This holiday Christmas shopping in-store has gone online and it's flourishing


Heading into the pandemic, City Furniture’s digital teams were working to marry the look and feel of the South Florida retailer’s online store with its highly-curated showrooms. That just may have saved the company.

“People today are going to the web and then coming into the showroom. Or they’re coming in and then going to the web,” Ryan Fattini, City Furniture’s Director of Engineering, said. “It’s this hybridized blending of the digital and the brick and mortar. And it’s really stood out.”

For a company that began life in the ‘70s as Waterbed City, selling a product that peaked a decade later, City Furniture’s owners understand that staying ahead of ever-evolving tastes and shopping patterns is critical.

“I think most companies are going to have the same story,” Fattini said.

Most companies – at least, most retailers thriving today – do have similar stories.

Few downtowns have been spared from the years-long wave of boarded-up shops that online shopping started, and the pandemic helped accelerate. But those who have kept the lights on understand that online is no longer just some far-off competitor or a new channel for expansion, but a necessary extension of their storefront.

Indeed, in-store shopping is back. But not at the expense of online. Rather, because of it.

Multiple surveys confirm that Americans are more interested now in buying local – provided downtown brick-and-mortar offers cyber features that support their blended shopping habits, like online ordering, same-day delivery and in-store pickup. The get-it-faster options are even more important to consumers now, in the heart of a holiday shopping season complicated by supply chain headaches and Great Resignation staffing challenges.

“If you look at two, three years ago how we shopped versus how we shop today, it’s fundamentally different,” said Pat Bigatel, a general manager at Amazon. “Customers want the convenience of shopping online, but many also want to buy from a store that’s near them. That’s why stores that offer the best of both are attracting more shoppers.”

Increasingly, the digitization of local shopping is being driven not only by brick-and-mortar retailers, but also by online-first enterprises migrating to Main Street.

“The pandemic was more about offline businesses trying to figure out online,” said Shopify vice president Mark Bergen. “Now, we have a lot of brands that built themselves online asking, ‘what does offline look like? And how can we create interesting experiences to augment our online business?’”

To help retailers adapt, e-commerce suppliers like BigCommerce, Magento and Shopify have been adding what the industry calls BOPIS – buy online, pickup in store – to their offerings. And this fall, Amazon began helping its merchants offer BOPIS and even local delivery to nearby customers.

‘Retail is challenging’
Phoenix-area electronics merchant Walt’s Television, which began selling and repairing electronics nearly 65 years ago, was a beta tester for the new Amazon capabilities. Bear Hendle, a manager at Walt’s, said the program, called Amazon Local Selling, helped extend BOPIS to Amazon customers in range of the store and its three internet fulfillment warehouses.

“It works really well because it brings back customers that we seem to have lost to online shopping,” Hendle said. “We’d call to set up delivery and they’d be like, ‘Oh Walt’s, wow. We didn’t know you were still around.’ It’s great because it’s bringing them back, bringing awareness of us back.”

The company began selling online more than 20 years ago – first on eBay and then Amazon. Internet sales eventually grew to about 80% of the business.

“We’ve had retail forever. We just kind of took the foot off the gas for a while,” Hendle said. “Let’s face it, retail is challenging.”

Even so, the physical store in Phoenix helped set Walt’s apart online because it signaled the company was trustworthy and established, Hendle said.

Now, online is returning the favor, because the new blended fulfillment options are helping in-store sales grow faster than web orders.

Main Street migration
Jewelry brand Gorjana, which started selling online in 2004, began opening physical stores five years ago. The company now has 25 shops, with more planned.

The shops not only contribute revenue – they also help boost sales in the area where they’re located, Gorjana COO Tanya Obermeyer said.

“We do find the relationship symbiotic. When we open a new store in a market, we certainly do see e-commerce sales go up,” Obermeyer said. “It’s a brand awareness thing. So these stores are really billboards.”

Gorjana’s suppliers ship mostly by air, not sea. So supply chain issues are more muted. But shoppers seem more motivated this holiday season to get their items in hand right away, which gives consumers yet another reason to buy local, Obermeyer said.

“I do think there’s a lot of anxiety around when packages will arrive,” Obermeyer said. “So we’re really trying to make sure that for customers who want to walk away with their product that day, want same-day delivery or want to buy online, pickup in store that we have inventory in our physical stores to support that.”