Black Friday, Cyber-Monday, Food Coma, Shop Local. Well, along with many others, I did my part. Without ever leaving my house in Montana. After plunging into diet-defying feasts of food on Thanksgiving, I avoided the Black Friday crowds by cyber-shopping til my thumbs hurt. Then, on Saturday, I bought a laptop. A pink one. I haven't seen it yet though because I didn't buy it in Montana. I bought it from a store in New York City. On my iPad. Why? Because it was exactly what I wanted, for the best price, with free shipping. And I'm not alone.
According to a Wall Street Journal article about Thanksgiving holiday shopping, "Online spending on Friday alone topped $1 billion for the first time." Even more compelling, "Merchants with strong web presences were positioned to be the big winners: For the first time, more than half of consumers said they shopped on the Internet over the weekend."
Mobile devices, (smartphones and tablets), accounted for 16 percent of online sales, up from 10 percent last year and these same devices accounted for 24 percent of site traffic, up from 14 percent last year. The average online shopping session length was 6 minutes and 39 seconds.
This explosion of e-commerce and online retail opens up opportunities for those of us living in rural America in two ways. First, as a buyer, I no longer have to drive long distances to make purchases from large national retailer stores. I can sit in the comfort of my living room and let my fingers do the shopping. If I'm physically in a store, I can easily check via my smartphone to make sure that the price I'm about to pay for an item can't be beat someplace else. E-commerce has also made me a better shop-local shopper. Last year, I wanted to buy a particular bicycle that wasn't available locally. So, I went to my local bike shop (which, by the way, is the best bike shop ever) where Craig, the owner, ordered it and sold it to me. I bought the perfect bicycle for me and the local Whitefish, Mont. bike shop made the sale.
The second benefit is for the retailers that live and work in rural and small town America. Historically, retailers had to own storefronts and were limited to the customers who lived in their communities. Now, by becoming web merchants instead of, or in addition, to storefront operators, the opportunity equation for these entrepreneurs has expanded exponentially.
We see it every day in my backyard. Retailers of all kinds of products, including organic soaps, nutrition supplements, clothing, books, original artwork, music, athletic gear and too many others to mention, are all accessing the global marketplace via the Internet. Since the global marketplace is much larger than, well, anywhere, this is a major shift in opportunity for small town and rural retailers. Experts expect online retail spending to rise 17 percent to $43.4 billion through the whole holiday season. That's way ahead of the retail industry's expectation for a 4.1 percent increase in overall spending this holiday. These are important new opportunities for retail entrepreneurs who want to live and work off the beaten path.
So this holiday season, I'm going to shop local. Equipped with my smartphone and my iPad, at my local retailers and from my living room, I'm going shopping. Happy Holidays!