By Polina Noskova, Rachel Stone and Caleigh Wells
It’s beginning to look a lot like America’s shopping season. And downtown Lexington retailers are making some changes to keep up with national trends.
The National Retail Federation predicts 56 percent of consumers, who will spend an average of $936 this holiday season, will go virtual shopping, lagging by a sliver the number who will shop in department stores.
It all starts on Black Friday, the nickname for the day after Thanksgiving, the official opening of the holiday shopping season. Accountants have traditionally used red ink to denote a loss, and black to show profits. The holiday season is when most retailers make the bulk of their profits.
Anna-Lisa Fitzgerald, owner of Books & Co., Toys, Too, says local competition doesn’t bother her because her book sales climbed every year until 2006 when online shopping cut into those sales. She added toys in 2007 to combat the decline, but her greatest challenge is still facing websites like Amazon.
“People started buying online and not really thinking about the detrimental effects it has on the community for everybody,” she said. “There was life before Amazon and there’s life now, and the demise of small towns is Amazon.”
Other local owners see the Amazon effect too and are coming up with ways to fight back because the holiday shopping season can make or break a store.
Santa’s Helper Special at Walkabout Outfitters brings customers to the store for snacks and drinks. They are also invited to fill out a wish list. Walkabout then mails each wish list to whomever the “wisher” chooses.
“I had one guy last year call and order the entire wish list for his family,” said manager Allegra Steck. “We wrapped it all up for him and delivered it to his front doorstep.”
Unlike big box stores in larger cities, Walkabout reaps all the benefits of a small, independent retailer, Steck said, because it can tailor its products and services to Lexington’s customer base: kids, tourists, and familiar faces.
Other local stores also capitalize on the personalization aspect of small town shopping.
Alvin Carter, owner and founder of Alvin-Dennis, said he will offer North Face jackets and corduroy pants at 20 percent off on Black Friday.
The high-end clothing store faces tough competition–especially from Amazon–during the holiday season. But Carter thinks his “word of mouth” business model sets his store apart.
“People come because they want personal service,” he said. “I enjoy meeting and talking to people.”
Celtic Tides owner John Morman hired part-time staff to help with the holiday rush. He’s even willing to let shoppers come by after hours.
“Give us a call, we’ll come let you in,” he said. “We don’t have little guys to run home for.”
But some shop owners have discovered the best way to handle online shopping is to beef up their own online presence.
The Washington and Lee University Store combats the slow foot traffic during winter break using orders from its website.
“We have anywhere from three to five student employees who are specialized in web orders. This becomes crucial during the holiday season,” said K.C. Schaefer, University Store director. “Our web orders will go up from 30 to 40 a day to (about)100 orders a day after Cyber Monday.” Cyber Monday, or Cyber Week, are marketing labels for the day when online retailers offer discounts to attract more shoppers online.
The online trend has helped Cocoa Mill Chocolatier garner national attention for its in-house chocolates. Employee Heidi Moss said the holidays are only good for sales.
“It doesn’t need much promotion at all to get sales boosted during that time of year,” she said. “We’re making thousands of truffles a week, at minimum.”
But despite the national trend toward online shopping, there are still some who prefer local shopping. Barbara Mayfield said she enjoys walking around quaint little Lexington because it’s not very commercialized. She would rather shop at local stores than franchises. “That’s what’s special about this place,” she said.
Her son, James, echoed the sentiment and said he “hates having to wait” for items to ship.
And for some owners, online shopping remains a distant threat. Pappagallo shift manager Laura Gentry said the boutique relies on local creatures of habit, and it still works.
“We’ve had the same customers for 40 years. We know everybody,” she said. “It’s amazing that it has survived in such a small town, but our customers always come back, especially at this time of year.”
Information also gathered by Anna Akins, Isidro Camacho, Coleman Johnson, Madeline Hadley, Julia Ornaf, Caroline Schell and Leslie Yevak.