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END-OF-YEAR BOOST: A recent increase in sales at Culture Flock is cutting into losses experienced earlier this year.
SBJ file photo
END-OF-YEAR BOOST: A recent increase in sales at Culture Flock is cutting into losses experienced earlier this year.

Retail sales rebound from rough year

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How people celebrate traditions and shop for the holidays this year might be a little different because of COVID-19. But the spirit of the season is still alive.

Summer Trottier, co-owner of Culture Flock Clothing LLC, said she needed to be creative and smart in how she operated her business during the Black Friday weekend that kicks off the holiday shopping season. The boutique shop started strictly online seven years ago. But after adding brick and mortar in Galloway Village in 2018, Trottier said the store’s first Black Friday was a downer. She decided to close her business on Black Friday moving forward and concentrate on Small Business Saturday instead.

“To pay for the staff to be there the whole day, kind of worked against us,” Trottier said.

“Black Friday is just not a day people think about shopping small.”

In the last year, Trottier said she offered all in-store items for sale online, which she attributes to a 3% increase in sales on Black Friday. She declined to disclose the sales tally.

Trottier said the store’s digital presence also grew on social media. In the past couple of weeks, she said Culture Flock has gained 100 followers on Instagram. Though sales are down 10% for the year, Trottier said there was a 1,250% increase in online sales over the entire holiday shopping weekend compared with the previous year.

This type of activity comes as no surprise to the National Retail Federation. According to the NRF, 44% more consumers shopped only online this year compared with 2019. And for the first time, the number of online Black Friday shoppers topped 100 million, up 8% from last year.

The NRF forecasts holiday shopping between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 to tally $755.3 billion-$766.7 billion, which would be an increase between 3.6% and 5.2% compared with 2019.

Bass Pro Shops also adapted to customers shopping in uncertain times. Jack Wlezien, director of communications for Bass Pro, said rather than offering deals for just Black Friday, the outdoors retailer expanded deals in stores and online throughout the week. He declined to disclose financials but said customers are taking advantage of free curbside and in-store pickup options.

“With the large shipping companies experiencing significant delays magnified by the pandemic and exceptionally high volume, these two free, safe and easy options are a great alternative,” Wlezien said via email.

Culture Flock was open for Small Business Saturday and sales that day stole the show for the weekend, including Cyber Monday. She attributes the extreme bump to the fact that the need to help small businesses right now is more publicized.

“There have been a lot of people who have tried to help those places and independent artists, like us, have been trying to remind people that even if you can’t afford to buy something right now, you can help small businesses out just by sharing or leaving a review or liking or commenting on their post,” Trottier said.

Again, the experience at Culture Flock is in line with retailers nationwide, as the NRF reports online shopping on Small Business Saturday had greater growth than Black Friday. It was up 17% over last year.

Trottier is optimistic that over the next few weeks going into Christmas, Culture Flock can make up for the losses this year.

“You really don’t know what tomorrow will bring. So, to see a really localized response from people wanting to shop small was really encouraging for us, especially this year that there hasn’t been a ton of things to be super excited about,” she said.

Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, said he has been trying to help small businesses with a few initiatives. He said the holiday season is critical for retailers, typically generating 30%-40% of annual revenues during this time.

On Small Business Saturday, the DSA held a craft show featuring 14 local artists. In addition, 18 artists were at the Gailey’s Pop-Up Shop. Worley said these vendors typically attend the larger events, such as Cider Days and Artsfest, but those were canceled because of the pandemic.

“We had 200 shoppers come out, which was good given the current conditions,” Worley said via email. “We heard good feedback from the customers about the variety and quality of the vendors.”

Worley said $5,000 the DSA received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act grant from Greene County was used to review the digital presence for small businesses downtown. DSA Communications Manager Jeff Kessinger is helping 15 businesses in the project but has room for up to 20. Worley said Kessinger will make cost-effective recommendations to increase traffic to the businesses’ website and social media channels.

“Many local businesses have just one or a small number of people working on their social media strategies. This will provide a fresh set of eyes and expertise on how they can better take advantage of collaborating with DSA and other local businesses, as well as incorporating new tools,” Worley said via email.

The education could help in the future, as NRF officials say the number of online shoppers on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was up 17% compared with last year. Conversely, in-store shopping was down over the holiday weekend due to many retailers opting not to open on Thanksgiving.

Worley also said the pop-up shop on Walnut Avenue downtown is ongoing until the end of December. He said sales have almost doubled between October and November.

“We’re hoping for a strong December,” he said via email.

Features Editor Christine Temple 
contributed.

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