Local businesses try to keep Cyber Monday local
Geoffrey Smith is not fighting the Cyber Monday assault on brick-and-mortar stores like his bike shop in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square area — instead, he’s joined the online retailing movement in a big way.
Smith, who co-owns Bike Partners with his wife, Camille Armstrong, said he knows the future of American retail lies online, and the only way to compete with the likes of Amazon is to have a strong e-commerce presence.
“The way I see it, the future is going to be where you just put everything you sell online,” said Smith, whose shop specializes in unique folding bikes for commuters and travelers.
About a year and a half ago, Smith bought a retail business software service called Lightspeed, which seamlessly merges his e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail sales. A simple Google search brings customers to bikepartners.net — - and to Smith’s entire inventory — - from anywhere in the world.
Everything in the Railroad Square shop is online, he said. When a new item gets logged into his shop’s inventory, it immediately appears for sale online.
The trend toward online retail is most apparent during the busy holiday shopping season, which officially kicked off Black Friday and runs up to Christmas. And this year, online holiday shopping has tipped.
More than half of U.S. consumers, 54%, said they will do the majority of their shopping online this holiday season, according to a holiday consumer survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Black Friday — the shopping frenzy most associated with bricks-and-mortar stores — also doesn’t have the pull it once did.
Just four years ago, 59% of American consumers did most of their holiday shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
By 2017, that share dropped to 35% and this year it’s 36%.
Online shopping and Cyber Monday specials can be a way to attract new customers.
On his website, Smith is offering 25% off all bike parts, accessories and clothing using the code blackfriday when ordering. The code blackfridaybikes will get online customers 15% off all bikes and trikes, he said.
The discounts ran through the weekend, from Black Friday until midnight Monday.
Smith’s effort to increase his e-commerce sales is the story of one local business trying to stay viable at a time when online giants like Amazon and eBay are decimating brick-and-mortar shops.
“People don’t realize the damage caused by out-of-county purchases,” he said.
Janeen Murray, executive director of Sonoma County Go Local, a “buy local” initiative, said when local residents shop online with non-local vendors, none of the money they spend stays in the county.
When shoppers spend $100 at local big box stores, $14 stays in the county, Murray said.
In contrast, when someone spends $100 at a local store, about $48 stays in the county, she said.
Murray said that while local retailers can sell through Amazon, research shows the Amazon algorithms often prioritize the company’s interests over those of businesses that use its platform.
Murray said there are no coordinated local efforts centered on Cyber Monday.
The Go Local movement, for now, is focused on getting more county residents to walk into a local shop or business, she said.
But many local retailers do have a strong online presence. Some, like Berkmans Spices, have no choice because they have no retail space to sell their spice blend seasonings.
Five years ago, Phil and Heidi Schneider opened Berkmans Spices, with Phil tapping a love of food and cooking developed since he was a busboy at a Maryland steak house.
When he started Berkmans Spices, Schneider left his information technology job and devoted himself to making unique spice blends.
He started selling them at local farmers markets, and later at local Oliver’s Markets.
Schneider uses Shopify to sell his spice blends at berkmansspices.com.
Schneider said he and his wife started selling online about four years ago, using a basic “website that just did OK.” But they started to notice that the tourists they attracted at local farmers markets kept coming back for more.
“They would buy things, take them home and they would want to order more when they ran out,” he said.
Their online sales are minuscule compared to Amazon, he said, but it’s another sales channel for the business.