As local businesses continue to adapt in search of stability during the COVID-19 outbreak, online sales have become crucial — and not just for retailers.
A June Forbes article on the state of online business during the pandemic cited an Adobe report stating that the virus has accelerated the growth of e-commerce by four to six years. Locally, businesses have used online sales and resources to stay afloat while their pre-outbreak business models recover.
Downtown bookstore Recycled Books, Records & CDs has had a separate inventory for online sales since before the outbreak began. Owner Don Foster said that toward the beginning of the outbreak, when the store was closed and eventually reopened with reduced hours, e-commerce helped his business weather the storm of a reduced customer base.
“The online sales propped us up big-time,” Foster said.
Recycled is recovering well, with sales increasing dramatically over the last few weeks, but Foster said the virus’s impact on the downtown Square is still noticeable, especially with the closures of bars.
“It’s weird to walk outside and not see cars all along the street,” Foster said.
But it hasn’t just been retailers who have made use of online resources. Hoochie’s owner Sam Solomon said his seafood restaurant has implemented several changes since the outbreak started that have increased his online footprint and streamlined the ordering process for his customers. Though he can’t make the same use of online sales that a retailer could, he said he doesn’t feel he’s at a disadvantage.
“Apps let people place an order, pay for an order and all they have to do is come pick it up,” Solomon said. “I think a lot of the news out there about the virus has inspired this kind of a push for restaurants.”
Similarly to Recycled, Hoochie’s has begun to see its customer base gradually return, but Solomon said he believes changes to the industry will stick.
“It’s kind of forcing people into the online mode,” Solomon said. “It’s a whole different world out there right now — it’s going to be permanent and people who haven’t used it before will get comfortable using it.”
For some smaller-scale businesses, online sales have become a primary survival tactic. Gaming store Freaks and Geeks closed its physical storefront on the first day of July due to the virus. The store set up in the Denton Downtown Mini Mall about a month later, but its online presence has become a major focus for co-owner Alec Featherstone.
“We looked at eBay as a .5 version of the store and the physical store as version 1.0,” Featherstone said. “It was just something we never really advertised with the public because it wasn’t our main focus.”
Freaks has had to drop all employees since the closing of its storefront, leaving only Featherstone and Joey Ramirez, the store’s other owner. In its current state, the store is lacking a significant portion business that came in the form of physical events like tournaments, but Featherstone said he hopes the current model can sustain it long enough to open a new storefront when the outbreak dies down.
“It’s just the uncomfortability in being forced to learn a new skill,” Featherstone said of the new, online landscape faced by small businesses like his. “It’s one thing to learn how to make a fire but it’s another thing to have your plane crash and have to figure out how to make a fire before the sun goes down — that’s kind of where we’re at.”