THE popularity of online shopping has proved to be the nail in the coffin for some small businesses, but is also allowing others the chance to begin and bloom.
With more and more people turning to online shopping sites for their everyday needs and wants, it’s forcing Tamworth businesses to think up new tactics to get a share of the shopping dollar.
Marti Jones, a mother of two from Quirindi, said when she wasn’t able to find the style of clothing she wanted locally, she started her own small business to source them.
Her fledgling business, The Vintage Carousel, stocks rockabilly and alternative style clothing and homewares and she runs it all from social media site Facebook.
Describing it as “a great way to stay at home with my kids,” Mrs Jones says having an online business is the way to go these days.
“I’m not paying rent or electricity or staff costs and I have no sales targets to achieve. Why pay for a shop when I can do it from home,” she said.
Initially she looked at shops for lease in her area and although she found one for $180 a week, the extra money in her pocket at the end of the week swayed her decision.
The 31-year-old said although it was a little overwhelming to start up a business, having it solely online was a less stressful way to do it.
“Sometimes I’m still in my pyjamas at lunchtime,” Mrs Jones said.
Further on down the track Mrs Jones hopes to set up a dressing room in her home to help with fitting and sizing customers which she says sometimes can be difficult for online customers.
“I have sizing charts but people do have to measure themselves before they buy,” Mrs Jones said.
One of the biggest risks for her business was ordering stock in before customers paid the full amount.
Although they are charged a 30 per cent deposit, there’s nothing she can do if they choose not to pay, except to hope the item can be sold to someone else.
“There’s no accountability online.”
She also has to wear some of the postage costs by capping how much it costs her to send an order.
This means sometimes she has to pay out of her own profits, but said that was fine by her.
“Postage is one of the things that puts me off shopping online sometimes,” she said.
The online customers that are working so well for Mrs Jones’ business have proved to be the downfall of another though.
Tamworth woman Vicki Jennar, who recently ran a women’s fashion boutique in The Atrium said that people would come in, try on dresses and then openly tell her “I’m buying this online”.
“Girls would try on a dress, then get out their phone and say to me ‘I can get this online for $20 cheaper’,” Mrs Jennar said.
In her now-defunct store, Stunning on the Avenue, she noticed an enormous drop in her profits during August until November, 2011.
It was the season she would normally be busiest, dressing race-goers, girls for formals, and brides, but said it all disappeared due to online shoppers.
“It was the nail in the coffin for me,” she said.
The Tamworth businesswoman said she simply couldn’t compete with websites offering items for hundreds of dollars cheaper.
“It’s a gamble buying online,” Mrs Jennar said, as cheap imported dresses were often poorly made and postage from other countries could prove excessive.
She said she had tried every measure to save her business, keeping prices lower than average and even introducing a consultancy side to the business which offered customers a personal shopping experience for a fee to combat the problem.
But it couldn’t save her business which shut down at the end of April this year, leaving her with thousands of dollars worth of leftover stock.
Ironically, with no shopfront, she plans to sell the stock online to recoup some of her costs.
She said another plus for online businesses was they rarely have to deal with theft.
During Mrs Jennar’s first six weeks of business in the Atrium, she had $4000 worth of clothing stolen while she was busy running the store.
“Shoplifting is something online businesses don’t have to deal with,” Mrs Jennar said.
She said she had a message for those customers who just wanted to try on clothing, then source it online: at least offer the retailer something for their time and overheads.
“I love that face-to-face customer service, and finding the right dress for someone,” she said.
“Shop fronts cost money though.
“We don’t run on fresh air and sunshine.”
While she endorsed shopping around for the best price, customers had to realise the flow-on effect in a town the size of Tamworth.
People don’t stop to consider the domino effect of online business,” she said.
“It’ll be their kids who are struggling to get jobs in a few years’ time.”
Businessman Dean McFarlane who runs Tamworth Fishing Tackle says he is convinced no online shopping business can compete with good old-fashioned customer service.
Outside his business he has a camping fridge listed for the same price as people can find online but says the advent of online doesn’t bother him as an “old-school” business owner.
“I don’t have a webpage and I don’t spend a lot of time on the computer. We use pen and paper here,” Mr McFaralne said.
“They’re time-consuming and take time out of a business when you could be doing other things.”
The businessman said although customers were now doing their homework on bigger ticket items, he wouldn’t tolerate customers coming in and wasting his staff’s time by researching in his store and then buying online.
“Thats not good manners and it’s annoying and a waste of my staff’s time. If someone comes in and says we can get that for cheaper, sometimes we will drop the price to get a sale, but our prices are generally on par with online.
“We can match anything in Australia. I think a lot of people have been burnt online. It isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”
Although his business is going well, he said the future may be different.
Mr McFarlane said the future value of the Aussie dollar would affect thriving online businesses and the government also needed to be held accountable.
“They need to put GST on products coming into the country, just like every retailer has to pay,” he said.
“It’s a killer for a business.”
But he believes that “good staff will win you business hands down every time,” and says it’s crucial to support y local businesses.
“You wouldn’t be able to walk down to the local store in five or 10 years time if you don’t,” he said.