Local BCS retail stores are working to keep with the times as e-commerce continues to grow and transform the way consumers shop.
Online sales have been growing at a much faster rate than store sales. According to a report released this year by the U.S. Commerce Department, e-commerce sales in the U.S. jumped by 15.6 percent between 2015 and 2016, the largest increase since 2013. The report also reveals that e-commerce accounted for around 41.6 perccent of all retail growth in 2016, Amazon being the biggest contributor.
Kelli Hollinger, the Director of the Center for Retailing Studies at the Mays Business School, said she understands the obstacles that local brick-and-mortar retailers face.
“Especially in the online world, convenience is paramount,” Hollinger said. “Amazon has trained shoppers to expect 2-day delivery, sometimes even faster in large cities. Local and independent retailers can find it challenging to invest in online platforms or social media to serve customers as quickly and cheaply as major retailers.”
John Raney, owner of Texas Aggieland Bookstore, said his store’s inability to compete with online platforms became an insurmountable barrier.
“We quit selling textbooks a year ago, for multiple reasons,” Raney said, whose business still sells Aggie apparel. “One of them is online, one of them is the way the publishers were dealing with the bookstores.”
When students register for classes now, they are linked to a page where they can buy the specific textbooks they need online through the A&M Barnes & Noble store.
“It was the process of them reaching the student, and the student never knowing that I existed,” Raney said. “When that took place it was disastrous for [textbook] retailers.”
One local retailer, Aggieland Outfitters, has not taken much of a hit from e-commerce, according to their Marketing Director Kathleen Sportsman.
“We're in a unique position where a majority of our products cannot be found anywhere else online or in other brick and mortar stores,” Sportsman said. “We carry a large amount of exclusive products that are of above par quality that online stores even like Amazon, for example, don't have access to and cannot provide.”
Sportsman said they are also working on a mobile app and a new website to improve their customers’ online experience.
Alina Sorescu, a marketing professor at Mays, said more local stores should move online, similar to Aggieland Outfitters’ approach because recent studies have shown vast numbers of millennials are shifting towards exclusively digital stores.
“This is a daunting reality for brick and mortar stores,” Sorescu said. “But some of them could still tap the demand for their products by adopting new, digitally driven business models.”
Some retailers, such as local bike shops, have a natural advantage over e-commerce in the customer service side of retail.
Richard Barnes, the owner of Aggieland Cycling, said they have taken a small hit from online retail but that websites can’t replicate the services his store provides.
“If a person is looking for price only they’ll go to the Internet,” Barnes said. “If they’re looking for service, satisfaction, people to stand behind [the product] and do the work for you, they’ll come here.”
As the B-CS population grows and becomes more attractive to retailers, Hollinger emphasized the importance of customer service. She said local retailers need to know who their loyal customers are.
“Greet them by name. Give them a high-touch, personalized experience that is fun,” Hollinger said. “Online shopping is efficient, but it cannot replicate the social engagement that can happen within a store when you discover a new product and fall in love with the way it feels.”