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Small retailers aim for emotional ties the big chains might lack


Published: Thu, November 23, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

NEW YORK

Some smaller retailers will tug at shoppers’ heartstrings during the holidays, trying to create an emotional experience or connection that a big national chain might not provide.

Store owners are going well beyond the usual holiday decorations and music.

Among their plans: Parties where the focus is fundraising rather than profits, events with other stores to encourage shoppers to visit them all, and personal services such as merchandise deliveries. The retailers are betting that their efforts – which for some are a year-round strategy – will keep customers shopping long after the holiday season.

John Dudas, who co-owns Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop in Cleveland, participated Saturday in Local Comic Shop Day, which he calls the comic book industry’s equivalent of Black Friday. People lined up outside the store for limited-edition comics and had a great time while they waited.

“They get to hang out with like-minded people,” says Dudas, who estimates he made one-and-a-half times the sales he would see on a good Saturday.

Creating experiences and an emotional connection will help customers feel like they’re getting more value from a retailer – and that they’re being valued and appreciated in return, says Syama Meagher, CEO of the Los Angeles-based consulting firm Scaling Retail.

Small and independent retailers have a greater ability to create a bond with shoppers than larger competitors, she says.

Dudas has more events planned, including a sale starting Black Friday during which he expects to sell 80,000 comic books at $1 each. And on Dec. 16, he’ll hold a party with artists drawing pictures of comic book fans.

But Dudas won’t look for a profit that day – he’ll be raising funds for a local charity, something he does periodically. In September, the store had a fundraiser in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby, co-creator of Captain America. These events help Dudas to expand his customer base.

Diane Roth uses service all year long to create a connection with customers. The owner of clothing boutique L’Armoire in New Canaan, Conn., Roth acts as much a concierge as a retailer. She’ll allow customers to take several garments home to try on – or she’ll send the clothes to their houses.


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