When Cecil’s Country Store first opened in 1906, the Sears & Roebuck mail order catalog was the Amazon.com of its day. Filled with products available in every conceivable category, consumers could shop from the comfort of home and purchase items not found locally. Many small retailers were impacted as the Sears catalog grew in popularity and some lost the battle. Still, despite the daunting competitive advantages of the retail giant, lots of small businesses continued to provide local citizens with a necessary and valuable service.
Online shopping offers modern day consumers an even wider array of products and goods from which to choose. Much like the way Sears revolutionized shopping in the late 19th & early 20th century with their mail order catalog, Amazon has done the same with its online sales model. And just as small businesses were impacted by the behemoth Sears and Roebucks, so too has Amazon affected today’s brick and mortar retailers.
Surprisingly though, while shoppers will browse online for selection and price-comparison, they still prefer to make their purchases in person. In today’s retail universe, small businesses survive by offering their customers exceptional personal service and providing a human connection that can never be duplicated by computer algorithms. A friendly shopkeeper willing to chat about local events, a new grand-baby, or even the weather, offering to search for a particular item you remembered seeing, or taking the time to help you find the perfect gift for someone; these are the intangibles that cannot be recreated online.
Online industry experts at eMarketer.com note that, “Although [Amazon] already dominates e-commerce, 90 percent of worldwide retail spending is still in brick-and-mortar stores.” Recognizing that reality, Amazon is in the process of opening new brick and mortar convenience stores and college bookstores (without the books) to reach millennials and Generation Z while introducing new retail technologies borrowed from e-commerce.
Similarly, today's small business retailer must incorporate new trends, product lines, and technologies. Instead of an ad in the Yellow Pages, companies now have websites, Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts. Offering online shopping provides small businesses with exposure to new customers and the opportunity for additional revenue.
Instead of trying to be all things to all people, some companies establish themselves as a niche business by concentrating on a few key products. For example, Cecil’s Country Store has developed a reputation as a great location for finding unique Maryland-themed products and nautical home décor that reflects the Chesapeake Bay area.
As the saying goes, everything old is new again. Great customer service, personal relationships, and the pleasure of discovering unique treasures are old traditions filled with new meaning at Cecil’s Country Store.