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On Aging with Dr. Roger Branch Sr.: Lend a hand to help seniors learn
Branch WEB
Dr. Roger Branch Sr.

Retail commerce in this country is in the midst of radical, perhaps revolutionary, change. A rapidly growing proportion of retail sales are being done "online" through internet sites rather than on-site local stores. comes to mind immediately, but many other businesses sell things wholly or partly via the internet.

The appeal of online shopping is obvious. It is so convenient. One can shop from home - anywhere in fact - via computer or smart phone. It is possible to access a huge variety of products, complete with pictures and descriptions. After a credit card payment, the buyer can look forward to prompt home delivery. No crazy crowds and no waiting in long lines.

Online buying has its down sides. Not being able to see the products and try them on or try them out leads to disappointments and numerous returns, which require more effort than on-the-porch deliveries. And on-the-porch deliveries have led to a rise in from-the-porch thefts. Still, the growth in e-commerce continues.

An immediate result is the impact on local stores. Long established retail giants report declines and even major losses in sales. Macy's and Sears-Kmart have announced plans to close hundreds of retail outlets. Some others have already gone out of business.

This is not about whether this trend is good or bad. It simply is. There are benefits for some and problems for others. Some of the benefits have been cited. Negatives include loss of local jobs when stores close and with them warehouses and delivery systems. Internet sales do not generate sales taxes. Empty store buildings eat into local and state ad valorem taxes. Governments require taxes to provide necessary services from roads to police and fire protection. Who or what will pay these taxes when e-commerce turns malls and shopping centers into modern ghost towns?

What has any of this to do with seniors? Obviously, they depend on government services fully as much as others. Some of them are very vulnerable. Some are "stuck in the mud." They like to see, touch and try on things before they buy. Many "just don't trust this online buying stuff." At that, they are not necessarily backward because credit card fraud and computer hacking are significant problems.

The biggest issue with seniors is lack of access to online shopping. So many of them do not own computers or smart phones and/or lack the skills needed for internet transactions. (OK, electronic snobs, it is not a sin to lack these skills or money to afford the gadgets or credit cards. They built the world on which this new economy rests.)

Finally, if the pattern of change from on-site to online retailing continues, seniors will be squeezed into a limited number of retail stores with higher prices and less choice in merchandise.

Well, what's to be done? Why not offer help to seniors who would like to shop online? There are organizations fully capable of organizing such projects - churches, civic clubs, Georgia Southern, Ogeechee Tech, fraternities, sororities, scouts, etc. There are computers and smart phones everywhere. Who knows? Some of us from the "aching bones" contingent might come to like shopping from a comfortable chair far from crazy crowds and long lines. We also might learn to do this for ourselves.


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