To say it’s been a roller-coaster few years for our retailers would be an understatement. With 2020 in the rearview mirror, many weathered the pandemic storm only to come out with a record-breaking 2021—and then came 2022. Given the year’s trifecta of challenges—supply chain issues, price increases, and a possible impending recession—we checked in to hear how shops are faring, how they processed the past few years, how business is today, and how it all informs the future.
Remember holiday season 2021? “It was gangbusters,” says Julia Moss, owner of her namesake home décor and gift boutique, Julia Moss Designs, in Wayzata. Like many, Moss reported record-breaking numbers and a noticeably strong desire among shoppers to keep dollars local. One year later? While most met—or exceeded—their goals, it wasn’t quite as successful. “Everybody felt it but couldn’t put their finger on it,” says Moss. “It didn’t seem there was as much pressure put on consumers to shop locally as the year prior.”
Of course, severe winter weather can curb an in-store shopping craving, and for some, mid-December fell flat due to harsh conditions and snowfalls. But as soon as the temps rose, so did sales. For shopping centers Galleria and Mall of America, the week after Christmas is proving even more successful each year. “We saw traffic numbers on par with Black Friday,” says Rachel Oelke, marketing director for Galleria.
Speaking of weather, Moss also says her regular customers (many of them posh Lake Minnetonka dwellers) are taking advantage of flexible work-from-anywhere opportunities and hunkering down in warm-weather destinations more than normal. At Linden Hills boutique Serge and Jane, owner Jamie Carl spends most of the latter half of winter helping clients stock suitcases with resort wear for tropical getaways.
With rumblings of a recession, some business owners see buyers experiencing cold feet. “I would say that shoppers are generally more careful and hesitant to spend for multiple reasons—threat of recession, inflation, fatigue, et cetera,” says Erin Parrish Duininck, owner of Excelsior boutique Golden Rule.
But what about those who are buying? The verdict is, when it comes to luxury goods: fewer transactions and bigger bucks; specialty pieces remain king. “I think we’ll continue seeing people seek out quality over quantity when making purchases—timeless products that will last,” says Galleria’s Oelke.
At MartinPatrick3, men and women are gravitating toward one-of-a-kind luxury items (think: designer coats and dresses and statement-making baubles from The Loupe), and at both Serge and Jane and Bill Damberg’s Excelsior boutique Brightwater, shoppers can’t get enough color and pattern. “Our customer likes that we don’t buy deep in quantity for each piece in our fashion categories,” says MartinPatrick3’s CEO Dana Swindler. “They want to walk around town in something truly unique.” On the home front, Moss’s design fanatics are opting to shop less frequently but splurge on one big statement maker—Lily Juliet caviar dishes, Baccarat crystal, Missoni Home throws.
“I think we’ll continue seeing people seek out quality over quantity when making purchases—timeless products that will last.”
It’s no secret that many consumers grew dependent on online experience and the ease and convenience of delivery, price matching, flexible return policies, and promotion chasing—and some shops are bearing the brunt. “Shoppers have taken some of those online practices as a rule and are neglecting the differences of brick-and-mortar,” says Carl of Serge and Jane, who’s connected with other local retailers, makers, and artists on the topic. “Sadly, a small minority are taking it too far by being disrespectful or rude to staff when they are upholding policies, asking to negotiate on prices, et cetera,” says Carl.
For some, like Carl, it feels as though certain customers are taking advantage of client services and using shops as a showrooming tool. “It’s not enough to shop small. Clients also need to support small if they want to keep small, local businesses in their communities. As a rule, if people discover something in a store, try it or multiple sizes on, or work with a salesperson, it would be the right thing to do to purchase it from that store.”
Luckily for the majority, the appetite for an in-store experience and the opportunity to engage with products and curators in our communities is alive and well. In 2020, a handful of brick-and-mortars scrambled to build e-commerce capabilities to serve shoppers from a distance, but now the pendulum has swung. “We weathered the storm and held true to our brick-and-mortar roots and couldn’t be happier, and business is booming,” says MartinPatrick3’s Swindler. At Patina’s ever-growing and ever-evolving chain of boutiques, in-store sales crush online transactions. Brightwater’s Damberg even shuttered his online purchasing presence at the end of 2022. “People want to see, touch, and learn about products firsthand,” says Damberg. “That’s what I love about retail!”