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Di Leo: Is Amazon Really Killing Brick-and-Mortar Retail?



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Recent Oak Brook Louis Vuitton robbery – $100,000 

By John F. Di Leo - 

"Amazon is killing brick-and-mortar retail."

"Well, no, but… Amazon, Wish, and all those other online-only businesses are killing brick-and-mortar retail."

"Well, no, but… Amazon, Wish, all those other online-only businesses, plus a lot of brick-and-mortar businesses themselves, like the online stores run by Best Buy, Walmart, JC Penney, etc. etc., all put together, are killing brick-and-mortar retail."

For years, we have been told the above.… To explain why shopping malls and other brick and mortar retail is suffering so much today. It’s all a lie.

What’s killing brick and mortar retail is crime.

Just Another Type of Competition

Throughout the modern commercial age, healthy and vigorous competition between retailers has always been the norm, and has always been desirable.

It’s not a negative for there to be five or ten available restaurants, five or ten available hardware stores, five or ten available clothing stores, etc. Competition is a positive in the retail world – specifically because it inspires each competing store to specialize and improve, to strengthen their appeal to consumers.

The department store adds value in choices and convenience, while the small specialized boutiques boast special value in quality, price, style, fit, or other specialties one would never even think of outside the industry.

There are restaurants that specialize in cuisines, restaurants that specialize in price-point, restaurants that specialize in speed of service, even restaurants that specialize in a single course of the meal, such as soup only, or even dessert only.  The fast food chain didn't put steakhouses out of business; the ice cream shop didn't put barbecue joints out of business.  There's plenty of room.

Yes, there are certainly differences, and challenges, posed by the development of online retail. Online sites offer an ease of purchase and savings of time beneficial for the buyer who knows exactly what he wants and can trust the delivery method.

But that does not represent every shopper, not by a long shot.

For most clothing purchases, you want to see it and feel it, and try it on in the store, before purchasing. Sometimes you don’t have time to wait for delivery, and you need to shop today, on your way home from work or during your lunch break.  And there are tens of millions of us who cannot trust delivery at all, because of underserved areas or lack of a safe place for deliveries to be dropped off.

Besides all of the above, there is personal choice: some people like shopping online, and do so when they can… while others like to shop in person, and do so when they can.

In short, in a growing economy, there will always be plenty of business for both online merchants and brick and mortar retail.

A National Crime Wave Makes the News

Crime is nothing new. For as long as there has been human history, there has been a risk that criminals would make innocent victims' lives miserable. Robbery, rape, assault, murder, embezzlement… These have all been part of the fabric of human existence from the dawn of time.

And so too has crime affected retail, from the beginning. One only has to read Oliver Twist, Moll Flanders, or Les Miserables to be reminded that pickpockets have been an incurable cancer in retail for centuries.

But something big changed in retail in recent years:

Traditionally, the criminal justice system was on the side of the shopper and the retailer, pursuing, prosecuting, and punishing those criminals, to keep their numbers down.

Fear of arrest, trial, and imprisonment used to be sufficient deterrents, to dissuade most people from retail theft. While there will always be some small percentage of people who choose the criminal life, an effective criminal justice system can keep that number small and manageable.

In recent years, however, a combination of the general soft-on-crime policies of Democrat politicians, and the shocking, utter refusal of Soros-funded district attorneys to prosecute such crime, has completely upended that traditional balance.

We now have dozens of cities that are not even merely incapable of controlling their criminal elements; they are actually encouraging such behavior.

When do retail malls or local shopping districts shrink or close? Traditionally, it was only in response to drops in the general economic strength of the area. When a town lost a mill, a factory, a distribution center, then of course there would be fewer people who could afford to shop, so stores would suffer and close. But only then.

In recent decades, however, we have seen shopping malls shut down even while the surrounding areas were not suffering recession or depression. We have seen malls close, even in areas with growing standards of living. Why?

The only answer is crime.

When you no longer dare work at a mall yourself, or allow your kids to hang out at the mall, or park in the mall's parking lot, or even do your Christmas shopping at the mall, then, that mall will die.

Flash Mobs and Follow-Home Crime

Just as retail crime has been around forever, the economy has had ways to combat it as well.

Stores lock their doors, limit access to just one or two entrances, keep their most expensive merchandise behind the counter, out of reach.

Police add foot patrols in shopping districts, and station policemen in or near malls, so they are close at hand if called upon.

Mall management installs security systems, from burglar alarms to video cameras, and they retain security guards to both watch the entrances and circulate throughout the wings.

Individual stores develop their own loss prevention strategies, retaining their own security personnel, using technology such as clothing sensors and doorway alarms, even adding staff so that, in addition to helping the customer and ringing up sales, there are enough sales clerks walking around to keep an eye on suspicious shoppers.

Such measures used to be enough.

Several trends, however, in recent decades, have proven too much for these traditional approaches.

We allow crime gangs to grow and terrorize malls and shopping districts. "Open borders" policies and "sanctuary cities," that allow crime gangs to import foreign members to swell their ranks with Third World thugs, have been key to the growth of America’s crime gangs, such as MS-13 and its imitators.

We have changed the way that we punish juvenile criminals, in some states, refusing to prosecute at all, or keeping their criminal records secret for life, removing the tools that society has to deter children from adopting criminal behavior.

We have tolerated the growth of public demonstrations that quickly turn violent, at which point it becomes impossible to stop them from devolving into looting sprees. There is simply no formal criminal justice technique that can stop the absolute destruction of shopping districts once a looting spree begins. These demonstrations simply must be controlled before they go that far, as soon as violence begins, and yet, the city fathers of dozens of American cities have refused to allow steps to be taken.

The term "flash mob," once known as an entertaining pop-up dance experience, has been taking over as a description of sudden and shocking shoplifting events. Gangs of ten or twenty criminals at a time descend upon a single store, blatantly grabbing everything they can hold, as fast as they can, and charging out of a store before anything can be done about it. Such events can clean out a store of its stock in moments, destroying its season, potentially putting it out of business for good. Just from a single evil moment. Such crimes have filled the news in recent weeks, as high-end stores like Nordstrom‘s in California and Illinois have begun to suffer such attacks. This too has been going on for decades, but it is only now, finally, making the news reports and becoming impossible to hide.

Some areas are even suffering a new type of crime that has become known as follow-home robberies: criminals scout malls and other shopping areas, watching for people buying high-end goods and or driving high-end cars, then hang back and follow them to their homes, where they can steal not only the day's purchases, but also rob the person's home, steal the person's car, or even more.

This is the environment that has upended American retail.

This is the environment that jeopardizes the brick-and-mortar business model.

And it is completely avoidable.

A Public Policy Issue

The explosion of crime that has effectively served as a frontal assault on American retail is entirely a result of public policy choices.

America used to carefully control immigration. Today’s open borders policies allow thousands of gang members to enter the country every month. The cities, counties, and states that have proclaimed themselves “sanctuary” for illegal aliens unknowingly encouraging such criminals to go there. Is it any wonder that such "sanctuaries" are suffering the greatest increase in crime?

America used to punish property crimes in the same way that we punish other crimes: with guaranteed prison time. But we now have a host of county district attorneys and state attorneys general who were elected specifically through massive contributions from George Soros, entirely on the single issue of ending prosecution for most crime. There is a reason why shoplifting is no longer done in secret, with furtive glances and careful disguises. There is a reason why these flash mobs no longer fear security cameras and eyewitnesses. In county after county, state after state, they know they will not be prosecuted, no matter what they do.

Remember:  all crime is recidivist (with only the very small exception of crime-of-passion homicide).

That is, while every criminal had to have a first time, of course, long ago, after committing dozens and dozens and dozens more, the number of crimes that are the result of a first-timer become statistically minuscule.  Virtually every crime is committed because the person got away with it before.

Because of this fact, long jail terms for criminals are imperative if a society has a goal of ever becoming relatively crime-free. Keeping known criminals locked up is the job of government; in fact, it is arguably government’s primary job.

Everyone knows this.

Yes, everyone.

And yet, one political party, yes, the Democratic Party, continues to insist on open borders.… continues to insist on non-prosecution policies… continues to use the plea-bargain approach to mask the real danger posed by convicts.… and even continues to stage mass prison releases for any excuse they can think of, from alleged overcrowding, to Covid fears, to uncomfortable bedding conditions in the prison! Hundreds of thousands of criminals have been released before their sentences were up, without even consulting parole boards, by radical Democrat governors who just wanted to flood their cities with criminals. And they have all gotten away with it.

We don’t have to eliminate the crime problem. That’s impossible. But we can make it more manageable again.

Prosecute crime again. Lock up convicted criminals for their full sentences again. Close the border so that we don’t allow foreign gangs into our country again.

And we must again tamp down on demonstrations the second they get violent. Americans are capable of gathering in large numbers without committing crimes. We Americans have a history of gathering by the tens of thousands, at baseball games, football games, concerts, MAGA rallies, without devolving into criminal activity. We can demand the same from thugs like BLM and antifa. If they want to get a permit for a public rally, let them. Freedom of assembly is legal. But the second they stop acting like Americans and begin acting like bolshevik shock troops, we must remove them from society. We have no choice. We must take action. This cancer has been allowed to grow for too long.

There was a time when criminal justice was a concern of both Republican and Democrat candidates. This wasn’t always a strictly partisan issue.

But in recent decades, it has become undeniable: only one party is on the side of law-abiding citizens, and only one party is on the side of the criminals.

It is time we stopped using euphemisms, dancing around the issues, and giving individual Democrat candidates the benefit of the doubt.

As a block, as a party, the Democratic Party is a corrupt organization on the side of our growing American crime wave.

They need to be voted out of office, locally, county-wide, state-wide, and federally. Only when the Democratic Party has been removed from public office, root and branch, can America return to being a safe society again.

Retail is not, after all, the only sector that this crime wave is hurting. It’s only the most obvious.

But the same criminals who destroy the store you shop at or work at, the same criminals who break into your car in the mall parking lot or follow you home from the mall to break into your house, are the criminals who are denying you from a livelihood, denying you an American standard of living, denying you your rights as a free citizen of the United States of America.

It’s time we recognize this, on election day, and all year round.

Or we soon won’t have any America left.

Copyright 2021 John F Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.

 A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.

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  1. Actually, River city writer, I did mention changing habits in the digital shipping age. In fact, I mentioned it in the title, and in the first three paragraphs. And talked about it again later in the body of the column.
    But my point is, in a country that has doubled in population in 50 years, there is enough marketshare for both digital and brick and mortar to thrive. There is no reason on earth why brick and mortar has to die just because a lot of agoraphobic people prefer to do their shopping from home rather than with their fellow citizens.
    Crime is the monkey wrench that is driving a lot of people away from brick and mortar into online purchasing, unwillingly.
    In a free market, we should be happy to let people choose their own shopping preference. If you want to buy online and I want to buy from a mall, both of us should be free to do so. But government policies have made brick and mortar shopping unsafe, by intentionally flooding our shopping districts with criminals. That is what I am objecting to. That is what I maintain requires an awakening by the American electorate.