BALTIMORE (WJZ) — 2019 saw the continued shift of the retail industry away from traditional brick-and-mortar stores and toward online shopping.

Consumers can now find almost anything they want with just a click, and Amazon has created a seismic shift in how we shop.

Meanwhile, as some retailers like Forever 21, Sears and Payless ShoeSource file for bankruptcy, others like Walmart are launching free next-day delivery.

A recent poll by Marist College and National Public Radio shows 76 percent of all U.S. adults shop online, with at least a quarter doing so at least once per month.

That begs the question: how do small mom-and-pop businesses stay competitive in a changing retail landscape?

Cailey Lockair-Toll with the Maryland Retailers Association said Amazon’s impact on local stores is “blown out of proportion.”

Shoppers browse a window display at a store in downtown Annapolis. Annapolis is one of 30 designated Main Streets in Maryland.

For some business owners, if you can’t beat the big guys, join them.

“For these small retailers, they might not have the time to go online and create a website and constantly update inventory, so guess where they go if they want to sell their products online? Amazon,” Lockair-Toll said.

Susanna Siger opened Ma Petite Shoe in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood 17 years ago.

Since then, she’s made some changes to help business.

“You really embrace the technology even more so,” Siger said. “Keeping in touch with your clients and your customer base to let them know when new things have arrived. You just have to be even savvier.”

She describes the pendulum swinging, with her customers now craving attention over convenience.

“(They want) to have that immediate experience: you can touch the leathers, you can try them on, the fit is really important,” she said. “I happen to have a business where it’s all about the most incredible waiting on people in an old-fashioned way.”

Susannah Siger, the owner of Ma Petite Shoe in Hampden, shows off a selection of the store’s chocolate products

Another perk of shopping in-person: “You can have that immediate gratification of getting the shoes right then and there, maybe even wearing them right out of the store.”

Businesses that nail the immediate gratification will fare better against their larger competitors, Lockair-Toll said.

“I think a lot of retail businesses are talking a lot about the impact between online and brick-and-mortar, but right now the focus is completely on creating consumer experiences and how quickly you can get a consumer a product,” she said. “If you’re a retailer who can make that happen, you can easily compete with the Amazons of the world.”

Across the street at The Parisian Flea, owner Andrew Bruchey offers a treasure trove of vintage jewelry.

“I often compare the store to being your grandmother’s jewelry box,” he said. “Come in, play dress up, try things on, enjoy them, reminisce.”

Bruchey said he’s turned to social media platforms like Instagram to market products.

Andrew Bruchey, the owner of The Parisian Flea in Hampden, compares his store to a grandmother’s jewelry box. “Come in, play dress up, try things on, enjoy them, reminisce.”

“We do have a very good following on Instagram,” he said. “I find Instagram to be a great tool not only in online selling but also in getting customers to come into the store regularly.”

Bruchey also credits getting to know his customers and their tastes as helping turn one sale into many.

“I get to know what they like,” he said. “I get to know their tastes. When certain pieces come in, I give them a call or send them pictures.”

There’s no doubt Maryland businesses must adapt to the online shopping culture.

“It’s here to stay, it’s not going away,” Lockair-Toll said. “So it’s incumbent upon business owners if they want to stay competitive to create those experiences and use online retail to grow their business.”

It’s about getting creative and staying optimistic.

Susannah Siger, the owner of Ma Petite Shoe in Hampden, installs Halloween decorations outside her store.

“I think in the jewelry business, as long as we focus on the unique pieces that are vintage and not readily available, we’ll have customers,” Bruchey said when asked if he’s worried about the future.

Siger agreed.

“If we can continue to offer this kind of specialty catering-type of business in a fun environment … we can survive. And not only survive, but thrive,” she said.

Linh Bui

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