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Retailing survives challenges

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Autumn is here — and with it, the critical fourth calendar quarter, that make-or-break period that separates the golden performers from the rest of the retailing community. This year, in particular, change has been the retailing constant, but in many quarters of the retailing community things have been remarkably consistent, with many companies doing very little and hoping, sometimes dumbly, for the best.

Behind this inaction is a retailing community that is, uncharacteristically, concerned about the future. Its future. Events have transpired this year that would have been written off as inconceivable five years ago — or even, some say, as recently as one year ago. Who would have, for instance, imagined that Whole Foods would agree to be purchased by Amazon?

The changes that have occurred have, in the main, improved the mass retailing community. Walmart is certainly better off, possibly not yet in actual performance but clearly in the new directions it has chartered for itself. So, too, are Target Corp. and Amazon, and the leading drug chains. All these retailers, and many more, have cleared away some dead wood and focused their attention more clearly on their primary objective of creating, increasing and maintaining sales.

So the table is set, so to speak, for the holiday selling season, and a new and less confusing retailing community can more clearly set its sights on creating business.

First up here is Halloween, an event that has increasingly surprised retailers for the success of their core categories and their ability to expand to categories not previously factored into the Halloween equation. This year seems destined to continue that streak.

Despite the same old crises that have dampened enthusiasm in recent years, the pressing problems that have cropped up of late appear to have abated — at least for the moment. The presidential election is history; the threat of nuclear war is a constant, if unpleasant, reminder of peril; terrorism remains on the radar screen as one of the world’s, and America’s, grim realities. It’s all still here — but it’s also becoming old.

Beyond Halloween is Thanksgiving. Here again, the new world has grown old — and the old world has learned to live with uncertainty. Barring the unexpected, Thanksgiving promises to be a return to the normal days when events never shattered expectations — and Thanksgiving remained that long weekend of quiet bliss that ushered in the Christmas selling season.

That season, however, remains an uncertain event, one that could be impacted in so many ways, none of them pleasant to contemplate. The world remains, after all, a shaky proposition, poised to travel in any one of several unpleasant directions, all of which could affect our country in negative ways.

Still, mass retailing appears to be surviving the challenges of 2017, many of its member companies in no worse shape than was feared at the start of the year. And 2018, it appears, at least initially, is looking healthier than this year.

So the retailing community has something to celebrate as it prepares to launch the holiday selling season. And if it isn’t joy galore, it at least is not as somber as it appeared to be as recently as two or three months ago. Retailing does indeed retain a certain elasticity that other businesses, in time of crises, appear to lack.


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