet to promote business.
O’Brien says Internet sales aren’t going to help a smaller retailer close the gap with the big discounters. “I don’t know that Internet sales could save a lot of smaller retailers, but for smaller retailers that have a niche product, I think it could be very advantageous,” O’Brien says. For example, she says a specialty craft store could benefit by having its products more widely available on the Internet.