Clark County retailers flip techniques to keep away from vacation flop
Pam Edwards loves the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, and a big part of it is strolling through shops adorned with the festive sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas.
“I like to see it in person,” said the Vancouver native, who works as a psychiatrist and lives in Scappoose, Ore.
Last year, Edwards bought around 80 percent of their gifts in person and 20 percent online. But when the pandemic is in full swing it will no longer be the case.
“It’s probably flip-flop,” she said.
Edwards is anything but unusual this weirdest holiday shopping season. A Washington State University study published Tuesday shows people are losing interest in Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Instead, they buy online early if manufacturers and shipping companies cannot keep up with last-minute demand.
“This enthusiasm for these shopping days is really waning,” said Professor Joan Giese, who works on the WSU’s Tri-Cities campus.
The study, which surveyed around 1,700 shoppers from the Pacific Northwest, also showed that digital shopping behavior is not permanent. People miss shopping in stores.
“Consumers love to shop in-store to get inspiration – to walk around and get ideas they wouldn’t be exposed to,” said Giese. “Retailers curate ideas. Consumers miss that as inspiration. “
The study found that 63 percent of respondents said they avoided traveling on vacation. More focused data from the Portland-Vancouver area showed that nearly 70 percent said they would avoid any trip.
A story of two companies
Two types of retailers see the holidays from a different angle this year: traditional brick and mortar stores and digitally based retailers. Most Clark County’s stores fall into the traditional in-person shopping category, but most have tried to adapt. That leaves a lot of unknowns for this year’s online sales.
At Vintage Books, 6613 E. Mill Plain Blvd., owner Becky Milner prepares for an online Christmas season. She has put more work into her website selling books and other gifts, but she’s also sticking to the classic personal shopping experience where 10 people can be in the store at the same time.
“Just to take a break on the day people can hide in the corner – this is a place where people can have this sanctuary,” she said.
Some Vintage Books customers are not interested in shopping online so they call the store to place an order. With these customer service options, Vintage Books can do more, Milner said.
“Some of our customers don’t or don’t have a computer,” she said. “A lot of people are older and want it really easy. They’ll call and say they’re looking for this and that, “I want something for a 14 year old boy” and we say “OK”. Concierge – a few employees love that. “
About 20 percent of Vintage Books annual sales come during the holidays, but Milner said she wasn’t sure that trend will continue this year.
The bookstore’s website, like many local retailers with a new or small website, faces a highly competitive online environment. The average person in Vancouver looking for a particular book will turn to larger international sellers first.
Whether or not it’s a pandemic, the WSU study found that 71 percent of respondents said it pays to shop in person to help local businesses stay open.
The digitally oriented Christmas season is a different world for Slumberkins from Vancouver that depends on online sales and has no physical presence.
“In these times, feel lucky that we are just that,” said Kelly Oriard, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Slumberkins.
The 5-year-old company recorded a sales growth of 150 percent this year and achieved around a third of its annual sales during the holidays. The company’s products hit a sweet spot during the pandemic by offering stuffed toys that are paired with books to deal with emotional distress.
“We feel very prepared and excited about this holiday season,” she said. “While this year was very tough, Slumberkins was more relevant than ever.”
At Vancouver Mall, staff are still preparing for a busy Black Friday, albeit one that may be more subdued than in years past.
The mall’s opening hours will be extended for the day, said Tracy Peters, the mall’s general manager, but shoppers shouldn’t plan on arriving late Thursday night – the mall will be closed for Thanksgiving.
The mall operated on a reduced schedule from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the pandemic and will essentially revert to the regular Black Friday schedule, she said, opening at 8 a.m.
Directional signs throughout the mall will be updated for the holidays, Peters said, including entrances and exits to the entire building and the queues outside of each retailer. Most stores have added greeters at the door to keep occupancy below the current 25 percent limit.
Occupancy of the mall’s promenade is also limited, and there are traffic desks at the entrances. However, Peters said that due to the mall’s traffic during the pandemic, she won’t have to expect queues at the mall’s entrances.
“We haven’t even reached occupancy at this point,” she said.
The pandemic has changed shopper behavior in ways that likely prevented the kind of huge bouncer crowds traditionally associated with Black Friday, Peters said.
Shoppers have become more aware during the pandemic, arriving with specific agendas, and moving in and out faster. They have also become more dispersed, with more and more shoppers visiting them on weekdays rather than weekends.
Black Friday is changing in a similar way, and that trend is expected to accelerate this year, according to Bree Sanchez, marketing manager for shopping malls. Sales are scheduled during the week or even throughout the holiday season and don’t just focus on Black Friday.
The mall is trying to join these trends and recently updated its website with the “Shop Now” option, which allows visitors to browse the inventory catalogs for different malls to pre-purchase items or create wishlist to track visits from Plan shopping malls. You can also book appointments and order takeaway food.
Around 70 percent of the mall’s retailers are on the list, according to Sanchez, with the goal of getting all retailers on board by early next year and eventually adding features so shoppers can put products from multiple retailers into a single digital cash register.
Santa’s traditional Black Friday arrival will continue to take place at the Vancouver Mall this year, Sanchez said, although the Santa kit is being reconfigured to prevent any direct contact and maintain a 6-foot gap.
The closings caused by the pandemic have hit almost all retail sectors this year, Peters said, but the mall has seen steady growth in customer traffic since the early months. An additional stimulus package from the federal government could further stimulate holiday shopping, she said – if it arrives on time.
“A well-timed flow of money could certainly help families and retailers alike,” she said.