SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With online shopping surging this year from many stay at home shoppers, local retailers on the Central Coast say they may be a faster, safer and better option at this point.
They make a case, saying you can generally find what you want, in person, and have it home in a short trip, ready for wrapping.
Online sales at this point are not unreliable, but concerns have been raised from coast to coast about shipping delays.
Sales have been estimated by the research firm eMarketer to his $795-billion. That's a gain of 32 percent from 2019.
Many businesses are also selling gift cards with bonus amounts. Sometimes the customer can get as much as a 20 percent boost in the value. For example, a $100 card for $80.
This helps the business with income now, and customer or the recipient of the gift, will come in another day, possibly spending even more.
Many local retailers says they are ready to keep pace with online giants to serve their customers in time for gift giving and will come in early or stay open later to meet the demands.
They are still abiding by a retail store capacity limit of 20 percent, and in some cases there could be a line. Many of the smaller shops have been able to keep the flow coming and going, and customers are doing more buying than browsing at this point.
"I think that there's a lot of amazing local businesses here in Santa Barbara especially retailers," said Darcy McElroy, owner of The Shopkeepers in the Funk Zone.
Customers all wear masks and have to use hand sanitizer when they enter.
"We want to make sure it's a safe shopping experience as well as something personal," said McElroy.
The store features a variety of clothing, jewelry, retro fashion, pop art and household decor. "We have everything from candles and cards up to jackets and jeans, so we have something for everyone," said McElroy.
Recently, the store began selling framed posters from past concerts at the Santa Barbara Bowl. That included Neil Young, No Doubt, Van Morrison, the Beastie Boys, Weezer , Jane's Addiction and numerous others. Collectors and those who wanted to relive the experience by having the poster art have been picking up the memory either as a print or framed.
Up State Street in the La Arcada court a small train circles at the entrance to Ace Rivington clothing store. In the center of the oval the train goes around a sign showing how much the store has been able to give back to the community through sales related donations.
"Year to date we are just over 86 thousand meals that we've donated, (through the financial contribution)" said owner Beau Lawrence. "Really focusing on the community is everything for us at Ace Rivington." He says you can't get that directed return with an internet sale.
Lawrence has extensive experience with major retailers, clothing sales, and architecture.
Ace Rivington specializes in long-lasting fashionable jeans, in a store with many wardrobe options including sweaters, shirts, jackets, slippers and accessories for men and women.
He patterns the approach to customer service from the old-style meet and greet at the door and a casual-informative conversation while selling the products. He recalled how, in the old days, the owners would " really take care of you the way that you want to be served, that's what we've built into our model here," said Lawrence.
The store also has a solid guarantee. "So for all of our denim we offer free tailoring and a life time warranty because we build a product that's, that good. That means you come in, in a couple of years, if you've ripped your knees or a tear here, a break there, we'll fix it. If there's some huge problem, I'll give you another pair on me," he said.
Having mostly U.S. made clothing is a priority. Also a range from t-shirts to blankets, winter to summer styles. "We certainly just don't do jeans here," said Lawrence.
To beat the internet choices, the store will deliver the product or bring it to the curbside for you. They make the connection and invite you back to see the store another day or to be easy to access if there's a concern.
Having a shopping experience in person, during a pandemic, is also a challenge that likely didn't come up in the first business plan for any local store owner.
"Especially in the Funk zone in this area where people want to connect and have a cool experience . I feel this shop kind of has that which sets us apart from other retailers," said McElroy. "Something small and local, that kind of prevails especially in these unprecedented time. The staff is all Santa Barbara locals."
For one customer, trying to find the fit and look of a jacket for the person it was being purchased for, McElroy tried it on in an on the spot, in-store, in-person display.
She says without a steady stream of tourists due to COVID, "we wouldn't be able to do it without the Santa Barbara community at all."
Business owners say the holiday season is also a chance for shoppers to give gift cards. That brings in income now and customers at a later day, likely someone new.
In lieu of holiday parties, many employers will be giving gift cards and certificates to their workers. This will help the stores now and get positioned for the economic recovery they are hoping for in 2021.