This is the third in an ongoing series of stories about Kern County's changing retail landscape.

Jason Smith had already gone online to buy his mom perfume, and yet two days before Mother's Day, there he was at Valley Plaza looking to buy another bottle for someone else.

Why buy some things online and others in person? Convenience, the 29-year-old Bakersfield resident explained: He prefers to stay home but will venture to the mall if necessary.

"If I want it now, I just go pick it up at the store," he said. "But if it's not something I need right now, I order it."

Smith's divided loyalties speak to profound changes in the way U.S. consumers shop. Many still favor shopping centers, and yet increasingly — some say inevitably — society is turning to e-commerce.

The shift has been driven largely by a single company, one that started as an online bookseller and expanded from there to offer a seemingly limitless menu of products and services, from sophisticated cloud computing to house cleanings and other mundane chores.

Observers say Seattle-based Amazon, already one of the world's most valuable companies, is now positioned to leverage its e-commerce leadership to turn modern homes into Internet-connected environments where shopping is seamlessly integrated into most people's daily lives.

"The future is now being shaped by the connected consumer and the increasingly ubiquitous nature of technology," public relations and digital marketing agency Walker Sands wrote in its 2017 Future of Retail study.

"In this always-on environment," it continued, "brands must themselves be always on — not just online, but everywhere their customers go."

Surveys show not everyone is comfortable with the transition. Older consumers are seen as the least likely to do their shopping online, while many in the generation known as millennials have grown accustomed to buying products by smartphone and expecting delivery to their door, sometimes in a matter of hours.

Walker Sands' 2017 consumer survey found 96 percent of U.S. consumers shop online at least occasionally and only 29 percent purchase things on the Internet weekly.

By comparison, it said, 37 percent of millennials go online to do their shopping, and 8 percent do so daily.

The generation gap is still more stark when the computer being used for shopping is a voice-controlled device, such as an Amazon Echo.

Walker Sands reported only 19 percent of all U.S. consumers have used the machines to shop at least once, as compared with 37 percent of millennials who "always" or "often" shop using voice-controlled devices.

Fay, a Valley Plaza regular who declined to share her last name, refuses to shop online. She has a computer at home and has used one at work for years, but still doesn't trust it for certain online activities.

"I don't want any of my information there," the Bakersfield resident said.

Twenty-year-old Rahayana Bautista has no qualms about shopping online, but she prefers the mall for items that need to fit just right, such as clothing.

Like Smith, she decides between online and in-person shopping based on convenience and timing.

"If I need it, I go get it then and there," she said.

Amazon is working to bridge that gap by making home deliveries ever quicker and easier.

Its 100 million-customer subscription shopping service, Amazon Prime, promises free delivery — a key benefit, according to surveys — within two days. It can speed up delivery to within two hours for an additional charge.

The company hopes to make fast deliveries the rule, not the exception. It is working to build a fleet of robot drones that can fly small items directly to customers' doorsteps, a concept that has not yet won necessary approvals by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Bakersfield couple Sergio Sauceda, 31, and Linda Bravo, 27, are very much the company's target audience. They buy day-to-day supplies from Amazon frequently, mainly, they say, because of the convenience and low prices. They even use the company's credit-card services — a bit too frequently, Sauceda said, though he's scaling back.

If there's time to go to a brick-and-mortar store, Bravo said they do, and they always shop for groceries in person.

Sauceda was circumspect about whether the two of them will eventually look to Amazon for a majority of their needs. He said he was unsure, for instance, whether he would be comfortable having a drone deliver his pizza.

But if he sees others ordering services online, he said the chances increase that he'll do the same.

"We do live in a technology era," he said.

Next: How some local retailers are managing to adjust to changing times.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at for free newsletters about local business.

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