How online marketplaces are providing support to small business partners

Larger marketplaces and platforms are doing what they can to keep their small business partners afloat throughout the crisis.

There’s been a wave of marketplaces and platforms doing what they can for their smaller partners, either via assistance in logistics and fulfillment or through marketing. For those marketplaces, including Farfetch and Bulletin, it’s not just the right thing to do morally, but it’s also vital to keeping their own business business afloat.

“We’ve been trying to think creatively of how we can help our community,” said Alana Branston, CEO and co-founder of wholesale marketplace Bulletin. “The loss of the brick-and-mortar channel hit them really hard, and they can’t keep up with massive players like Amazon.”

Bulletin is a marketplace that connects small brands and small retailers, acting as an alternative to trade shows. Brands put their designs on Bulletin’s marketplace and retailers can buy them at wholesale prices. while Bulletin takes a cut of each sale.

“For retailers, just  traffic to their online stores is the [roadblock],” said Ali Kriegsman, co-founder of Bulletin. “Some of them have invested in e-commerce and Instagram, but for so many of them, brick-and-mortar is their main thing. It’s hitting a vulnerability that already existed but is now much harder to overcome.”

To offer support, Branston and Kriegsman have been DMing the small business owners on Instagram to offer advice and help, and have been sharing updates and best practices for dealing with coronavirus in a private Slack channel. Recent posts have broken down the newly passed stimulus bill and recommended ways to cut costs and offload inventory. They’ve also launched an awareness campaign on Instagram called Support the Stores, where for every share of the hashtag #supportthestores, Bulletin will donate $1 to the Opportunity Fund’s Small Business Relief Fund.

“We’ve seen a lot of generosity; Bulletin, other small businesses and vendors have been lifesavers,” said Lizzy Hynes, owner of lifestyle retailer Slate, whose three stores have all closed down. She said Bulletin has been generous with time and resources, but the sense of support and morale boosting the company provides have been the most helpful.

Sunil Gowda, CEO of Garmentory, an online marketplace of indie fashion boutiques, said that, while a few of the boutiques the company works with do business in the millions-per-year, many of them bring in about $400,000 a year. When factoring in costs of payroll and inventory, they’re only operating at 1% or 2% margins, he said. For these small businesses, even a short-term loss of revenue is devastating.

Garmentory basically acts as the de facto e-commerce site for it’s hundreds of boutique partners, many of whom have limited digital capabilities. Garmentory sells their product online and takes a small cut of each sale.

“The majority of our boutiques do less than 1% of their sales on their own web sites, so they need us,” Gowda said. “Our mission has always been to help them compete with big department stores and Amazon by letting them diversify their customer base in a way they can’t do on their own. And now, more than ever, that’s become critical for them.”

Gowda said, this week, the company has prioritized flash sales so the companies can offload inventory more easily and has centered smaller businesses in a series of email newsletters. Garmentory is currently setting up an online forum on its website, which only its small-business partners have access to, so they can ask questions and make requests about what services and assistance they need most.

Garmentory had already shipped and fulfilled orders for its partners. Lately, in addition, it’s been advising them on some of the thornier aspects of dealing with pandemic, from negotiating rent with landlords to ironing out the details of the small business loans coming as part of the government stimulus bill.

“We’re taking this very seriously on our end, as well,” said Karina Tselnik, customer experience manager at Garmentory. “Our community is important to us, so we want to do whatever we can to help them.”

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