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Rutgers Business School's Kristina M. Durante looks at how technology and other factors have changed consumer culture

Shopping online
Parents today are part of the digital generation, says  Kristina Durante. They want a frictionless experience, which means gravitating toward online shopping, especially for holiday toys.

Turkey leftovers are still lingering in the fridge, but Americans are already tackling their next annual tradition: holiday shopping.

In this ever-evolving retail landscape – where brick-and-mortar stores are folding as Amazon’s empire continues expanding – what does that mean for how we shop?

We spoke with Kristina M. Durante, associate professor of marketing at Rutgers Business SchoolNewark and New Brunswick whose research lies at the intersection of social psychology, evolutionary biology and consumer decision-making about how new technology and other factors have changed consumer culture.

How are holiday shopping habits changing?
Older generations are still shopping at brick and mortar stores. For some, it’s a tradition; part of your culture includes Christmas shopping at a store. But those older shoppers are fading.

Parents are younger and part of the digital generation. They want a frictionless experience. I think it’s specific to toys and kids. We want hyper-efficiency shopping for toys, but if it’s your sister or friend’s birthday, you tend to think beyond ‘What is the hot thing I can get with the click of a button.’ This is where brick and mortar may have more opportunity.

Are there any new strategies retailers are using to compete with Amazon?
I think many retailers understand they have to get a lot better at what they do or Jeff Bezos and company are going to run them out of business. They need to create more of a social experience that you simply can’t get online. It can’t just be that you show up and buy. For example, in-store promotions, like a personal shopper or body analysis for clothing or in-store demos, can make it an experience.

Is the disappearance of more brick-and-mortar stores and reliance on more online retail shopping positive or negative for the economy and for consumers?
I think it’s positive for the economy. I don’t think there will be a complete disappearance of brick-and-mortar stores. They will either evolve and become more experiential or they can’t compete and close shop, which is what happened to Toys R Us. But specialty stores are probably going to be around.

Jeff Bezos is basically taking identity away from brands and making it faceless – just like travel sites did with airlines. Consumers are price hopping. That puts brands at peril if they can’t find a new way to stand out. 

How are cashless stores impacting our spending habits? Do we spend more when we don't have to physically pay for our purchases?
It’s the Uber effect. After you take an Uber there is an email that goes somewhere but the exchange of currency is psychologically distant. When that happens people spend more.

How will the closure of Toys R Us impact this year's holiday shopping season?
The disappearance of Toys R Us isn’t going to put a dent in holiday shopping, because Amazon will fill the void. So will Walmart, Target and Kohl’s. They are all expanding their toy sections and are going to strike while the iron is hot. Everybody is going to get a slice of the Toys R Us pie – online and offline.