The changing trends in retail: the office vanishes, as the cell phone rules.

Is this the new retail store? The mobile phone has become the latest hot shopping trend. (Photo by Michael Freeman).


LAKELAND – When Celine Dufresne needed a bedroom set, she knew exactly where to go shopping to find one: online.
“I bought my last bedroom set on line, and I saved a lot of money,” she said, adding that this is becoming a strong trend in retail sales today.
“Look at my husband, he is always ordering online,” Durfresne said. “Young people are more oriented toward the Internet.”
These sales trends were reflected last month, on Nov. 28, better known as Cyber Monday 2011, when sales made online increased by 15 percent over 2010. In addition, 7.37 percent of all sales that day were made on a mobile device, compared to 2.25 percent in the same period last year. Overall, mobile shopping jumped by a whopping 514 percent.
It also became one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.
Dufresne, a commercial real estate broker in Lakeland who runs Quantum Leap Commercial Realty, said this trend is changing the way people operate their businesses. For a lot of the large, older, traditional retailers, online sales have sliced painfully into their bottom line, she said.
“They are hurting,” Dufresne said. “Furniture stores, it’s very difficult for them.”
As a result, she said, “Commercial real estate has been really slow. It’s very difficult for them to stay in business and pay the rent, and those rents are pretty expensive.”
But that doesn’t mean everyone is going out of business. Rather, Dufresne said, the market is shifting in unique ways, as business owners decide they no longer need something that was once standard operating procedure for everyone running a company: a professional office.
“The trend now is people having a small office, or working home-based,” Dufresne said. “It’s really special services that people need to have today. Of course, there will always be people selling clothes that people want to try on, but today the shoppers go with their cell phone and click their bar code and check everywhere to see where it is cheaper. That’s more and more how people shop.“
And if a retailer can market and sell online, she added, they no longer need a large warehouse to store goods – or a large office to conduct business.
“People don’t need an office space,” she said. “If you are a dealership, you have to maintain the inventory. If you are online, you just order and ship. This is a big change.”
She noted, for example, the recent announcement by Sears that its Christmas sales were poor, and as a result, the national chain would be closing some of its stores.
“Sears is closing 150 stores,” Dufresne said. “You can see conventional retail is declining. That is not the future.”
This has also become a problem for shopping malls, Dufresne said, as retailers who can’t compete close their doors, leaving shopping malls with too many embarrassingly empty stores.
“In shopping centers, it’s very bad for shopping centers to have the stores be empty,” she said. As a result, malls are offering huge discounts on the rent to keep businesses there, she added.
But as traditional retailers close up shop, she said, creative entrepreneurs with a good product to sell can find low cost ways of reaching customers, utilizing the Internet and social media.
“As a general tendency, it has to be a very good product or service — mostly if it’s attached to a very good service,” she said. “But just like the regular retail, it’s more difficult than it used to be. There will always be a need for restaurants — either franchise or non-franchise, although obviously, franchises do better.
“But now,” she added, “more and more of the business we have are home based, or they share a small office. That’s why in commercial real estate you see so many vacant buildings. Before people thought, in order to be in business, you need an office. Now they’re downsizing. I see more and more of that trend. It’s not encouraging for commercial real estate, but that is another trend. It’s another switch, and it will take some time to adapt. It’s still good, and people are making money with this. It’s not negative at all. Rather than get an office, they can use their money for marketing, instead.”
In fact, the one key thing they do need, she added, is something very simple: access to the Internet.
“Many people reduce their costs, and with lower sales make even more money,” Dufresne said. “There is a better way to do business.”

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