Shopping small, shopping online

Brookside Toy and Science and The Corner Candleshop have adjusted to increasingly digitized marketplaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brookside+Toy+and+Science%27s+website+showcases+it%27s+various+types+of+products+Feb.+1.+The+website+allows+for+navigation+between+online+checkout+and+product+descriptions.+photo+by+Mara+Callahan

Brookside Toy and Science’s website showcases it’s various types of products Feb. 1. The website allows for navigation between online checkout and product descriptions. photo by Mara Callahan

by Sophia Rall, Features Editor

“I think online shopping is terrible,” Brookside Toy and Science Owner Holly Pollard said. “But, it’s still necessary.”

Brookside Toy and Science launched its online store March 2020, as COVID-19 forced the temporary closure of many brick-and-mortar stores. According to The New York Times, about 110,000 small businesses closed permanently between early March and early May 2020. Those that remained open had to adjust to state restrictions, such as limitations on customers allowed within the store or sanitizing requirements. Pollard expressed that it was difficult to recreate the experience of visiting the store in an online format. 

“For my store, so much of what’s important is people coming in and talking to us and letting us help them find the right toy,” Pollard said. “It’s the experience. It’s like, we’re your friends, we’re here to help you make sure that that kid gets exactly the thing that’s going to just blow their socks off. Online, you’re just looking at merchandise — there’s no personality. It’s really difficult to make the online store pop the way that this store does.”

Brookside Toy and Science faces an unique challenge in selling products virtually: toys and games have a visual and tactile appeal that does not always translate to online formats. Pollard described the situation as not ideal, but customers have worked around these challenges. 

“Luckily, we have a very understanding and wonderful client base,” Pollard said. “A lot of them have been in here, so they trust us and know that we tend to buy the higher quality stuff. I also think we stick to a lot of the same brands, so there’s brand recognition.”

The Corner Candleshop updated its website August 2020, when the store rebranded. Like Brookside Toy and Science, The Corner Candleshop experienced an increase in online sales since March. 

“We have many repeat customers that are familiar with our candles and are not afraid to order online, or we try to put good descriptions online to describe the fragrances,” The Corner Candleshop Owner Lori Woods said. “Our web business has continued to grow throughout the year, and we get new customers every day online.”

Although The Corner Candleshop has experienced success through its website, Woods acknowledged that there are differences between online shopping and visiting the brick-and-mortar store. 

“Being in store is always best as you are able to sniff and see the product, but, like I mentioned, we try to do an excellent job relaying what the fragrance would smell like in our online descriptions,” Wood said. 

Having online shops has opened up unique opportunities for both stores.

“Last year during Easter, we sold a lot of pre-bundled Easter baskets,” Pollard said. “At that time, it was still early in the shutdown. Lots of people hadn’t been to a grocery store or CVS yet — they weren’t really ready to get out. So, we would pre-pack baskets and deliver them, and drop them on people’s doorsteps. They would pay online, and there was no contact at all. We did a lot of orders last year like that, and I plan for this year to be similar.”

An increase in online shopping during 2020 allowed for the growth of The Corner Candleshop’s clientele base. The store has shipped products to other states and even other countries. Woods describes online shopping as a convenience for customers. 

“Sometimes, shopping from the comfort of your home is easier than getting in your car and driving there,” Woods said. “It allows for those that can’t get here during our store hours to enjoy our products.”

Sophomore Alaina Durone frequently shops online, mainly for clothing, makeup and jewelry. From the consumer standpoint, she views online shopping as a convenient and safe alternative to shopping in-person. However, she misses physically visiting stores. 

“I really do enjoy the experience of going and shopping with my friends, trying stuff on and having a bunch of bags,” Durone said. “Now, all of my friends just hang out, watch a movie and online shop together.” 

Freshman Sarah Schwaller also shops online for clothing and shoes, a habit she picked up in the last year. She describes online shopping as less overwhelming than shopping in large department stores,  but she also misses being able to try on different sizes of clothing in store. When she feels safe shopping in-person, she plans to utilize a mix of online and in-person shopping.

“I will of course get back into stores to try things on and have that available to me,” Schwaller said. “But, online shopping will still be a part of my life especially because there are some stores that simply aren’t available in Kansas City.”

Although COVID-19 has led to marketplaces becoming increasingly digitized, Pollard anticipates that customers will return to the store once able to. 

“I do not expect our online sales to ever be anywhere near what they’ve been this year because of the pandemic,” Pollard. “I think once things are safe, and everybody can come back in, I think that’s where they will be shopping — in our store more.”