Online Shopping: An Urban Myth?

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Most everyone these days believes that online sales — of clothing, accessories, household items and even groceries — are increasing to the point that brick-and-mortar stores are under a Do Not Resuscitate order. Indeed, every time a store fails, it seems that part if not most of the blame is automatically laid to “competition from the internet.”

But in fact, internet sales domination is a myth — the latest urban myth, perhaps. According to a new U.S. Department of Commerce report, only 9.1 percent of retail sales in the last quarter was via e-commerce (online travel vendors, ticket sales agencies and financial brokers are not classified as retail).

The percentage of e-sales is growing, certainly. The quarterly report showed online sales up by 3.6 percent. Cyber Monday on Nov. 24 was estimated to be the largest single online shopping day for 2017. Adobe Analytics predicted online sales would reach $6.6 billion; that’s up 16 percent from 2016. But the National Retail Federation estimates that total holiday retail sales will hit some $660 billion this year. That means the online percentage remains under 10 percent.

“2016 was a strong year for the Georgetown retail market despite increased competition locally and changes in the retail market nationally,” reported the Georgetown Business Improvement District. During calendar-year 2016, “Thirty-four new retailers opened and 25 closed, for a net gain of nine new retailers; and many new retailers are on track to open in 2017,” noted the BID.

Wisconsin Avenue continues to change as key building owners renovate their buildings, with new tenants slated to fill them and other open spots. In November, the Georgetown Main Street project was funded. An executive director was recently hired for the new nonprofit, which will focus on energizing the retail environment along Georgetown’s “main street.”

Perhaps the most convincing rebuttal to the myth is that the dominant online retailer, Amazon, is preparing to open its own brick-and-mortar store in Georgetown early next year. The Amazon bookstore will be located on M Street in the space right next to the former Barnes & Noble bookstore — a proven location, popular among students and Georgetowners for decades.

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