New Canaan's battle against online shopping
Published 6:40 pm, Wednesday, December 15, 2010
It's a tale typically found in the pages of a science fiction novel. The struggle of man against the machine. In a world where technology is expanding at rates most cannot fathom, simple acts like social interaction and shopping are taking place in the vast world of cyber space. With New Canaan in the thick of the holiday season, downtown merchants are finding ways to thrive against the onslaught of online shopping.
"Online shopping definitely has an impact," Pauline Dora, owner of Design Solutions, said. "People's shopping patterns have changed. It is easy for them to get on a computer and click away. But I don't think that they understand the consequences of their actions."
Those consequences being the impact of consumer revenue not returning to the local community.
According to statistics from comScore, Cyber Monday, a Black Friday of sorts for online shopping, reached $1.03 billion in spending. It represents the heaviest online shopping day in history and increased nearly 16 percent from last year, which came in at around $887 million.
"Cyber Monday was a historic day for e-commerce as we saw daily spending surpass $1 billion for the first time," comScore chairman Gian Fulgoni said in a press release.
Much of the reason shoppers go online is because of all the sales and deals they feel they might not be able to find anywhere else. In fact, the deals online this year may have been more aggressive than usual.
"It's important to note that some of the early strength in consumer spending is almost certainly the result of retailers' heavier-than-normal promotional and discounting activity at this early point in the season," Fulgoni said.
So how do local communities like New Canaan stand a chance against a billion dollar initiative like that?
"You spend a dollar or two more in New Canaan," Murphy said. "But you can't get that customer service online."
Murphy has been stressing the notion of local shopping for a long time now. Her efforts in the recent Holiday Stroll were another vehicle to get the point across to everyone in town.
"I think this year, people have started to get the message since we've been hitting them over the head with it for so long," she joked.
Another strong advocate for local shopping is Barbara Davis, one of the individuals in charge with the organization Ib.l.a.s.t, which stands for I Buy Local and Shop in Town. Ib.l.a.s.t gives shoppers an incentive to buy all of their goods in New Canaan. Merchants offer exclusive deals for anyone who purchases an Ib.l.a.s.t card, which is $20 and is valid through the whole calendar year.
"There is an obvious impact from online shopping," Davis said. "But our merchant's try to offer value that you cannot find online like great customer services, personalized gift-wrapping and insight."
Davis believes that many merchants here are far more helpful in guiding shoppers for their holiday needs. Ann Lathrop, owner of the Toy Chest, certainly agrees with Davis and boasts a deep community connection.
"We've sponsored T-ball teams and many other organizations around town," Lathrop said. "We also have great employees who can help a parent decide what they should be getting for their kids. A lot people might not have an idea of what they want and we can steer them in the right direction."
Lathrop also explained that many children with special needs like autism buy things at the Toy Chest. Some of her employees are certified specialists or teachers that know what products are best for early childhood development, perfect for those special needs children.
"Those are the kind of things you cannot get online," she said.
That special touch is also what Dan Mulhern, owner of M. Milestones, believes keeps shoppers in his store.
"We offer personalized attention in customer services but also in our products," Mulhern said. M. Milestones offers customization options for many of their products whether it is through embroidery or engravings. Yet, Mulhern also offers online shopping through his store's website for those who appreciate the handiness.
"While people like it for convenience and speed, it is kind of gamble since you are not always sure what you might get," he said. "People like holding what they are going to buy in their hands before paying for it."
Still, while customization might be helping Mulhern, it can hurt other businesses.
"Online shopping hasn't affected the Christmas season as much as it affects the sporting season," Selectman Rob Mallozzi, owner of Bob's Sports, said. "It only hurts in the area of customization. Online, you can design your own sneakers or lacrosse sticks."
However, Mallozzi is not bitter about the overall effect. In fact, he said the Internet has even helped his business prosper.
"The web has actually been a big help for us because people are more educated on what they might want," he said. "We have a lot of specialty items that cannot be found anywhere else. People use the web for research and find out that our store has exactly what they are looking for."
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that online shopping is soaring in popularity. In the same vein as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more days designated to shopping on the web have emerged over the years. Green Monday is a term coined by eBay to describe their best sales day in December. It is typically the second Monday of the month, now dedicated to shopping not just on eBay, but everywhere online. This year's Green Monday was on Dec. 13. ComScore revealed that Green Monday reached $954 million dollars in spending, resulting in the second heaviest online shopping day in history after Cyber Monday.
Fulgoni offered up some revealing details on why the spending has surged late into December, especially in this economy, in a press release on Green Monday. She believes that consumers who have hit tough economic times could be waiting for their mid-December paychecks in order to complete their shopping. Another significant issue she highlights is the time constraint consumers may have.
"[This] is one of the key drivers behind the continuing shift in retail dollars to the online medium, as the Internet enables people to shop for many gifts quickly and more efficiently, not to mention the cost savings that can be realized through e-commerce," Fulgoni said.
While many merchants in New Canaan understand the issue with time constraints and tough times, they believe that shopping local will benefit everyone in town in the end.
"At the end of the day, the more we shop in town, the better our town will be." Tucker Murphy said. "New Canaan cannot be New Canaan without all of these stores."