Pandemic speeds main street embrace of online retail sales

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – The pandemic has accelerated some trends and while Massachusetts retailers want consumers to know they can safely shop in their stores, many more retailers in the Bay State are now selling online, and in other ways that weren’t on the table before COVID-19.

According to the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, 26 percent of its roughly 4,000 members reported selling on the internet last year, but that number is up to 50 percent, with many more offering online options over the past nine months. Online sales are expected to account for more than a third of sales this holiday season for association members, compared to almost 20 percent in recent years.

“Real progress has been made in a matter of months on digital promotion, marketing and online sales for Main Street businesses,” RAM President Jon Hurst said in a statement Friday promoting the safety and importance of spending holiday shopping money locally. “In addition to online options, our members are fully embracing and offering other consumer service options from by appointment only shopping, to curbside pick-up and delivery. These investments and new consumer service models would have otherwise taken years to establish and will undoubtedly continue to exist long after the health and economic crisis has passed.”

Hurst called 2020 “the most difficult year our members have had to deal with in memory,” with a third of members absorbing double-digit sales drops and another third netting double-digit sales gains. “It depends on what you sell, and how you sell,” he said. “Everyone else is dealing with the uncertainty, changing operating models, and just collectively trying to come close to the sales levels seen last year.”

The uncertainty of the season has caused the association not to make a holiday season sales prediction for the first time in two decades, but the association hopes a few trends might portend a decent sales season, noting people working from home have more time to shop and reductions in consumer debt combined with increases in savings during the crisis “could combine to create more spending and investment due to impulse buys and pent-up demand.”

The National Retail Federation’s nationwide projection forecasts an increase in holiday season sales of 3.6 percent to 5.2 percent. Sales in the last three holiday periods in Massachusetts rose by between 3 and 4 percent each year.

A two-week digital #BuyInMA campaign is designed to promote local buying and is being complimented by radio ads featuring Gov. Charlie Baker.

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