by: Atlanta Journal-Constitution Updated:
Millions of Americans will hop online tomorrow, browsing Cyber Monday discounts and spending an expected $1.5 billion to help kick off the Christmas shopping season.
But in metro Atlanta and elsewhere, some retailers won’t get a piece of that bounty.
At a time when online shopping is expected to rise by 12 percent over last year’s holiday period, there are still some retailers that don’t sell on the Internet. Some are trying to make the leap. Others aren’t interested, despite sales expectations of $96 billion online during the months of November and December.
“I choose not to do it. I have no intention of doing it,” said Darryl Peck, who owns the 11-store PeachMac computer store chain, based in Athens. “We like interacting with customers. We don’t get that relationship online.”
Peck isn’t an online neophyte. He started the online retailer Outpost.com in the 1990s, and it was later bought by Fry’s Home Electronics after the dot-com bust. But he said the minimal revenue isn’t worth it for him to jump back in to online sales. PeachMac does have a website, but no sales are made on it.
Selling items online, he said, is “an entirely different business” than doing so in a store. Online, Peck said, shoppers are looking only for the best price. He wants PeachMac to be about service.
“We just don’t want to compete in that environment,” he said.
Other retailers, though, worry that their online absence will mean a drop in sales as more people migrate to online shopping. Pam Goodfellow, the consumer insights director at BIGinsight, said while some stores are using social media in the absence of true online sales, lack of an online selling option is a challenge as shopping shifts.
“It’s harder to compete if you’re an offline-only store,” she said.
It worries Kristen Smith, the chief financial officer of the Atlanta-based five-store chain Abbadabba’s. She thought the company would already be selling shoes online, but has had a hard time finding technology that works with its existing checkout software. Abbadabba’s hopes to have an online sales option up next year. It already has a website.
“Everybody has to be online, and we want to be there,” Smith said. “We want to be where our customers want us to be. …We want them to turn to us before they turn to (online shoe-seller) Zappos.”
Already, shoppers are coming into Abbadabba’s and trying on shoes, then walking out after telling her that they’ll buy the same shoe online. It’s “disheartening,” Smith said.
Jayne Coffee, who lives in Atlanta, now does the bulk of her shopping online. She said she can find coupons more easily, and is able to avoid the heavy holiday crowds.
“This is the first time I’ve decided to avoid the mall,” she said. “My iPad is where I’m shopping this year.”
Another shoe retailer, the Alpharetta-based chain Off Broadway Shoes, has been working on its website for two years. In addition to the technology, Off Broadway is spending a lot of time and millions of dollars photographing each pair of shoes it sells so it’s properly displayed online, and constructing the website, said Phil Lamantia, Off Broadway’s director of operations. The more-than-60-store chain has a website currently, but doesn’t sell shoes from it.
But Lamantia doesn’t expect to make a profit off online sales.
“It will probably be a losing proposition the first several years,” he said.
Off Broadway, which expects its site to go live in March, waited so long to launch online sales because the company’s previous owner eschewed technology — he used a rotary phone, Lamantia said, and didn’t own a cell phone for some time.
The company is going online because shoppers expect them to be there, he said. Shoppers often check out the inventory online first to make sure the store carries the shoe they’re interested in.
Jimmy Dorough, a Smyrna resident, said shoppers start looking online to help narrow a search.
“It adds to the convenience factor,” Dorough said.
Stacey Freeman, the owner of the Marietta gift shop Perrywinkle’s, said she’s still an in-store shopper. But if she knows exactly what she’s getting, she’ll buy it online, sometimes even shopping from the car on a trip. Perrywinkle’s has a website, but it does not offer online sales.
While Freeman said she’s likely missing out on some sales, there’s little she can do about it. The brands she sells, like Vera Bradley, have strict limits on who can sell their goods online. They have to approve her website, she said, and she must sell a certain volume to receive permission to sell those items.
But being a small shop — one that can offer free gift wrapping and knows its customers well enough to call them when an item comes in — has its advantages in keeping customers.
Freeman hopes, though, that the experience of going to a store negates the absence of an online buying site for Perrywinkle’s.
“When everybody started having websites … I thought, what’s the point of shopping at a store like mine?” she said. “Now, I realize I’m not going away because of it. … I think there’s room for all of us. Hopefully.”
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