The COVID-19 pandemic has led some small-business owners to adapt to the increasingly digital world.
With more people shopping online, owners of clothing stores and fashion boutiques throughout Northeast Pennsylvania have launched websites this year and are gearing up to offer deals for Cyber Monday.
They include Tara Mugford Wilson, owner of Shooze Contemporary Boutique at 311 Market St. in Kingston, who started a website in April.
“Because of COVID, now we have a website and a pretty good one at that,” she said.
Her Cyber Monday deals can be found at shoozeboutique.com and on the business’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
She said she plans to offer a significant Cyber Monday deal on the website and in the store that has been selling fashionable clothing and shoes since 1983.
Wilson purchased Shooze in 2019 and a men’s department was added. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the in-store experience, she said.
“People are browsing our website. Some people are buying online. Other people are calling the store and asking for help,” she said. “We’re finding that people really love the ability to look at all our products online but they still prefer the personal experience. We encourage people to call the store if they have questions. We’re happy to help them.”
Since launching the website, Wilson said Shooze has done well online and has been shipping items all over the country to people who grew up here and shopped at the store.
She has shipped items as far away as California and Hawaii to former shoppers and people who have still have family here.
“It’s really unbelievable how our valley sticks together,” she said.
She said operating a website is not her “preferred method of doing business obviously or I wouldn’t own a boutique.”
Yet, she said it also has been a “very interesting way for us to save the ship in the midst of having to have our doors shuttered for some weeks with a product that has a shelf life.”
Starting a website also was a new thing this year for Stephanie Sebastianelli, who has owned Burlap and Bourbon clothing store at 530 Spruce St. in downtown Scranton for more than seven years.
“We created a website after seven and a half years because of the pandemic,” she said. “We still want people to be able to shop local but have the option of doing it virtually.”
Burlap and Bourbon sells men’s and youth clothing and accessories, and Sebastianelli recently launched “The Ladies Loft,” which is a feminine take on men’s merchandise.
In addition to starting a website, she also offers other ways for people to shop local if they don’t feel comfortable doing it during regular business hours.
Burlap and Bourbon has been offering private appointments and curbside pickup.
“These were two services we’ve offered since we opened,” Sebastianelli said. “We also do FaceTime and Zoom appointments and shipping and delivery. Now, we also have our website so there are plenty of ways to still keep business local but it might not be your typical walk-in during business hours.”
Cyber Monday sales at Burlap and Bourbon can be found at burlapandbourbon.com and the business’ Facebook and Instagram pages.
According to the National Retail Federation, ecommerce sales were up 36.7% year-over year during the third quarter and many households are expected to spend on digital shopping to make many of their holiday purchases just as they have for much of their everyday spending this year.
The online spending will include websites operated by brick-and-mortar retailers, which have become major players in the online market.
National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend because of the pandemic but the economy is improving and most have the ability to spend.
Overall, the National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019.
“Consumers have experienced a difficult year but will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago,” Kleinhenz said. “After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-normal holiday.”