By BECKY McKENDRY
Capital News Service
LANSING – The forecast for this holiday looks to be a steady sprinkle of revenue for Michigan retailers, as local stores work to provide customer service that Internet merchants can’t offer.
The Michigan Retail Index predicts an increase in holiday sales, up 1.3 percent from last year. Although that increase isn’t ideal, it is still a moderate bump that shows “cautious optimism,” said Tom Scott of the Michigan Retailers Association.
“The actual numbers may turn out even better than that,” Scott said. “That survey was taken during the government shutdown when there was a lot of uncertainty.”
One important step to ensuring a jolly season for retailers: encouraging shoppers to think twice ordering online.
“We need to encourage Michigan consumers to think about where their dollars will do the most good,” he said. “Even big chains still employ people locally, but online shopping often just sends all the money right out of the community.
“If all Michigan shoppers switch one out of 10 purchases from an online retailer to local, that would be worth more than $750 million a year to the state’s economy,” he added.
The Michigan Retailers Association recently created its “Buy Nearby” campaign. It promotes using social media to encourage local shopping.
The point, Scott says, is to get consumers to understand what it means to keep their money in their community, or at least their state.
“Smaller businesses generally can’t compete on price but they can absolutely compete in excellent customer service,” said Scott. “Rather than a commodity, you’re getting unique products and service.”
And many Michigan businesses have thought of plenty of unusual ways to get customers through their doors this holiday season.
“We’re having an ugly Christmas sweater contest. You get discounts if you wear one and the best gets a gift certificate,” said Kim Hentrizky, owner of Centsible Treasures, a resale and antique shop in Three Rivers.
Centsible Treasures has long offered services and events that online and big chain retailers would find challenging, if not impossible – like baking cookies for customers and orchestrating a food drive where donated cans earn discounts off of store purchases. Its annual Black Friday sales include coffee and refreshments.
“We’re small, so we give better service and we get to connect with our customers in a way a big box store can’t,” said Hentrizky.
Sayklly’s Confectionery and Gifts in Marquette also tailors its events and discounts for the community it serves.
“We have a few holiday specials, but one of the big ones is our deer hunter’s special. We give 10 percent off,” said Bob Gauthier, Sayklly’s manager. “It’s popular.”
Many of the gifts Sayklly’s sells are tailored specifically for area residents – such as coffee mugs or T-shirts with references to “Yooper” living, cooking and culture.
Gauthier said his shoppers respond to the importance of buying local.
“You hate to see the money leave the state,” he said. “And a lot of people around here feel obligated to support their local community. I know I do.”
And Henritzky said the benefits go farther than meets the eye.
“I bank in this community. I employ people in this community who use their earnings to spend in this community,” Henritzky said. “It’s very important for people to realize what a small store means.”