EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 296 - October 09, 2011 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 6

Making Bricks and Clicks Work Together:

By Greg Holden

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Lesley Tweedie wants the best of both worlds. As co-owner of Roscoe Village Bikes, a Chicago neighborhood store, she wants to have face-to-face contact with customers so she can give hem her personal attention. But she also wants to find a wider clientele for unusual, specialized, and hard-to-sell merchandise she offers at a discount. She couldn't find a marketplace that did exactly what she wants, so she created her own.

Little Independent is designed for small, independent, brick-and-mortar stores that want to sell some (though not all) of their merchandise online. Although the marketplace currently brings together only 30 businesses, primarily in the Chicago area, Tweedie envisions a nationwide marketplace where shoppers can visit the small boutiques that give character to neighborhoods around the country.

"As a retailer, it's an opportunity to reach a wider audience," says Tweedie. "Occasionally, I find myself with merchandise that won't sell. If I can sell them online, it's a way to work with the Internet instead of against it - to dabble in ecommerce while still managing my brick-and-mortar store."

Little Independent is different than most online marketplaces. For instance, it only charges sellers a listing fee of $3 (though currently, sellers are being offered 10 free listings) and no final value fee. That's because of a second unusual feature: although Little Independent has its own shopping cart, buyers have the option of fulfilling transactions using the sellers own shopping cart and payment system.

To sell on Tweedie's site, a merchant must be independent (not part of a franchise or a chain) and have a brick-and-mortar presence: vehicles, home-based businesses, and virtual storefronts are not sufficient. All merchandise must be marked down 10 percent off retail price, too.

"It's important to support brick-and-mortar independent businesses in the community," she explains. "When you shop at an independent brick-and-mortar store, there are environmental benefits, and more of your dollar stays in the community."

One of the first business owners to join Little Independent, Alexis Eyler, agrees. The co-owner of Lollie, a children's boutique, is happy to be finding customers far beyond her community of Evanston, Illinois.

"Little Independent has increased our visibility around the country," says Eyler. "We have seen an increase in orders on our website from California to New Jersey and many places in between, which is nice since we have taken a very local focus with our shop as far as SEO."

Of the 15 SKUs Lollie has posted on the marketplace, three have sold out, and Eyler estimates she has sold more than 20 items since Little Independent went online in June. "Just because we're a little boutique doesn't mean we don't have great sales on items we need to get rid of."

Tweedie herself recently found a customer in Tennessee for a bike bag she had been wanting to sell. "She was looking for that specific item and it was from the manufacturer's fall line. They don't make it any more," says Tweedie.

Along with the trend toward buying local, Little Independent hopes to take advantage of mobile as well as social shopping. "You can favorite a store you like, a boutique you shop at regularly, and you can get an RSS feed to see when they have added a new item. We are active on Facebook and Twitter, with the goal in mind of increasing awareness, boost the number of shoppers, and improve SEO," adds Tweedie.

Launching an online marketplace was a new challenge for someone who has already started a traditional business. "I thought starting a brick-and-mortar store was the hardest thing I ever did, because I had to do things like sweep and paint and set it up, but launching a startup, I had to learn a whole new language." Brick-and-mortar independents can coexist with chain stores and online retailers, she says, but adds: "There is a social aspect you can't replicate and that you don't necessarily get online."

Shoppers can see photos of the brick-and-mortar stores and read short profiles of them on the Little Independent site. "It delivers the brick-and-mortar shops that are such a fundamental part of our cities and towns right to a customer's doorstep," says Eyler. "That makes it easy to support independent businesses with the convenience of shopping sites like Amazon."

About the author:

Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.

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