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‘Tis The Season For … Small Business

Austin Wheelock  |

Just as hybrid office-remote work arrangements have become more common, retail business has become increasingly complex in an economy rapidly changing through technology.

The line between brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce is now blurry and, as the retail environment evolves, many business owners are wondering what is the best way to position their small businesses for a prosperous new year.

In 2019, e-commerce sales accounted for 10.5% of overall sales in the U.S. at $569.9 billion. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate at which business owners opened e-commerce shops and consumers shifted shopping habits to online increased dramatically, almost doubling over the last four years to $1.14 trillion in online sales projected by the end of 2023.

In the most recent quarter of sales tracked by the U.S Census, e-commerce now accounts for 15.6% of all sales in the U.S, an almost 50% increase in market penetration from 2019.

While future online sales growth may slow from its recent scorching hot trajectory, it will not stop and emerging technology and market demand will continue to force businesses to adapt. Now more than ever, brick-and-mortar retailers should have some semblance of an e-commerce presence and not necessarily think of e-commerce as competition.

Many consumers now prefer to shop from the comfort of their own home for spur of the moment purchases or when an immediate need arises. A brick-and-mortar store that currently does not offer an e-commerce shop can start with a small offering with only their bestselling items, allowing customers the option of purchasing a retailer’s most popular products without visiting a physical location and capturing that spur of the moment sale.

Brick-and-mortar stores continue to have one huge advantage over e-commerce-only businesses and they should capitalize on it: the ability to have a highly personalized, enhanced, shopping experience and associated services. The advent of personal shopping services include online preorder and pickup, along with having highly trained staff who walk customers through the retail space and much more. Personalized shopping services don’t just enhance the customer experience; they create opportunities to cross-sell and upsell customers to drive increased revenue.

Finally, social media is not going away anytime soon and Facebook is not the only game in town. Using outlets such as Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube offers excellent opportunities to engage potential customers in very dynamic ways. Shopping tends to be social and retailers should look to incorporate social media to its maximum extent. Live events, videos and the use of influencers can both be an effective means to reach a larger audience.

As we move into 2024, Operation Oswego County will look to provide additional resources, workshops and seminars to assist small businesses in navigating retail success in what has become a non-traditional retail market.

Look out for forthcoming information on our upcoming programs.

The staff at Operation Oswego County, Inc. would like to wish you all a very happy holiday season and to stay warm and safe this winter!

Austin M. Wheelock, Certified economic developer (CEcD), is the executive director of Operation Oswego County, Inc. For more information, call 315-343-1545 or visit