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Brick-and-mortar stores gearing up in fight against online buying

Retailers see them in the aisles.They handle the items, carefully consider them ... and then pull out their phones in search of a cheaper price online.

As a brick-and-mortar retailer, it’s easy to hate the internet. The internet can turn a store into an expensive showcase for non-customers — or even an empty storefront as everyone stays home to click on items online.

But seeing it as brick versus click is a recipe for disaster, said Aviation Mall General Manager James Griffith.

“The thing with in-store versus online is, if you’re not doing both, you’re on the outs,” he said.

He advises stores in the mall to get online as a way to draw people to their physical location.

“Many stores online show you what they have in-store, so you don’t have to drive from store to store,” he said.

Price match is becoming popular, too. The goal is to catch those customers before they walk out with that lower price. Eating $10 is better than not selling the product at all, some store owners believe.

Social media sites can draw people in with promotions, and Griffith ran three holiday promotions for stores through the mall’s social media accounts last year.

But there are many stores that aren’t online at all — no website, no Facebook page, sometimes not even a listing on a map.

“We’ve had to help be that tool,” Griffith said.

Those stores are not winning the brick versus click war.

Then there are stores like Target, which is trying to meld its website with its stores. The Aviation Mall Target store recently became a distribution center for online purchases in the region. There are 1,418 Target distribution centers, which allows the company to compete with Amazon on shipping times.

Company-wide, the change last November allowed Target to get more than half of its holiday orders to the customer within two days, said store manager Ben Flint.

“It’s in real time,” Flint said. “We’ll get an order at 3 p.m. It’s potentially at the guest’s house the following morning.”

He hired 20 to 30 more people over the holiday season, beyond his normal holiday hiring, because he needed to ship out so many orders.

He is also aware of the window shoppers who stroll through his store, but he loves them.

“What a great opportunity!” Flint said. “If I can get them in the store, I can sell to them.”

His employees emphasize price match to those who are wielding a smart phone.

“The guest has no reason not to buy here,” he said.

Flint is also trying for a small-store feel. He sends employees to “expert training” in their area. That means that employees who work in the clothing aisles, for example, have been trained on how to put together an outfit from diverse items. Those in food have been taught what foods go well together.

“I’m trying to have personalized service,” he said.

It worked last Christmas.

“Target had an amazing holiday season,” Flint said. While he could not give out numbers for his store, he said it had similar growth to the rest of the company and he expects the store to grow more in 2018.

“We were very pleased with the holiday season,” he said.

Other stores are using online orders to draw in customers by offering free shipping to any store.

At JCPenney, customers must pick up their ordered merchandise by walking to the back of the store, past carefully placed end caps and displays. When they get to the pickup counter, they’re often carrying other items to buy. There’s a cashier there ready to ring them out.

Then there’s placement of the store itself.

One outlet store might not draw many people, outlet owners said. But put dozens of them together and you have the huge draw that is the Million Dollar Half-Mile in Queensbury.

Likewise, in a mall, Griffith advises store owners to consider what other stores would draw their type of customer. As an example, he noted Victoria's Secret near Target.

“If they share a similar demographic, they want to be in the same area,” he said.

Jonathan Reid, a men’s formal clothing store, has a different way of drawing in people.

Employees measure customers to get an exact fit for the suits, sports jackets and tuxedos they sell. They set up tailoring when needed as well.

“In my business, tailoring makes the finished product significantly better,” said owner Jeff Ives. “I don’t know a lot of online tailors.”

He also encourages customers to come in and get what they want the first time, rather than buying online, trying it on and sending it back repeatedly.

“You are just hoping when you purchase online. Doing it in person allows you to touch, sample and try on the product you wish to buy,” he said. “Too many people simply settle for items that they have purchased online because it is ‘close enough.’ “

He tells customers that they get more choices in a brick-and-mortar store.

“There are far more options to acquiring the right product when shopping in person, although that may not seem possible with the endless supply of options online,” Ives said. “When you come into a store, you have the options of comparing one item to another in terms of fit, style and color, and choosing which one you like the best, by seeing both options up close.”

His customers seem to agree. Business is booming at Jonathan Reid, so Ives plans to expand to Crossgates Mall on Sept. 1.

He asked to be placed near Macy’s, even though that means he will have to compete with a much bigger store.

“Twenty years ago, I would’ve seen Macy’s as a big competitor,” he said.

But the big stores, he argues, have focused so much on price in their competition with each other and the internet that they no longer purchase only items that meet their level of quality. Buying from Macy’s no longer means that the item will be high quality, he said.

Ives predicts that many customers looking for fine suits will walk out of Macy’s disappointed.

“And then they’ll see me,” he said.

There are indications that big-box stores are under heavy strain. In the past month, Bon-Ton and Toys R Us both announced closure plans in the area. Sears and Macy’s also announced closures, though not in this region.

The landlord for the Queensbury Toys R Us quickly agreed to reduce the lease to get the store to stay. But as soon as customers heard it might close, they flooded the store and blamed themselves for the potential loss of a huge toy store.

“I am guilty of shopping online,” said Peggy Brown of Saratoga, who was one of many who visited the store recently to make up for her online shopping.

Once she walked in the door, she loved being there, even though the store didn’t have the tiny doll clothes she wanted.

“But I have to say, it’s been a lot of fun being here, seeing things I wouldn’t have looked for,” she said.

Super Fan: 81-year-old has attended every Super Bowl

PORTLAND, Maine — Donald Crisman has more than a half-century of Super Bowl memories behind him, from taking a 24-hour train ride to Super Bowl II to seeing his beloved New England Patriots win in overtime last year.

But he says the 52nd Super Bowl featuring the Philadelphia Eagles and the Patriots on Sunday just might be his final big game.

The 81-year-old resident of Kennebunk, Maine, is a member of the ever-shrinking “Never Miss a Super Bowl Club” that’s attended every season finale since its inception in 1967. He has bought his own ticket every year except one.

Crisman was featured in a 2010 Visa commercial along with three friends who had attended every Super Bowl. He is attending this game with a heavy heart because friend Larry Jacobson of San Francisco died last fall. Crisman said attending the game without Larry would be different, and he might not have gone if the Patriots weren’t in it.

He shared some of his favorite memories with The Associated Press.

Last time in Minneapolis

Crisman prefers the warmer venues for the Super Bowl. But he has fond memories of the last Super Bowl in Minneapolis — in 1992 at the now-gone Metrodome.

He has a hat from the game bearing the Super Bowl XXVI logo that was signed by Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, quarterback Mark Rypien and wide receiver Gary Clark. He is bringing it with him to this year’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, built on the site of the old Metrodome, to “show and tell it.”

Super Bowl that almost wasn’t

Crisman’s trip to the second Super Bowl in 1968 was an odyssey. He had made arrangements to take a private plane to the game in Miami but an ice storm made it impossible to fly.

Crisman was undaunted and managed to find a train that took 24 hours to get to Miami. “I can’t believe how many times that train stopped,” he said. “It was agonizing, to say the least.”

Favorite venues

The Miami area, which will set a record by hosting its 11th Super Bowl in 2020, is Crisman’s favorite place to see the game. He’s also a fan of San Diego, which has hosted three times.

Crisman is “not a fan of these winter bowls,” occasionally held at indoor stadiums in Indianapolis, Detroit and Minneapolis. But when asked about his worst experience at a Super Bowl venue, he cannot think of one.

Top plays

The Rhode Island native has been a Patriots fan since the team’s inception in 1960, so his favorite Super Bowl play of all time is fittingly James White’s overtime, game-winning touchdown last year. Previously, he was the subject of endless teasing because his favorite plays were a pair of field goals.

Specifically, field goals that won Super Bowls for the Patriots in 2002 and 2004.

“I’ve been laughed at and kind of ridiculed. ‘You can’t have a field goal be your favorite play,’” he said. “Well, I do.”

Will he keep going?

Crisman’s crew at the Super Bowl included Jacobson and Pittsburgh Steelers fan Tom Henschel and Green Bay Packers fan Bob Cook, who also had attended every game. But the group has dwindled to just him and Henschel after the death of Jacobson last year and Cook, who died in 2011. He’s welcoming Jacobson’s daughter Heather on Sunday and expects to shed a few tears when she sits in what would have been her dad’s seat.

His son, Don Jr., called his dad “the most consistent force in football.” He said it will be different when his father no longer goes to the big game. After 51 Super Bowls and counting, the elder Crisman said that day might be coming soon.

“I’m thinking about it,” he said. “But this year, I’m taking the Patriots.”

Trump claims memo 'totally vindicates' him in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday claimed complete vindication from a congressional memo that alleges the FBI abused its surveillance powers during the investigation into his campaign’s possible Russia ties. But the memo also includes revelations that might complicate efforts by Trump and his allies to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.

The four-page document released Friday contends that the FBI, when it applied for a surveillance warrant on a onetime Trump campaign associate, relied excessively on an ex-British spy whose opposition research was funded by Democrats. At the same time, the memo confirms that the investigation into potential Trump links to Russia actually began several months earlier, and was “triggered” by information involving a different campaign aide.

Christopher Steele, the former spy who compiled the allegations, acknowledged having strong anti-Trump sentiments. But he also was a “longtime FBI source” with a credible track record, according to the memo from the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and his staff.

The warrant authorizing the FBI to monitor the communications of former campaign adviser Carter Page was not a one-time request, but was approved by a judge on four occasions, the memo says, and even signed off on by the second-ranking official at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, whom Trump appointed as deputy attorney general.

Trump, however, tweeted from Florida, where he was spending the weekend, that the memo puts him in the clear.

“This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” he said. “But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their (sic) was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!”

The underlying materials that served as the basis for the warrant application were not made public in the memo. As a result, the document only further intensified a partisan battle over how to interpret the actions of the FBI and Justice Department during the early stages of the counterintelligence investigation that Mueller later inherited. Even as Democrats described it as inaccurate, some Republicans quickly cited the memo — released over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department — in their arguments that Mueller’s investigation is politically tainted.

A closer read presents a far more nuanced picture.

“Having decided to cherry-pick, the Nunes team picked a bunch of the wrong cherries for its own narrative,” Matthew Waxman, a Columbia University law professor and former Bush administration official, wrote in an email.

The memo’s central allegation is that agents and prosecutors, in applying in October 2016 to monitor Page’s communications, failed to tell a judge that the opposition research that provided grounds for the FBI’s suspicion received funding from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Page had stopped advising the campaign sometime around the end of that summer.

Steele’s research, according to the memo, “formed an essential part” of the warrant application. But it’s unclear how much or what information Steele collected made it into the application, or how much has been corroborated. Steele was working for Fusion GPS, a firm initially hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to do opposition research on Trump. Steele didn’t begin work on the project until after Democratic groups took over the funding.

Republicans say a judge should have known that “political actors” were involved in allegations that led the Justice Department to believe Page might be an agent of a foreign power — an accusation he has consistently and strenuously denied.

The FBI this week expressed “grave concerns” about the memo and called it inaccurate and incomplete. Democrats said it was a set of cherry-picked claims aimed at smearing law enforcement and that releasing the memo would damage law enforcement and intelligence work.

For one, Democrats said it was misleading and incorrect to say a judge was not told of the potential political motivations of the people paying for Steele’s research.

Beyond that, though, the memo confirms the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, months before the surveillance warrant was sought, and was “triggered” by information concerning campaign aide George Papadopoulos. He pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.

The confirmation about Papadopoulos is “the most important fact disclosed in this otherwise shoddy memo,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House committee’s top Democrat, said in a tweet Saturday.

The timing makes clear that other Trump associates beyond Page, who was part of the election effort for only a short period and was not in Trump’s inner circle, had generated law enforcement scrutiny. The memo also omits that Page had been on the FBI’s radar a few years earlier as part of a separate counterintelligence investigation into Russian influence.

The memo focuses on Page, but Democrats on the House committee said “this ignores the inconvenient fact that the investigation did not begin with, or arise from Christopher Steele or the dossier, and that the investigation would persist on the basis of wholly independent evidence had Christopher Steele never entered the picture.”