Little Boxes showcases Portland specialty stores

Multnomah County

Little Boxes runs through Sunday in the Portland area

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Just as the day after Thanksgiving has come to be known as Black Friday, a growing retail trend promotes small, local businesses for the entire Thanksgiving weekend.

In Portland, Little Boxes is the city-wide shopping event that runs Friday through Sunday, including Small Business Saturday. The annual effort takes shoppers through Portland’s neighborhoods to showcase the specialty retailers in the Rose City.

This year, about 161 retailers scattered throughout the city are part of the Little Boxes effort. The retailers are in the Alberta, Beaumont, Beaverton/Tigard, Central Eastside, Division/Clinton, Downtown/West End, East Burnside, Foster/Powell, Goose Hollow/Stadium, Hawthorne Belmont, Mississippi/Williams, Montavilla/East Tabor, Multnomah Village, NE Broadway, Northwest, Old Town, Pearl District, Portland International District, Sellwood and St. Johns neighborhoods.

People shopping inside Portland Gear, November 29, 2019 (KOIN)

On SE Hawthorne, a number of small businesses are taking part, including the Red Light Clothing Exchange. They’ve been at this spot for 20 years and the best way they’ve found to bring in customers is through word of mouth.

Businesses like Red Light Clothing Exchange and Portland Gear said customers being able to see and touch their products is authentic to their brand — and that keeps the customers coming.

Little Boxes is supported by the non-profit Built Oregon and sponsorship from Travel Portland.

The changing nature of shopping

Jennifer Nolfi, the PSU Executive Director of the Center for Retail Leadership, told KOIN 6 News Amazon has forced retailers to rethink their strategies, but people still crave the experience of going into a store.

“The real opportunity for brands is to look at the consumer as the channel and understand that the consumer wants a seamless experience and it’s across all different platforms. They want to go into brick-and-mortar and explore and discover product and interact with it,” Nolfi said. “They want to go online and buy and have efficient ways to interact with brands.”

Jennifer Nolfi, the PSU Executive Director of the Center for Retail Leadership, November 29, 2019 (KOIN)

But, she said, those who run brick-and-mortar stores have thought about ways to mimic the Amazon experience, at least a bit.

“I think a lot of the challenge is how are they getting their product to their consumers,” she said. “Consumers – because of Amazon – expect it yesterday, they want it the same day.”

That works for big retailers. But smaller businesses have different challenges.

“Smaller brick-and-mortar have more challenges with that fulfillment in a short period of time and it costs them money,” she said. So stores can add an online component and encourage customers to come in and pick it up. “When they come into the store they are more likely to increase their purchases by 25%, one survey shows.”

That in-person experience cuts down on returns and builds loyalty, she said.

Marcus Harvey, the owner of Portland Gear, November 29, 2019 (KOIN)

“We love having the stores and letting people come in,” said Portland Gear owner Marcus Harvey. “Yes, traffic is less than previous years because online is getting bigger and bigger but if we can do with the people that we get, that’s kind of our goal.”

Red Light Clothing Exchange Assistant Manager Alexis Murine said there are good deals at Big Box stores, “but here you can get something that can be an heirloom or a fun gag gift.”

Projections for Black Friday 2019 sales are up this year, and Nolfi said more than half will be online sales. But those same projections show “people 18-to-24 are still going to stores and wanting that social shopping experience.”

“Online,” she said, “you can still have those interactions in terms of commenting, reviews and everything but more and more, people still want that social experience and element of discovery when they go into a brick-and-mortar.”

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