Free two-day shipping. Alexa. E-commerce. Prime. A one trillion dollar company. This is Amazon.
Amazon has taken the world of online shopping by storm, overpowering small business and even large retailers alike. According to Forbes, Amazon shipped more than 5 billion items in 2017 to Prime members worldwide. An estimated 90 million people in the United States pay for an Amazon Prime membership, and 46% of those subscribers buy something using Prime at least once a week.
Sounds great, right? Well for Amazon and other online retailers, it is. But for the mom and pop shops, boutiques and specialty retailers that are likely just down the street from your house, it’s not necessarily rainbows and butterflies.
Local shop owners are feeling the heat of online shopping. Tracy Hobbs, owner and founder of the women’s boutique Eleanor and Hobbs in Louisville, Colorado, is the first to admit that business has changed with the increasing trend of online shopping, mainly with the growing popularity of Shopbop. Shopbop is a subsidiary of Amazon, who has been the parent organization of the online shop since 2006.
“Our business is threatened daily by online shopping. Traffic is down in our small town,” says Hobbs. “Younger moms don’t have the time to manage their hectic lives, and they tell us that they do most of their shopping online.”
Amazon also recently announced their 2018 fall partnership with J. Crew Mercantile, where the online powerhouse will showcase a curated collection of pieces all under $300.
The trend of subscription boxes like Stitch Fix and online stores like Revolve are also making their way into consumer’s everyday lives. It’s options like these that are worrisome to Tracy, and at times frustrating.
“Online shopping greatly affects our business,” says Hobbs. “We strive to bring fashion that our customers love, and that will push the boundaries a bit. Something that our customer might not find surfing the web.”
Hobb says, “some customers even come into the store to try on styles for their size and then go and try to find the product elsewhere online at a lower price. This is so frustrating to us as a small business because we take such pride in our collection, our service and our styling.”
Owner of Pitter Patter, a children’s boutique in Louisville, Colorado, Liz Connor opened her doors two years ago and is no stranger to the effects of online shopping. She sees something missing from Amazon and other online marketplaces.
“Shopping on Amazon is very convenient, but it’s missing such basic elements — touch and emotion,” says Connor. “We offer customers the chance to experience shopping again. Does anyone feel good after clicking ‘submit payment’?”
Another stressor is price matching. Price matching isn’t always an option for small businesses, but there is a push from consumers as they expect this to be the norm.
“I do feel pressure to price match when products we carry are also offered on Amazon,” says Connor. “I frequently end up dropping the brand because I can’t afford to participate in that game. It’s expensive to be a local retailer. I can’t negotiate the same wholesale rates as a behemoth like Amazon, but I can be more nimble and seek out something better to offer our customers.”
The commodity of online shopping will continue, picking up speed with every order placed. It’s the small business owners who now realize change for them is inevitable as well.
“We stress newness, quality and customer service at Pitter Patter,” says Connor. “Another thing we offer is trust. Do you really know who you are buying from on Amazon with all the third party sellers? When you shop locally, you are interacting with the person who runs the store, purchased the product for the shelves, tested the items at market or has used them in their own home.”
Two Sole Sisters, located in Boulder and Denver, offer a curated selection of footwear not found on large online retailers like Amazon. Laurel Tate owns the shop along with her sister, Lindsey Tate.
“We curate our collection of brands that are not sold through giant e-tailers and are often made specifically for us,” says Laurel.
Since Two Sole Sisters isn’t directly or negatively affected by Amazon, Laurel uses Amazon as e-commerce inspiration.
“I believe that we have to be malleable and grow with the consumers’ style of shopping,” says Laurel. “We have designed a user-friendly website that allows our customers to shop conveniently 24-7. Amazon challenges us to think outside the box, and that’s never a bad thing.”
It’s these challenges that also help small businesses showcase their special place in the retail space.
Darin Combs, co-owner along with Daniel Armitage of Armitage + McMillan in LoHi, knows that creating a place where people want to shop is the first step to maintaining customers.
“I think it is important for us to create an atmosphere that makes our customers want to shop with us,” says Combs. “We want to be more than just a store that sells things. We want to be a staple in the community that like-minded folks can come and hang out and talk about everything under the sun.”
Another thing that small business owners pride themselves on and set them apart from their online competitors is locally sourcing products and giving back to the community.
“Shopping locally puts your money to work improving where you live,” says Connor. “When you shop with intention, you feel better about it. Your purchases are helping local families, not some unknown company based who-knows-where. Shopping locally strengthens the thread that makes up your community.”
We couldn’t agree more.