Facing Online Competitors, Stores Get Creative

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As an unrepentant fan of local retail, The Georgetowner has challenged the idea that online shopping will wipe out our brick-and-mortar stores. Online and face-to-face shopping have their own advantages and disadvantages; each has its niche. But they have to be creative.

Owner-run shops in Georgetown are rightly proud of their personal service. Unlike the online matching of ads and offers with individuals, based on algorithms and data gathered from (where else?) the internet, the sales staff of brick-and-mortar stores can really get to know their clients’ tastes, needs and desires, up close and personal.

Several Georgetown stores on Wisconsin Avenue offer examples.

Mariam Heydari, the owner of Jaryam, a high-end swimwear and lingerie shop, tells how she will see an item at a New York trade show, have a revelation that a particular customer would really like it, email them a photo of the item and offer to bring it by for a try-on.

Adam Mahr, the owner of A Mano, tells how one regular customer came to the store looking for a birthday gift for his friend, another regular customer. Mahr steered him to just the right gift, which Mahr had seen the friend considering.

Bassan Al-Kahouaji, the owner of Bacchus, a wine store specializing in small vineyards, knows which customers like a good Chardonnay, for instance, and will call them when a new one he thinks is special comes in. Often, customers drop by for a taste and a chat.

But online and brick-and-mortar stores can also work together, each increasing the other’s business. “They can blend the best of both the online and the in-store experience,” a Jan. 11 article in USA Today Money pointed out. Shops can carry products previously only obtainable online. “Cosmetic hubs likely can help attract shoppers who then stay and buy other products,” noted the article.

Amazon appears to be morphing into a hybrid. An Amazon bookstore will open in Georgetown on M Street in the near future. In the meantime, neighborhood stores are arranging to take deliveries for customers concerned about packages ordered online arriving at their unattended front doorsteps; the 7-Eleven on the corner of P and 27th Streets, open 24 hours, has lockers in the back where items ordered from Amazon can be received and retrieved.

According to Charles O’Shea, senior retail analyst for Moody’s Investors Service, “Anything a brick-and-mortar retailer can do to get you into the stores has to be viewed favorably.”

Georgetown can only benefit from these creative partnerships.

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