Wednesday June 17, 2020 |Notes

Local commerce will not return to normal

Local commerce is becoming dominated by large corporations, including tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. While the pandemic has made it more difficult for independent businesses to stay in business, it's given opportunity to large companies with plenty of cash, and more flexible business models.

Not long ago, local commerce was thought of as an antidote to the large tech companies. Apple bucked this trend with their iconic airy stores. Since the pandemic began local commerce has become more reliant on technology. Google has made inroads by offering free product listings to local merchants, Facebook has introduced a free shopping platform, and Amazon has opened up nine new 4 Star stores.

While some of these efforts are purportedly aiming to help independent businesses, it also increases the competition by putting all these companies on more open platforms. Like selling on the Amazon marketplace, there are risks to partnering with platforms that control the flow of customers, get access to data, and can change the rules at any time.

On a morning bike ride yesterday, I spotted a new Amazon 4-Star store. It's taken over half the space of the recently bankrupted J. Crew clothing store. It's across the street from the Apple store, in a stretch that now includes Lululemon, Madewell, Peet's, Starbuck's, Gap, and Athleta.

Big tech has made significant moves into local shopping as independent businesses have struggled. Local commerce is changing before our eyes and will not return, regardless of the pandemic.

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