Even stores on Main Street do it: Making e-commerce work downtown

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the crosshatched area in the Permuto Discoveries graphic. That shaded e-commerce portion of spending includes catalog, telephone, and online sales. 

Sure, the biggest piece of these sales is likely handled by Amazon’s high-tech automated warehouse distribution system or by a cheery voice at Chesapeake, Virginia’s QVC call center.  But there is also a portion that supports brick and mortar stores, and it could be meaningful for your downtown merchants.

My local specialty grocer (Rett Ward of Tinnell’s Finer Foods) just posted on Facebook that orders for Shad Roe are now being taken. (I don’t think I plan on buying any, but it put a certain Cole Porter standard in my head for the rest of the day.)  With or without Facebook entering the e-commerce arena (and they are), it’s a short next step for Rett to post a link enabling an existing customer to close the deal, pre-paying in a few clicks on a linked Web site.  

In Harrisonburg a hair stylist sends out discount appointment alerts when she has an unexpected opening. Entertainment venues can easily follow this strategy with hour-before ticket sales. The local bookstore can announce an author reading with a post or e-mail and include a link to their online presence to presell signed copies of the book. 

The ideas are bound only by the merchant’s willingness to adapt to a changing commercial environment.  They are strategies that the big guys use already.  With easy-to-use online tools readily available,  the increasing use of smart phones, and demand for real-time information on the part of consumers, now is the time for local independents to join in.