Wondering why you haven’t passed a Border’s lately? Ecommerce. Shopping online continues to change consumer behavior, starting with large franchises and moving on to small retail businesses. Online shopping has made them all rethink their future or, in the case of book stores that ceded the web to the likes of Amazon, die.
That has required small boutique shops focus on the experience of in-store purchasing and supplementing that differentiation with their own online sales strategy.
“All of the sudden everyone else got into e-commerce,” said Ann Gitter, the owner of Rittenhouse style mainstay Knit Wit. ”And instead of being on the first or second page [of a web search] I was on the third or fourth page.”
Ecommerce is now a $200 billion plus industry in the United States, and it is winning the race against traditional shopping.
Many of the smaller brick and mortar businesses face the problem of being lost in the online shuffle — or used for so-called ‘show-rooming.’ Having bigger department stores and even the larger online stores make it harder for these small businesses to be found in a simple Google search.
(1) Search Engine Optimization
Paying for search engine optimization is one option for these businesses, but this is not always as helpful as it was in the past. There are too many of the big department store sites that get much more traffic.
“I paid for optimization for a little while and that worked for a little while,” Gitter said. “I still could get page one or page two. Then four years ago I couldn’t get anywhere near page one or two, no matter how much I paid.”
(2) Partnering with broader networks
Knit Wit has found new ways to stay a small business but still have a voice online. It has joined the site FarFetch.com, which encompasses many other smaller, high-end clothing stores trying to make it online.
“I started working with them because they had more money for optimization and they had already had a pretty strong business in Europe,” Gitter said.
Gitter said that joining FarFetch has been very good for her business. It has allowed for it to grow online when previously there seemed no chance for that.
“About two months ago, Amazon contacted me and they want to start to get into the women’s contemporary [clothing] business,” Gitter said. “I’m about six weeks into selling on Amazon, which I’m very excited about.”
Being on the bigger sites that most people know has greatly benefited Knit Wit. It has allowed the retailer to reach a far greater audience than if it just had its own website and social media presence. It can now attract that larger crowd without the added strain of paying for optimization.
(3) Rethinking in-store sales as experience
Knit Wit does another very interesting thing when it comes to getting exposure. The boutique has started working with PopInShop, a startup founded at Wharton that allows stores that are only online a place to have a popup store for a short time. In the near future Knit Wit will be hosting shoe and jewelry popup shops, with hopes of gaining new customers for all parties involved.
“It’s always hard for specialty stores,” Gitter said. “Because we’re always up against the big boys in some kind of way.”
Knit Wit has found many ways to get around e-commerce as a small brick and mortar business successfully, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still face challenges. All small business have to fight against the big department stores online, and it is the most creative that come out on top and remain successful despite their smaller, local reach.