In an ever-expanding digital shopping universe, Amazon is the black hole swallowing local retailers' market shares. In a 2017 Retail Dive article, Neil Stern noted that from 2006 to 2017, Amazon saw nearly 2000% growth in market value. How can smaller retail planets without the gravitational pull of Amazon supernovas maintain autonomy?
- Courtesy Outside In
- Angela Salido sports typical Bend garb, all available at her downtown Bend brick-and-mortar store, Outside In.
"Omnichannel, seamless retailing, bricks and clicks...Physical retailers must embrace digital retailing as a means to further their presence online, drive traffic into stores and create better customer experiences," explained Stern. And if you can't beat them, get online and join them.
A quality customer experience—plus e-commerceThat's exactly what local downtown retailers, including Angela Salido, did this summer.
Her brick and mortar, Outside In, supplies a stash of high quality functional and fashionable outdoor lifestyle goods—high-demand commodities in Bend.
"We live a very unique lifestyle here in Central Oregon. Locals want products that can easily be worn on the trails and in downtown," explains Salido. Her eye for an appropriate outdoor look is highly attuned, having spent much time sourcing products and researching brands. "We take the time to touch and try on all the items before bringing them into the shop," Salido said. And as of summer 2020, the store has also expanded its website's e-commerce section.
Salido notes online sales are a great option for her loyal customers who live outside of the area, or for friends and family shopping out of the area for gifts intended for locals.
To combat retail giants like REI, Outside In offers a no-cost loyalty program and price matching, and doesn't raise prices above suggested retail price. "We also partner with brands who will not allow their products to be sold on Amazon, because they realize that Amazon isn't able to represent their brand's integrity or protect their prices. Many small companies want to be more than just a mass-produced product. They want to have strong brand recognition and be sold by retailers who know how to fit the product and proudly represent their company values."
Drop shipping: A viable option for small retailersOne digital half-step toward online for local retailers is drop shipping. For customers, it's essentially the same experience as "regular" ecommerce, but for retailers, the process allows them to move products directly from a brand's warehouse to their customers.
James Good, owner of Good Bike Company in Prineville, said this approach has worked well for his bike shop, especially in the midst of COVID-19.
"It's been a crazy and wild journey working in COVID times. Our sales are up year to date," he said. "With the ability for drop shipments from our distributors to our customers' front door, it has helped increase sales. We can work with our customers over the phone and have their parts and accessories sent directly; no need to meet in person at the retail store. We've made many sales like this, both locally and nationally. It's allowed us to open up our customer base well beyond Central Oregon. Once we gain a customer, they keep reaching back out to us looking for more products and services. It's been a real eye opener for sure."
And like Salido in the lifestyle apparel and goods game, Good feels his shop's ability to shine brightly in a galaxy with Amazon or REI is because, "We don't compete. Instead, we focus on what we can do, which is excel in hospitality and back that up with top-notch service. Our team has three to four decades of experience in the bike industry. Amazon cannot sell the service or the experience our customers get once at the shop. Then, once our customers are at the shop, they see the inventory and products we carry and realize we have a lot of what they are looking for; they don't need to order everything from the online giants when they have Good Bike Company."
"As Amazon grows bigger and bigger, people value unique and independent downtowns," Salido added. "We don't want every city and street in America to look the same and be owned by a few people. Shopping small supports makers, start-ups and keeps our communities innovative. It's healthier for the environment and truly keeps our dollars local. In a world where we can't control much, choosing where we spend our dollars in a powerful and meaningful way to make an impact."