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Mark Tebbe encourages shoppers to think local

Mark Tebbe

Mark Tebbe

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Updated: January 3, 2013 2:46PM

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, we are in full-blown holiday shopping season. Given the triad of Apple, Android and Microsoft offering a plethora of new iPads and iPods, Nexus 4, 7 and 10, as well as Windows 8 tablets and Microsoft Surface, tech buyers will have plenty to put on their wish lists. But these tech products are not the big stories of this holiday season.

While I have shopped online for holiday gifts since 1995 and still do most of my holiday shopping online, the majority of Americans have not — until this year. Yep, we have hit the online shopping tipping point because it is estimated that 52 percent of us will shop online this holiday season (up from last year’s tally of 47 percent), according to the National Retail Federation. While it’s easy to understand the appeal of 24-hour shopping, free product shipping and split-second price comparisons, the fact that over half of America will buy something online is a big deal.

The biggest victims of this online trend are the large retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and Target — and they are reacting. We’ve already seen highly advertised doorbuster deals and longer holiday hours. Many are matching online prices in their stores but, regrettably, that only further encourages shoppers to look online for the best available deals. Others are just publishing review summaries (normally online) right on store shelves in hopes that customers will not feel the need to go online to compare with similar products.

Big box retailers’ biggest fear is that more of us will use their floor space for “showrooming” where we will touch, look and compare products in their stores, but then go home and purchase the products online at a better price. And if industry estimates bear out, Americans will purchase over $1.7 billion of products this way, according to Forrester Research, denying the large retailers these sales despite our presence in their stores. Shoppers wanting to “showroom” will be armed with smartphone apps such as RedLaser, ShopSavvy and Price Check (by Amazon) to scan the bar codes in the store and quickly compare prices. And online researchers will be using sites such as Froogle, CNet and Chicago-based Viewpoints for insightful product reviews.

While I can often be accused of showrooming, realistically not everything can or should be bought online. But I’m particularly concerned about what this could mean for smaller independent shops. Let me be clear: I want to encourage all of us to support our local entrepreneurial shops, because they need our purchases for their survival. Unique and one-of-a-kind products can only be found by doing your holiday shopping the old-fashioned way.

And one last thought: Given that the holidays are for sharing, if you are in a Toys “R” Us, I hope you drop off an extra toy in the Toys for Tots bin to allow our Marines to provide gifts to those less fortunate than us, because every kid should enjoy a gift this holiday season.

Mark Tebbe donated his fee for writing this column to Toys for Tots.

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