January 2019, Norfolk, Va. – Local retail had a mixed holiday season in 2019, according to Retail Alliance’s Retail Pulse holiday survey.

58 per cent of brick-and-mortar retailers throughout Hampton Roads reported an increase in sales compared to the same time last year.

“Close to 20 percent had a strong performance during the holiday season,” commented Ray Mattes, President/CEO of Retail Alliance, “with an increase of 15+ percent in sales.”

“What we are seeing, though, is a divide among retailers,” he continued. The divide is getting wider among those that can afford to invest in marketing online, streamlining their inventory, creating a destination, recruiting external resource, and providing out-of-this world customer service, and those that cannot.”

“This is certainly a concern for local retailers who have a lack of resources to invest in those areas, which is why we address these needs through our Center for Retail Excellence, where we teach local retailers how to compete on a national level,” he said.

The Retail Pulse survey, conducted annually by Retail Alliance, the Hampton Roads’ merchants association, gathers post-holiday statistics of local stores, asking questions relating to retail sales (in-store and online), foot traffic, and most significant holiday challenges.

BRICK AND MORTAR IN-STORE SALES

“42 percent of respondents reported flat or decreased sales compared to 2017,” Mattes commented. “They are finding it hard to compete with bigger online retailers, especially given limited marketing and advertising dollars. Basically, it’s pay to play now to reach consumers online which means local brick and mortars need to find alternate ways to entice consumers to their stores.”

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BRICK AND MORTAR FOOT TRAFFIC

Foot traffic findings fared better, with 50 percent of local retailers reporting an increase. 22.5 percent experienced the same level of foot traffic as the previous year, while 25 percent reported a decrease in foot traffic.

“There are two parts to this story. From a shopping and consumer side, as Hampton Roads’ residents, we must invest in what we love, or else risk losing it,” said Kylie Ross Sibert, Vice President of Corporate Communications. “When consumers support locally-owned businesses, 45 percent of those dollars spent stay within our community as opposed to only 14 percent when choosing to buy from non-local businesses. This influx of revenue is essential for local business growth, strong schools, improved infrastructure and an overall increased quality of life. A healthy local economy helps make Hampton Roads a unique place to call home!”

“On the other hand, there’s a lot local businesses can do too. Do your research. Know the demographics of the area in which your store is located. What is your niche? Who are your shoppers? Do you have local competition? What does the existing foot traffic to the area look like, etc.,” Ross Sibert continued.

“Your store needs to be a destination. Experiential shopping is key. Entice customers to your store with experiences that relate to what you sell. For example, a local florist can offer floral arrangement classes, a boutique gift store could have a wine tasting, a bookstore could host a book signing. Partner with a neighboring business. Creates connections. You need to build a loyal customer base by engaging with the local community while setting you apart from your online (and other local) competition. Bring people in, give them an exceptional experience and customer service, and they will come back, but in addition, they will also help spread the word.”

ONLINE SALES

Of those that had an e-commerce presence (47.5%), under a quarter (22.5%) reported any growth, with an equal amount (22.5%) reporting flat sales.

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BIGGEST CHALLENGES

Closely linked are the two biggest challenges: limited marketing and advertising dollars and consumers’ lack of awareness of locally owned businesses. Marketing is a luxury for small businesses with tight budgets. With consumers increasingly looking for businesses online, they may overlook local stores, or even know they exist. With over 40 percent of respondents stating this as their biggest issue, local retailers need to find affordable, proven forms of marketing to compete with their competition.

“Even on a limited budget, there is opportunity to reach new customers with strong, consistent, and affordable digital marketing such as email campaigns, content marketing, SEO, SEM, AdWords, to name a few. And remember, it’s also cheaper, with much better return on investment, to market to your existing customers,” recommended Ross Sibert.

Other issues, such as increase of online shopping and concerns about the economy were also high on the list of challenges.