Amazon’s quiet takeover

Local stores are right to fear further growth of online retail

I had the opportunity earlier this month to attend the North State Economic Forecast conference, sponsored by Chico State’s Center for Economic Development and held at Gold Country Casino. And while some of the economist-speak went over my head, much of it was enlightening—cautiously optimistic, while at the same time a little bit scary. (For a full report on the event, see “Sketchy, but positive future,” Newslines, Jan. 26.)

One takeaway that has the potential to affect us here in Butte County in a big way is the monstrous growth of Amazon. I remember when the Internet became a thing and buying stuff online was a strange and novel idea. I’m pretty sure I signed up on eBay as soon as I got my first credit card. I’ve been a member, it tells me, since Y2K. I joined Amazon three years later.

Like many others, I was enamored by the sudden ability to not only compare prices and find rare items but also to do so in the comfort of my own home. Amazing! Sometime around the Great Recession, as a way to both curb spending and support the local economy, I stopped shopping online. Not completely—from time to time, if I can’t find something I’m looking for locally, I’ll hop on the Internet—but even then, I often opt for in-store pickup.

Apparently I’m the exception. Business leaders at the economic forecast conference looked at Amazon as a real threat to local retail. And the construction of an 850,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Sacramento, combined with growing goals to shorten delivery times, means Chico stores likely will feel more pressure.

On the national level, we’ve already heard news that Sears and Kmart are buckling. Just this month, though, other big chains—including Macy’s and Lowe’s—announced thousands of layoffs.

A recent MarketWatch article analyzing Amazon’s massive amount of growth offered this viewpoint: “What Amazon won’t tell us is that every job created by Amazon destroys one or two or three others. What Jeff Bezos doesn’t want you to know is that Amazon is going to destroy more American jobs than China ever did.”

That’s a pretty ominous proposition, and one that doesn’t bode well for retail stores, big or small. It’s enough to make us all a little wary. In response, I urge you to drop the mouse, put on pants and get out into the world. Interact with real people, spend your money locally. I know I’m not alone in saying I like a diverse marketplace. Let’s keep it viable by supporting our local business owners and their employees.