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Science of shopping helps small businesses take on retail giants

Small businesses are using new tactics to take on big box stores and major online retailers ahead of the busy holiday season.

There are fewer than 90 shopping days until Christmas, and while that may make some of us cringe, it is the reality small town retailers are preparing for right now.

In the never-ending battle against the big box and online stores, Main Street businesses are taking on new tactics to get people to shop locally.

"Small town charm is the number one thing they have going for them," said Seanette Corkill. "Corporate America realizes that, but they don't. We're here to remind them of that."

Corkill and Anne Marie Luthro run Frontdoor Back. The store design and visual merchandising consultancy breaks down the science of shopping for small business owners.

Corkill and Luthro advise with lighting, flow, and product placement, but they say getting people inside your store is about much more.

"It is not just about the product that you're selling. It's about the experience people are going to have buying that product and the piece of you they're going to take back," said Corkill. "That piece of you is going to be a memory. What do you want that memory to be?"

As the two inspect the fashionable racks and displays at C'est La Vie gifts in Edmonds, they spy a collection of winter coats being gathered for local refugees.

"This is practicing what you preach as a Main Street retailer," said Corkill. "This is what sets you apart."

The partners say as the holidays approach, small businesses must offer things you can't get on Amazon, like free assembly, one-on-one consultations, or connections to the community through charitable giving.

"You want people to know you for something. Is it something they smell, something they feel? That translates to an experience," said Corkill.

C'est La Vie offers little extras like occasional wine tastings with Arista Wine Cellars located right next door.

Owner Roger Clayton says the idea is for shoppers to experience two businesses at once.

"If we can we can bring in a couple, a husband and wife team, and she buys something over there, and he buys something over here -- or vice versa -- we all win."

Corkill and Luthro say many significant retailers actively try to copy the nuances of shops like those in Edmonds. They advise small retailers to embrace their size and position in the market.

"You can't compete with Amazon," said Luthro. "You don't need to. People come to Main Street because they want something special. We have to give it to them."

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