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Continuing challenges hit retailers as holiday shopping season approaches

Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals.
Chris O'Meara
Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday officially begins the holiday shopping season. Some of the trends likely to affect this year’s retail shopping have become familiar. Like the challenge of hiring enough workers – and those supply chain issues.

Nathan Sanderson, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, said business owners will continue to face that adversity.

“Workforce is tight, supply chain issues are still in place, and inflation is obviously impacting consumers and businesses alike – at a high level they’re seeing that,” Sanderson said.

However, Sanderson predicts inflation will play a newly significant role this year.

“I think what a lot of businesses are anticipating for this holiday shopping season is consumers spending about the same that they have over the last couple of years," he said. "But because of inflation that’s going to reduce consumer buying power and that will also mean less from a net-profit perspective for businesses because obviously their costs are going up at the same time consumers are seeing higher prices for some of the same things.

Sanderson said because of low inventories, shoppers should make purchases when they can.

“The supply chain related piece is availability," Sanderson said. "If there’s a specific thing they’re looking for, and they find it somewhere, I would strongly recommend they pick it up because again due to supply chain issues, there’s no guarantee it will be replaced prior to Christmas time.”

Another factor for many companies continues to be a workforce shortage. Todd Loomer, owner of Montgomery Furniture in Mitchell and Alexandria said he’s hiring people as fast as he can.

“The workforce that’s out there and the turnover is terrifically terrible," Loomer said. "I just finally hired another person yesterday, but I’ve been in business with my father for thirty-five years and it’s not the same as what it was when I started.”

The pandemic has taught many consumers the benefits of shopping online. However, Loomer said shoppers should think twice before going to Amazon or Walmart.

“It would be nice for them to work with the local retailers rather than somebody out of the area," Loomer said. "Try to support your hometown people. The brick-and-mortar stores definitely have more of a disadvantage to the big box stores.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Clancy Kingsbury, owner of Who's Hobby House in Rapid City.

“People don’t get quite exactly what they were thinking it was going to be," Kingsbury said. "I know that’s a big part of our customer base is people coming here because they want to see what they’re actually getting and that it is going to be good quality, and if there is an issue then they have a place to go.”

Kingsbury said some high-demand items have already cleared shelves.

“Availability is a lot better than it used to be, but still some things like our telescopes have been still very hard to get," Kingsbury said. "So, if you’re looking at those kinds of items, in our case that’s probably been one of the toughest items to get. There’s a good chance we’ll probably run out long before Christmas. So, I would say shop early, and look for good quality items.”

Kingsbury expects items like remote controlled trucks, model airplanes and train sets to be popular this year.

He said it’s a crucial time of year for businesses like his.

“It’s always been our biggest time of the year, gift-giving of course," Kingsbury said. "The workforce part of it has been a little challenging. Mostly because we’re seeing a wave of illness go across the country basically, but it’s also affecting the workforce. That makes it tough for small business to try and cover those losses when people are out quarantining whether it’s COVID or the flu.”

Kingsbury said it’s vital for people to remember when they support local businesses, they’re supporting their whole community.

“You might not realize it but keeping your money local really does make a big difference," he said. "It allows us to support other organizations through donations. We can’t do that without your support.”

Back at the state Retail Association, Sanderson said this year it’s especially important to consider where you’re spending your money.

“It makes sense for all of us to support the local businesses that support our local communities," Sanderson said. "If you look at the businesses that are sponsoring the FFA program and 4H and dance and basketball and hockey, and all those other things, it's locally owned businesses.”

After the door crashing deals of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, many local businesses participate in Small Business Saturday.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture