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‘Meet customers where they’re at’: Local retailers offer online shopping during pandemic

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 7:21 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There’s no doubt about it, shopping for the holidays during the pandemic is easier on Amazon or some similar major online retailer, and it’s safer in terms of COVID-19. Local retailers know that, however, the pandemic has been going on long enough that many of these businesses now have online options too.

Now with another hunker down emergency order coming from the Municipality of Anchorage, online, phone, and curbside methods are highly encouraged in addition to the other restrictions like 25% capacity and mask-wearing.

At Classic Toys in Midtown, owner Ed Dodd said if his store were a farm, the holidays would be harvest season. In years past, he said he would often turn the heat in the store off because there would be so many people getting presents in his store.

He said he’s been competing with services like Amazon for years, much to the gratitude of his customers, but he said that’s usually just a “nice compliment.”

“I like to say that I feel like I could put a $100 bill on my website, put it on sale for $80, and people still think they can get it cheaper on Amazon,” he said.

Dodd has had an online shopping option for several years but says it’s being used like never before because of COVID-19. That’s because his store is one that people like to come into.

Across the street, at Portfolio, Lauren Blanchett said her customers can stay at home to shop too. She set her online store up during the pandemic.

“Which we had never done, nor did I have any interest in doing in the past,” she said, “it’s going okay, we’ve had a little bit of response, which I am very thankful for.”

Blanchett brought up that purchasing women’s clothing is trickier than toys for example. Her customers like to feel what they’re buying, and try them on for size. Still, she’s happy to do it to keep everyone safe and keep her business going.

Those aren’t the only complications for small online retailers, however. Both Blanchett and Dodd discussed one key issue for brick and mortar local businesses setting up shop on the internet, inventory.

Both talked about how they have to manage in-store and online numbers which is more complicated than a big warehouse with tons of employees like their major competitors.

Both even provided the same scenario.

Say there’s only one item left in stock and it’s listed online, but it’s located on the store floor. If someone puts that item in their shopping cart in the store at the same time as someone clicks it into their cart online, it creates an issue. Somebody isn’t getting what they want.

It’s happened to both of them. Blanchett said she was lucky enough to have a nice customer when it happened to her.

“We don’t like to sell disappointment,” Dodd said.

Even with the complications that come with changing their business models, both these owners are happy to oblige. They just want everyone to think local and remember how bad 2020 has been for their businesses and others like them while the holidays draw near.

“We really need the community support right now,” Blanchett said, “As you think of giving gifts to your friends and family, think of local businesses and the gift that you’ll give them by shopping locally.”

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