Year after year, online shopping continues to be increasingly popular among American shoppers. Currently, about 7.7% of all retail sales transactions are completed online, up from 7.1% last year and expected to increase by more than 1% by 2018, according to This puts the United States at number eight in the world for total online sales.


While 7.1% of sales in 2015 may not seem significant, it accounted for $335 billion in transactions, according to a Forrester Research Inc. report titled “U.S. Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2015 to 2020.” In its report, Forrester predicts total sales will increase to $523 billion by 2020.


Online retail sales are dominated by giant corporations such as Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Apple Inc., which are the top three e-commerce retailers as of March 2016, according to However, small local businesses are trying to keep up with current online trends – some more successfully than others.

Billie Gentry, left, and Karen Quimby own two Twig & Willow stores in Long Beach: one at 4130 Atlantic Ave., which opened a year ago on November 6 – six years to the date after opening their first store on 4th Street in the Belmont Heights neighborhood of Long Beach. The stores feature curated clothing, jewelry and gifts. They also sell their items online at (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)


“I didn’t have any experience with an online store before I opened the boutique. My experience was in brick-and-mortar. I worked for Urban Outfitters Incorporated for 10 years,” Dayna Mancer, owner of Prism Boutique, said. “So we started very small, very simple. And we’ve just slowly built and improved the business – and just kind of learned as we’ve grown. Still learning and still growing.”


Despite her lack of online sales experience, Mancer has grown her online sales to match in-store sales in the three years since opening Prism in Belmont Heights. She explained that before launching the store’s website and online store, Prism had already built an Instagram following, which brought shoppers to the website when it went live.


With half her sales being online, Mancer said she offers 100% of her inventory both online and in the store. Having items available on both platforms allows Mancer to use her brick-and-mortar store as a stockroom and headquarters for her online business. She said that without such high online sales, she would most likely only have three employees, instead of the eight she currently employs.


“We cannot function without one or the other,” Mancer explained. “We’re not at the point where I could just close the boutique and be an online business. And with the boutique, we need the online, too. It allows our business to be much bigger than we would be if we were just an ordinary boutique.”

In order to sell nice clothing and jewelry, Mancer said websites need to have good photos to grab customers’ attention and draw them in. When she first started her website, she kept it simple and the photography was subpar, Mancer explained. However, nowadays Prism utilizes professional photographers and pays for lookbook and e-commerce photo shoots to ensure top-quality images.


Mancer said a trend she has noticed is a rise in customers who will come into her store looking for specific items they saw online. She explained that many modern shoppers enjoy browsing online stores, and if they find things they like, they will then take the time to drive to physical stores.


“Online is definitely where it’s headed, but I think there’s also a big interest in shopping small and supporting businesses in your local community,” Mancer said. “People want to be able to see that online, but they also want to be able to have that intimate boutique experience, too.”


Karen Quimby, co-owner of Twig & Willow, a boutique store with two Long Beach locations, admitted that she still has a lot to learn about running a company website. The biggest problem she said she has faced is knowing who to trust when seeking help building a website, since she puts most of her energy into keeping her two physical stores running.


Despite her problems getting her website running, Quimby said that her web business has been slowly increasing, particularly the “reserve” feature that allows customers to reserve items they see online so they can view them in the store at a later time. Quimby plans on placing a much larger focus on growing her online business beginning the first quarter of next year.

Quimby said she sends out a weekly e-blast to everyone on her e-mail list, and within minutes she gets online reservations and online orders. She added that when her Instagram and Facebook accounts have good posts, she sees a spike in store foot traffic with people actually saying they saw specific items on social media.


“I would love to see my online [business] do as much as my stores. That would be great. That would be an awesome supplement to our business,” Quimby said. “We need to make sure that we’re loading as much new product as possible. It’s always been kind of a challenge for us in that regard because our stores take a lot of manpower to run. Honestly, what it needs is daily attention, and that’s what’s been the hardest to give it.”


In order to give the online business the attention it needs to thrive, Quimby said she hopes to hire another full-time employee next year.


Heather Duncan, owner of Blue Windows in Belmont Shore, is also new to the online game. And though she understands the value of online business, she shares the same problem as Quimby in that she simply does not currently have enough employees to market and grow the online business. At this point, Blue Windows does not offer its full inventory online, which leads to much greater sales in store.


“I do think that my website could be more successful. It’s just a matter of capital. And I don’t have enough staff to be able to. I would really love to tap into that,” Duncan said. “It’s kind of an investment to be able to have someone who is constantly taking pictures, on top of the website and uploading. It’s a lot of work to be able to get that product online.”


Duncan explained that when she first wanted to promote her business online, she lost two of her managers and was forced to focus on the shop. However, she said that the shop opened in March of 1999 and she has owned it since 2004, so even without online sales her store is still doing good business. Duncan attributes this to her shop’s environment and exceptional customer service.


Mancer, like Duncan, believes that great customer service will keep small local businesses running despite online sales. “It’s just so easy for the customer to have both now. It’s like those big companies you buy online from – you’re not going to talk to a person, and there’s no connection made,” Mancer said. “That’s something about shopping even small online, you’re supporting small businesses versus the Amazons of the world. It’s important to keep our small businesses alive.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.