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Cyber Monday could help or hurt Columbia businesses

Monday, November 26, 2012 | 7:20 p.m. CST; updated 10:17 p.m. CST, Monday, November 26, 2012

COLUMBIA — Cyber Monday is expected to be the biggest online shopping day of 2012, but some fear the convenience of online deals may come with unintended costs.

Organizations such as the Missouri Retailers Association are encouraging Columbia residents to be smart about their online shopping this year.

"Locally, we are losing out quite a bit," David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, said. "That’s why I try to tell people, if they're shopping online, to shop on local merchants' websites if they have a cyber store."

This year's Cyber Monday is expected to bring in 20 percent more in sales than last year's, according to a study by comScore. But the growing popularity of online shopping is a direct threat to Boone County revenue, as more than 60 percent of the county's operating revenue comes from locally enacted sales tax levies, June Pitchford, Boone County auditor, said in her report on the 2013 Boone County Proposed Budget.

"In the short-term, the County is especially vulnerable to the inherent volatility of this revenue source," she said in the report. "Of greater concern, however, is the long-term detrimental effect of the on-going erosion of this tax base through remote retail sales (including internet sales)."

Determining the ramifications of one-day sales like these is difficult, Laura Peveler, Columbia Budget Officer, said.

"When we get information on sales tax it’s by business or by month, so it's hard to quantify the effect," she said. "But if people don’t pay sales tax, that hurts our local sales tax revenue."

Carrie Gartner, executive director of the Downtown Community Improvement District Board, also said it is hard to say how much local businesses are affected by Cyber Monday, but physically going to stores is generally better for the local economy.

"We have no way to track (Cyber Monday's effects), but it makes sense that if someone’s shopping online from some big box retailer they aren’t supporting local businesses," she said. "Saturday was a big day for local business — we see that people in Columbia still like local businesses, so that's a positive outlook."

Several Columbia businesses had Cyber Monday deals, including SoccerPro, Make Scents and Element Yoga and Health Studio. SoccerPro Director Tony Marrero said Cyber Monday is an important day for businesses like his, which does more than 99 percent of its sales online.

"We saw a big bump last year on Cyber Monday, and we are looking good this year," Marrero said. "We've seen a fantastic start to the holiday season as consumers have increased their comfort level for shopping online."

Some local artists also took advantage of the online shopping day through Etsy.com, a website where individual artists can sell handmade goods.

Columbia-based artist Mo Tipton offered 25 percent off of all items in her Etsy shop, The Mouse Market, which sells handmade dollhouse food, food jewelry, and miniature food-making tutorials and supplies.

"I ran a pre-Cyber Monday sale only for my mailing list yesterday, and I sold roughly one-third of my total inventory in less than eight hours," she said. "Today sales have been very good, much better than an average Monday, although it's hard to tell just how good they will be until the sale wraps up tonight."

She said Etsy is a good way to get the best of both worlds when doing holiday shopping.

"For artists who don't sell their work through local shops, Etsy is a great way for shoppers to find them," she said. "I think searching for Cyber Monday deals on Etsy, specifically offered by artists within your community, is a great way to take advantage of great offers while keeping your purchasing local and supporting handmade."

Columbia Missourian reporter Kelly Cohen contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.


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