Small retailers get creative to compete with big stores at holiday time

Small retailers have to compete with shopping malls, big chains like Wal-Mart and online giants like during the holiday season. Here is a look at some strategies some small retailers are using to attract and satisfy shoppers:

START WITH KICKSTARTER: When the owners of Appalatch decided to seek money for their apparel company on the fundraising website, they timed the campaign to create buzz for the holidays. People who raise money on Kickstarter often give T-shirts to donors. Mariano deGuzman and Grace Gouin, who started the campaign Oct. 22, are giving away the Asheville, N.C., company’s custom-made sweaters. The exposure on Kickstarter has led shoppers to visit Applatch’s website, where the number of daily visitors has soared to 3,000 from between 100 and 200 before the fundraising campaign began.

MOBILE CHECKOUTS AND GOODIES: There is one permanent cash register at Story, but owner Rachel Schectman expects checkout lines to be short at the clothing, home furnishings and gift store in New York City. Six employees armed with tablet computers and scanners will patrol the 2,000-square-foot store and check out customers as soon as they’re finished shopping. If waiting times do turn out to be long, Story will make it easier on shoppers by feeding them chocolate and free samples from food trucks parked outside the store.

HALF-OFF SALE: Everything at U.Breyn, an online jewelry retailer based in Norcross, Ga., will be half off from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, Dec. 2. Owner Ursula Reynolds will give customers on her email list an early start; they’ll be able to get the sale prices beginning Thanksgiving evening. Between now and then, she’ll be advertising on Facebook to get more people to join the list. Even with the big discount, Reynolds says she gets 60 per cent of her annual revenue during the big sale. She’s also giving free gift wrap and free shipping throughout the holidays.

RETURNS WITH A BONUS: Anything bought during the holiday season at Zane’s Cycles in Branford or Fairfield, Conn., can be returned unconditionally. If the customer or gift recipient decides to take the refund in the form of a store gift card, they get an extra 10 per cent, which works out to 110 per cent of the value of the merchandise returned. That includes bicycles that can run into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Owner Chris Zane says the policy helps bring in sales; customers are excited that the person they’re buying for might get a big bonus.