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SB Wednesday: shopping habits and the impact on small businesses

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BLUEFIELD, W.Va (WVVA) - WVVA is helping to answer your questions about small business. The Executive Director of the Development Authority of Mercer County, John O'Neal, is helping answer questions every Wedneday on WVVA News at 5 p.m.

WVVA: John, we are in the midst of the Christmas Holiday shopping season now. Do we have any data yet on shopping habits in the era of COVID, and the effect on small business?

O'Neal: We have initial data from the "big three" kick-off events of the Christmas shopping season. These events are Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. There has been a decrease in in-person, and an increase in online shopping occurring this year.

WVVA: What can you tell us about Christmas holiday sales thus far this year?

O'Neal: Even though Amazon started things off early with their "Prime" Day, the day after Thanksgiving is still considered the first official shopping day of the Christmas Season. It is also considered the day that many struggling businesses finally turn a profit for the year. They go from being "in the red", meaning unprofitable, to "in the black", which means they finally crossed over to earning a profit for the year, thus the term "Black Friday.

Adobe Insights reported that there was a 22% surge in online sales for Black Friday, with consumers spending over $9 billion, making it the largest Black Friday online sales day ever. In-person sales were steady on Black Friday, as were lines and parking at retailers and shopping malls across the country.

So, the overall impact of in-person and online Black Friday sales indicates a strong start to the Christmas shopping season. For many small businesses in our region, Small Business Saturday is considered their version of Black Friday. Many of these businesses don't have online shipping capabilities, so they rely on consumers to show up in person.

This year there were numerous communities in our region that went all out in their marketing efforts to create support for Small Business Saturday events. Many local businesses reported strong sales from these events. Nationwide, sales were estimated at $4.7 billion.

Finally, we had Cyber Monday in which major retailers encourage online shopping, often with significant bargains. The results were record shattering, with over 10.8 billion dollars in online sales.

The most common purchases were computers, sporting goods, toys, electronics, and appliance. In all, online spending over the five day Thanksgiving weekend through Monday was a whopping $34.4 billion, easily a record.

WVVA: John, that's good news for business and the economy. What is the take away from this for small business going forward?

O'Neal: The takeaway is that online purchasing is increasing dramatically. It will be important for all businesses to grow their online capabilities. For some it will mean growing their ability to market and deliver by direct drop shipping of products.

For others this is not practical, and it may mean online orders with local delivery or pickups at the store. Regardless, COVID has accelerated the trend toward online buying behavior, and small business is adapting.

Be sure to watch WVVA News every Wednesday at 5 p.m. for a new edition of SB Wednesday.

Melinda Zosh

Evening Anchor and Producer

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