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One of the advantages of a physical store is the retailer’s ability to customize an experience for its shoppers, whether that comes through an edited selection of unique, artisanal goods, or the experience of shopping with people who make the store visit special. The magic of an independent retail establishment is the ability to merchandise products in a way customers can visualize and even test products before purchasing. Bringing that level of customer service to an ecommerce site can present challenges, retailers have said, but it’s worth it.
“We’re a destination store in a tourist area. We get customers from all over the country,” said KC Lapiana, owner of gourmet kitchenware store, In the Kitchen, in Pittsburgh, PA, and president of HTI Buying Group. “We get asked all the time if we have a website,” she said. There is an ecommerce site, and while it’s not the same as shopping in the store, customers who’ve visited In the Kitchen know what to expect. “They have an experience in our store and understand the type of service we provide,” Lapiana said. “They’ve seen and touched our products; we have a liberal return policy. They’re con dent that if a shipment is damaged, we’ll be able to take care of any issues they may have.”
Elements at Home, a lighting and home décor showroom in Carle Place, NY, caters to consumers and designers in the New York Metropolitan area. According to VP of marketing and visual
merchandising Patricia Auerbach, it’s important to stay in contact with its customers in any way they prefer to be reached. Elements at Home, which has won four ARTS Awards, creates engagement with customers in store, via their ecommerce site and through a new print magazine, Lightstyle.
“Lightstyle added an additional layer that directly targeted the consumer that we need to get into the showroom,” Auerbach said. The shelter publication (not a catalog) showcases lighting and other décor products that can be found at the store and online, and is designed to drive tra c to both. On the Elements at Home website, beautiful photography also brings the store to the ecommerce customer. More than that, though, it’s about the service, Auerbach said. “Many customers are looking for more than just a product. They want a person to talk to about issues such as scale,” she said. “We make the connection between the website and store by asking customers to talk to us.”
An edited mix of products that can’t be found on some other large ecommerce sites can also help to attract an independent retailer’s visibility with customers. “You want to tailor your site so it re ects all the things that assure your current customers that your online experience is as tasteful as your in-store experience,” Homefest’s DiPaulo said.

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