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Local consumer loyalty more vital than ever

The front page of last Monday’s Wall Street Journal included an article portending trouble for businesses not only in the nation’s big cities, but also for retailers, restaurants and other consumer-reliant entities in smaller business hubs such as Altoona and Johnstown.

All considered, from the national front down to the local level, the article’s information should not be pooh-poohed as exaggeration or fear mongering.

It is overdue for doubters to acknowledge the difficult challenges ahead and what changes almost certainly might be forthcoming. With coronavirus infections and deaths continuing to mount in Pennsylvania as well as in most other states — some by alarming proportions — the only avenues to some semblance of normalcy would seem to be a widely available COVID-19 vaccine or quick, effective treatment.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence yet that either is on the horizon, although there has been some hopeful research.

In last Monday’s article headlined “Businesses are gearing up for longer road to a rebound,” the Journal emphasized that “executives who were bracing for a months-long disruption are now thinking in terms of years. Their job has changed from riding it out to reinventing. Roles once thought core are now an extravagance. Strategies set in the spring are obsolete.”

Every year in late November, the Mirror emphasizes the importance of area consumers doing their Christmas shopping at local merchants. The point is that the holiday shopping season is a make-or-break time for many businesses.

Those messages cannot be emphasized enough this year, with the pandemic maintaining its deadly grip on this nation.

Fortunately, the Southern Alleghenies region has so far escaped the large death and infection tolls many other places are recording, but by no means can this region embrace the foolhardy notion that it is out of the proverbial woods.

Neither can area businesses.

They must continue to prepare for the worst while hoping for something better.

The upcoming cold and flu season beginning with the arrival of fall harbors uncertainties that it is not premature to judge as “dire.”

Meanwhile, the Journal noted some economists’ contention that some current statistics indicating strength in consumer spending are obscuring “reality on the ground, where consumers are increasingly fearful of the economic impact of a new surge of COVID-19 cases.”

Such fear is no doubt prevalent in this region, and that is exacerbating feelings of dread regarding what normally would be a robust end-of-the-year economic boost.

“The accelerating (coronavirus) spread has derailed what many businesses had hoped would be a smooth transition to normal levels of activity,” the Journal reported.

The newspaper quoted the CEO of an executive-search firm who said “the real endpoint is the biology.”

One point remains relevant:

Places like Altoona and Johnstown need to continue stressing the importance of consumer loyalty to “merchants at home” now and as the holidays move closer.

The current situation is not someone else’s problem.

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