Small Business E-commerce Models in Times of COVID-19

COVID-19 outbreaks and stay-at-home orders have pushed many small and local businesses to explore e-commerce as a way to sell their products. Earlier this week we explored different e-commerce platforms, ranging from low-barrier to website construction, but many small businesses are looking to leverage new or existing partnerships to sell online. Here are some of the partnership models that we have seen emerge or expand during the first half of the year.

In some communities existing coalitions are assisting small businesses in their switch to online marketplaces. An example of this is the Raton Cash Mob, in Raton, New Mexico. The Raton Mainstreet Program and Raton Economic Development, with the help of local volunteers, are organizing twice weekly cash mobs on Facebook live, each focused on one local business. The cash mobs follow the structure of other televised shopping channels or shows, where each store prepares a curated list of items for sale that are then shown and explained during the Facebook live event. Raton’s Cash Mobs have raised more than $15,000 for local merchants and Jessica Barfield, Raton’s Economic Development director, knows it is helping to keep their local businesses afloat. Raton’s Cash Mob has received regional media attention and it’s easy to replicate format is allowing them to teach other communities how to implement their own cash mobs. 

Another existing coalition that has successfully made the switch to online selling is the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market in Portland, Oregon. In mid March, the farmers’ market had closed due to COVID, and many of its vendors set up their own online portals to be able to keep selling. Within a couple of weeks the farmers’ market created an online marketplace for all their vendors and transformed the physical market to allow for drive-thru pick ups. Many other farmers’ markets have used this format or similar formats to keep their markets running smoothly during COVID-19.

There are also new partnerships emerging during the pandemic, as happened on a commercial street in Washington, DC. When the stay-at-home order was announced, restaurants could still offer take-out, while retail shops were no longer able to operate from their storefronts. Three shops, a bookstore and game store and a cooking supply store, and one restaurant decided to work together and transformed the restaurant into a local delivery and pick-up point. While the three stores had different levels of e-commerce participation prior to the pandemic, the cooperation with the restaurant allowed them to build-out their online presence while still being able to sell their products to the local community. Several of these shops have been able to shift to more online shopping. 

While focused on small and local businesses, the three above mentioned cases demonstrate the importance of local partnerships, either formal or informal, in helping small businesses to shift to online selling.


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