LIMA — It’s looking like a great year in e-commerce. But how are local retailers fairing?
Store owners in downtown Lima said they’re expecting average to above-average sales to close out 2018. They say unique inventory and customer service are the keys to competing with online giants like Amazon.
“Dollars spent online are dollars that don’t get spent at brick and mortar stores,” said Phil Osmon, co-owner of Hofeller, Hiatt & Clark. “It’s a little harder to connect with younger people these days if you (don’t have) an online presence.”
Osman and other local retailers agree that the fourth quarter, more commonly known to consumers as the holiday shopping season, is the best time for sales. That’s still true this year. But competition from online venues continues to strain brick and mortar shops.
An analysis of consumer spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 suggests online retailers saw a 19.1 percent increase in sales over the previous year, while department stores saw a 1.3 percent decline, according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse. The report also found positive growth for department stores’ online merchandise, signaling a path forward for some retail establishments.
That strategy has helped buoy Lima’s Alter Ego Comics. Owner Marc Bowker said more than 60 percent of the store’s sales come from the online portion of his business.
But that may not be an option for Hofellers, which specializes in custom-fit menswear. The store operates a website but does not sell merchandise online. Osmon said that’s because much of his merchandise should be tried on before purchase.
“We know our customers; we know sizes, and we know fit,” he said. “We don’t have nearly the returns that online retailers (have).”
Special events are another key to success for Bowker, who hosted a competition for high school students several weeks before Christmas.
“The more community-related events that we can do, the more we can show people that we’re not just a store,” he said. “We’re not like a grocery store where you go in, grab your gallon of milk and then leave. You’re going to talk to the staff … it’s like going to that familiar restaurant or bar where you ask for recommendations … At Amazon, you’re not getting recommendations from the staff.”
Still, Bowker said more restaurants and retail shops downtown would help business. He’s not alone.
Elizabeth Leis, co-owner of women’s clothing store Nitza’s, said her shop would benefit from a greater retail presence in downtown Lima.
“If there were more smaller stores huddled together,” she said, “we would do better.”