The coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on many businesses, but for smaller-sized retailers, the impact is devastating. Analysts expect anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of small business retailers to shutter by January if economic conditions don’t improve for them.
What makes this scenario frustrating is that consumers are continuing to buy goods. Online sales, which typically garner 12 percent of total retail sales, is pegged to take a 30 percent share this year. And the growth rate of e-commerce continues to soar. According to Contentsquare, online transactions and conversions are up over 24 percent compared to the pre-pandemic period.
In response, retailers from Chicago’s North Shore and two area chamber of commerce organizations have teamed with Tacklebox Brand Partners to create a virtual shopping district, NorthShoreShops.com, which they describe as a platform that provides “a lifeline to local small businesses that have been devastated by the effects of COVID-19.”
Tacklebox Brand Partners said in a statement that the “platform offers consumers a new and simple way to find and support local businesses” while offering “local-area merchants new ways to generate awareness, capture new customers and boost sales — even when they are closed due to the COVID-19 shutdown.”
The online marketplace is free for local retailers to join.
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David Kelbaugh, NorthShoreShops.com’s founder and the owner of Tacklebox Brand Partners, noted that the pandemic has been especially challenging for small-sized retailers “who have seen foot-traffic and sales plummet dramatically or stop altogether.” But he said some merchants “will be able to weather the storm by shifting to an e-commerce model.”
Tacklebox Brand Partners, which is a Winnetka, Ill.-based branding and marketing firm, said the virtual shopping district “will allow consumers to easily view and buy products from local, small businesses directly through one, central web site.”
“Everything from board games to gift baskets to restaurant gift cards will be available on the platform; it’s like Amazon.com, but exclusively for small businesses in the area,” Kelbaugh said adding that “if something isn’t done quickly to help sustain these cherished small businesses that they may be gone forever; time is of the essence.”
The shopping experience is simple. Consumers visiting the site have to register and then they can purchase goods or services as well as gift cards to the participating retailers. Tacklebox Brand Partners manages the payment process, and fulfillment is done by the retailers.
“This is the single best way that we know how to help small businesses get through this time,” Kelbaugh said. “The virtual shopping district is free for merchants and the technology fee is covered by a 5 percent surcharge, which is added to the cost of the item.”
Kelbaugh said his company is not receiving any payment to manage the program.
Retailers on the site include Vivid Art Gallery, Classic Kids, Sole + Luna Wellness, Bedside Manor, Messy Bun Boutique and the Massage Therapy Center of Winnetka, among others.
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