The Decline of Brick and Mortar Retail

I never had the opportunity to talk to my grandparents about how they did their shopping. They were the same age I am now in the 1950s, and the first modern mall opened in Minnesota in 1956. The first mall for them would have been the Midtown Plaza Mall in Rochester, New York, which opened in 1962 and shut down in 2008.

Rochester, like a large swath of the US, is pretty cold most of the winter, and going shopping snd driving in the ice and snow can make just leaving the house a lot of work. I wonder if people my grandparents’ age, if they were alive today they’d be in their 90s, were excited, outraged for some reason, or indifferent about malls.

In the 80s and 90s, malls were all the rage. Teenagers worked there and went on weekends, it was a place you could go with your family or friends, and malls were even prominently on display on TV shows and movies. The Economist recently came out with an article on the decline of brick and mortar retailing, due to competition from smaller stores and the Internet. Believe it or not, retail accounts for one in nine American jobs. The mall won’t disappear, but there’s no going back to the eighties, either.

What about cashiers?

The cashier has a tough competitor today, artificial intelligence. Although AI works tirelessly and doesn’t make mathematical errors, a computer bug like the one last week can put it out of commission. AI also doesn’t smile, ask you about your day, or tell you how cute your little girl is. Like in other industries, AI and friendly people should complement each other to have the best cashiers that we, or our grandparents, have ever had.

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