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Business & Economics

SD businesses find success in expanding online shopping, social media during pandemic

Debra Jensen, co-owner of Black Hills Bagels, takes an order at the Rapid City restaurant.
Arielle Zionts
/
SDPB
Debra Jensen, co-owner of Black Hills Bagels, takes an order at the Rapid City restaurant.

While some local South Dakota businesses have struggled during the pandemic, others have seen success by expanding e-commerce, online messaging, and social media services.

Every week, quilters from around the world can participate in Fabric Friday, a virtual shopping event hosted by Quilter's Corner in the small town of Faulkton.

Fabric Friday is like QVC but sillier, only focused on fabric-related products, is on Facebook instead of your TV.

Staff from Quilter's Corner aren't afraid to get festive and a little weird during Fabric Friday. They've dressed up in ugly Christmas sweaters, unicorn costumes, Bob Ross wigs, and construction hats while draped in yellow caution tape as they enthusiastically showcase items for sale.

"My manager and my daughter-in-law get on and they are very entertaining, they've got a following of people that love to watch them," said owner Lori Holt. "They will go ahead and they will demonstrate new products and talk about new things in the shop and that in itself creates a lot of sales for us."

Viewers post which items they want in the comments section and the CommentSold software then directs them to an online shopping cart.

Quilter's Corner also created an app, added an online chatting feature to its website, and began participating in online "hop shops."

The store participates in the Heart of South Dakota Shop Hop with other quilt shops in the eastern part of the state.

Participants receive a "passport" and earn "stamps" by shopping at each store. They're then entered into a raffle to earn a prize, like a sewing machine.

During the pandemic, Quilter's Corner began joining online shop hops with stores across the country since some customers wouldn't feel comfortable visiting in person.

"And it was really a great experience because we developed a following of customers now from all parts of the country and we probably never would have ventured into that part of the business if it hadn't been for the pandemic," Holt said.

From left: Lori Holt, owner of Quilter's Corner in Faulkton, poses with co-workers Lora and Robin before a Christmas-themed Facebook live video.
Quilter's Corner
From left: Lori Holt, owner of Quilter's Corner in Faulkton, poses with co-workers Lora and Robin before a Christmas-themed Facebook live video.

Montgomery’s is a furniture store in Sioux Falls, Watertown, Aberdeen, and Madison known for its interior design services.

During the pandemic, Montgomery's added a "what's your design style quiz" and a live chat to its website where customers can ask staff for design advice or inquire into specific products.

Owner Eric Sinclair said he's considering hiring more workers to staff the live chat after store hours. He's already added about 60 positions during the pandemic due to increased demand that he links to people spending more time inside.

"Maybe after the first few months of the pandemic, once everybody knew the world wasn't coming to an end then they just started spending money no their home and it's not stopped. It's been just absolutely a crazy pace," Sinclair said.

Eric Sinclair is president of Montgomery’s, a furniture and interior design store in Sioux Falls, Watertown, Aberdeen and Madison.
Eric Sinclair is president of Montgomery’s, a furniture and interior design store in Sioux Falls, Watertown, Aberdeen and Madison.

Montgomery's has also taken advantage of social media.

"We would have full-on sales where we would have merchandise ready, we would present the merchandise through Facebook and Instagram and take phone calls and sell it right off of there," Sinclair said.

He said Montgomery's saw its online orders triple and that's significant since most people still prefer to buy furniture in-person rather than over the internet.

Sinclair has also noticed that people will browse products online, select items for checkout, and then bring a printed version of their shopping cart into the store to purchase the items in person.

Black Hills Bagels in Rapid City created a website and phone app in 2018 where people can order bagels and coffee. Customers can pick up their order or have it delivered.

Co-owner Debra Jensen said the bagel store added these ordering options after noticing the trend toward E-commerce. That gave Black Hills Bagel a leg up when the pandemic began in early 2020.

"Oh we definitely see more people using it in the pandemic," Jensen said. And then what they discover is that they like it and so I don't think that this is going to be a trend that's going to go away."

Debra Jensen, co-owner of Black Hills Bagels, chats with customers at the Rapid City restaurant.
Arielle Zionts
/
SDPB
Debra Jensen, co-owner of Black Hills Bagels, chats with customers at the Rapid City restaurant.

Jensen said customers like that they save time through online ordering.

But she said there's one downside when business shifts toward social media and online sales: A decrease in forming close relationships with customers.

Before online ordering, Black Hills Bagels knew all of its clients' names and their signature orders. Jensen said it now takes longer to form this relationship when customers are only coming in to pick up food — not order it.

"I always think of ourselves sort of like Cheers. People want to go where you know their name and that is really South Dakota anyways," Jensen said. "I don't want to lose that. I don't want to lose it here and I don't want to lose it for South Dakota."