While the talk of open minds and open hearts surround many gatherings this holiday season, another kind of openness should also rise to the forefront — hours of operation for local businesses.
Too often, business owners lament the holiday (and year-round) shopping habits of locals who travel to Billings, Montana, to tackle their gift lists or order items online. But those same owners also offer limited in-store hours, giving shoppers little choice but to look elsewhere.
Brick-and-mortar retail shops already face uphill battles when it comes to how people shop. In February, the total market share of online retail sales eclipsed that of general merchandise sales for the first time in history, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Online shopping has slowly grown in the past two decades; its total rising from below 5% in the late 1990s to almost 12% in 2019.
As young professionals with tech savvy gain access to disposable income, that trend is likely to continue.
But there is good news: The margin is still slim. The February numbers referenced above required three decimal places to show the difference. Online retail sales that month totaled 11.813%, compared with 11.807% for general merchandise.
There is still time for brick-and-mortar retail businesses to reclaim some ground, but owners and managers have to shift their way of thinking to do so.
One reason online shopping has become so appealing is that it goes wherever you are. Stuck as a passenger on a long car ride home from Thanksgiving festivities? No sweat, pull up your phone’s internet browser or various apps, and you can still take advantage of the deals being offered.
The lesson retailers can learn from this is that they need to be where their customers are. Customers who are at work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. likely won’t have much time to shop at brick-and-mortar stores if their hours are also from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. We urge stores in Sheridan County hoping to take advantage of the holiday shopping season to adjust their hours to become more shopper friendly. Consider staying open later, even if it means you open later, too.
But even that isn’t enough. Shoppers are used to being frustrated with local stores having limited hours. If you don’t work to get the word out about new or seasonal hours of operation — or that amazing deal you’re offering — you likely won’t see results from the shift.
So, this holiday season, we urge local business owners to consider openness — openness to shopper-friendly hours of operation, openness to experiences that lure shoppers into your store and openness to market your offerings in whatever way you can to help get the word out.