In 1897, Mark Twain embarked on a worldwide speaking tour. Twain had become famous for his colorful books and newspaper columns, and his speeches were much sought-after. He didn’t undertake the tour solely to address the demands of his audiences, however; Twain had racked up considerable debt and hoped to earn enough money on his speaking tour to pay it off.

While he was in London, a rumor emerged that he had fallen seriously ill. Soon after, another circulated that he was dead and that a newspaper had published his obituary. When a reporter asked about this circumstance, Twain replied, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Twain’s witty retort seems appropriate for the current state of the retail industry, and not just because he said it the same year as the formation of the South Dakota Retailers Association.

Sometimes we hear “experts” talking about the impending death of retail, how large online retailers will replace physical stores.

Behind every rumor is a nugget of truth; in Twain’s case his cousin, who shared the last name of Clemens (Twain’s given name was Samuel Clemens), had passed away, leading to the rumor.

And there’s a nugget of truth with online sales as well, having grown from 7% of total sales in 2007 to about 10% today. It’s a trend that will likely continue and we will probably see online sales capture a greater share of the market.

But reports of the death of retail are an exaggeration.

In communities across South Dakota, Main Streets are seeing a resurgence. Online retailers are setting up brick and mortar locations to meet the demands of consumers. Consumer confidence is high. The future of retail is bright.

That’s why South Dakota’s efforts to level the playing field with online sale tax collection have been so important. Competition among businesses is nothing new and often leads to new innovations, better processes, and improved customer service.

Everyone must compete on the same terms, however, and our state’s successful efforts to address this inequity with the United States Supreme Court demonstrates the inherent value of a strong group of individuals working toward a common goal.

Twain also wrote that, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” We’re fortunate that retail businesses started fighting for Main Street Fairness decades ago. It took a lot of time, energy, and effort, but the payoff proved worth the price.

So don’t send flowers just yet; retail business in South Dakota is alive and well.

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