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Small businesses go virtual to join online shopping market

Posted at 12:35 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 15:46:40-05

LONGMONT, Colo. -- Rosemary Bieker is the owner of a boutique store called Ivy Rose.

“Ivy Rose has been in business a little over three years, and it’s a boutique full on on-trend clothing for women of all generations,” Bieker said.

Bieker was inspired to start her own boutique after helping people look their best as a personal shopper for 15 years.

“The store is a culmination of everything I’ve done in my career.”

However, owning a small business is a fairly new endeavor for Bieker. So when the pandemic hit, it hit hard.

“Business is down 50% from last year, so that in itself is a financial challenge,” Bieker said.

Even with gloves, hand sanitizer and social distancing rules to stay safe, the truth is, fewer people are out shopping. Bieker says she had to learn how to do business virtually. The first step was upping her social media game.

“I think I worked harder from March 17, when we were closed, until we reopened, than I ever have in the history of my store. Because you’re learning – like I didn’t know how to make a video, let alone a video of myself."

After improving her social media, she knew she had to dig a little deeper to keep customers engaged. However, she didn’t want to go the e-commerce route – selling clothes through a website.

“My passion is working with people and helping them one-on-one and wardrobing them and getting the feedback from them," Bieker said. "And e-commerce you basically put things in boxes, you ship them out.”

Bieker doesn’t stand alone. Director of Denver Metro Small Business Development Center China Califf says most small businesses in retail thrive on the one-on-one connection with customers. That’s what sets them apart.

“Maybe they didn’t have a product line that transitioned well to e-commerce but I’ve seen a lot of businesses that have been like ‘OK, now I have to enter into that space so I’m going to create something that’s aligned with what I already sell in my business and we’ll start with that,'” Califf said.

Califf says the small business development center has received request after request of businesses seeking support to move business online. The center offers free consulting from industry experts and provides training courses.

At Ivy Rose, Bieker found her own creative online solution. She calls it virtual shopping.

“I schedule an appointment through Zoom," Bieker said. "And then what I do is I tour the store with the person just like if you were walking through the store yourself. So I go from rack to rack to rack. And that sounds overwhelming, but really it isn’t, especially if you’re interacting with the person.”

Then Bieker rings up the purchase and can get it to the customer through shipping, curbside pickup or delivery if it’s local. Califf says the challenging growth small businesses have faced this year will help them in the future when competing with large companies that sell their products online.

“It’s here to stay probably because when you think about diversifying your products and your sales channels, this is a good way to do it," Califf said. "And it’s an unfortunate time for people to be forced into that, but some of it will be lasting.”

Bieker says her system has attracted new customers from out of state and she’s confident virtual shopping will continue even after the pandemic.

“It’s fun. I enjoy it. It’s not that much different than someone being in the store.”