, , ,

Retailers Large And Small Adapt To Compete This Holiday Season

Large Retailers Push Online Deals Early While Small Businesses Offer Curbside Pickup, Other Options

Online shopping websites
A journalist looks at a computer screen with webpages arranged to show Cyber Monday deals by various online retailers. Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

Nancy Boebel, co-owner of the Wallflower Market, feels very fortunate to have a loyal customer base during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Lake Mills store, like many others, has had to adapt to changes in light of the virus and restrictions after Gov. Tony Evers directed health officials to issue a stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses in March.

The business — which sells arts and crafts, gifts, home goods and jewelry — also navigated moving to a new location this year.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Since reopening, Boebel and her daughter Erin Ylvisaker have taken many precautions to minimize exposure to the virus among shoppers and employees, including masks, social distancing and plexiglass screens at their checkout counter. But they’re also using their website and Facebook to get the word out about promotions, and offering curbside pickup.

“We offer a lot of custom items, which is very popular at Christmas,” said Boebel. “And those are things that we can communicate with our customers without them having to come into the store.”

Boebel is hoping safety precautions, foot traffic and special orders will make for a good holiday season.

Businesses large and small are making changes or offering promotions to draw in holiday shoppers during the coronavirus pandemic. Large retailers have been promoting Black Friday sales early and extending opportunities for people to shop online, said Vallari Chandna, associate professor of management at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

“In general, we’ve always seen a trend that Black Friday has been moving up a little earlier,” said Chandna. “But this year, we’re seeing it literally at the start of November because businesses figure, ‘If it’s an online sale anyway, why not start it now?’”

Big retailers such as Target, Walmart and Amazon are among those offering early deals to shoppers this holiday season.

Mary McPhetridge, executive director of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said that prompted her to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconsin Downtown Action Council to set up “Shop Wisconsin Downtowns,” a promotion that encourages people to support small and local businesses.

McPhetridge said small businesses are in dire need of support because they’re “hanging on by their thumbs.”

“They’re the ones that are really supporting communities,” said McPhetridge. “So we really need to support them now within this pandemic and in this holiday season.”

The chamber is offering a mix of promotions to encourage people to shop local. McPhetridge noted a trio of women at the chamber plan to work with Ashland retailers the first week of December to offer Facebook Live events, in which they’ll take orders from area shoppers that will be delivered by chamber officials.

A Google survey from July found 75 percent of shoppers said they plan to shop more online, and 66 percent also plan to buy more at local small businesses. Some large retailers, like Amazon, have also invested in efforts to benefit small shops. The digital streaming and e-commerce company planned to invest $100 million to promote small businesses during the holiday shopping season.

Chandna said small businesses will likely see an increasing trend of online orders or requests for curbside pickups. But she noted some people may still opt to shop in person to obtain a holiday feel, which means businesses should also be prepared to manage social distancing among customers.

High activity of the virus across Wisconsin may favor small business owners as federal health officials have advised people to avoid shopping in crowded stores on or after Thanksgiving. Chandna said those who shop in person may prefer small stand-alone stores as opposed to businesses within shopping malls.

“Because in a mall, your interaction level with multiple people is higher, you’re (in a) much more confined space that has been shared by large groups of people where you’re not sure how everyone is behaving,” she said.

Shopping malls in Wisconsin were already facing challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has only amplified for some. Last week, the owner of the East Towne and West Towne malls in Madison filed for bankruptcy protection. The malls, which are owned by Tennessee-based CBL Properties, will continue to operate.

Stacey Keating, a company spokesperson, said in a statement the move is part of a financial restructuring to put CBL in a stronger financial position.

“While we have been working on a restructuring plan since early this year and prior to COVID, the impacts of mandated mall closures and resulting retailer bankruptcies has certainly impacted our business as well,” said Keating.

Both malls are offering special and extended hours this holiday season while taking safety precautions in line with federal, state and local health guidelines. Those include barring people from gathering in groups of more than 10 people in mall common areas.

Other mall properties in Wisconsin have retailers who are offering curbside pickup, including the Oakwood, Mayfair and Fox River malls.

Chandna said the holiday shopping season plays a significant role for almost every retail business.

“Whether it’s a big business or a small business, they have to figure out how to not lose sales given the pandemic situation,” said Chandna.

Hats off to members like you! WPR Bucket Hat $20/month. Give Now.

Related Stories