The Rise of Maui’s Online Marketplace

June 10, 2016, 5:03 PM HST · Updated June 10, 5:08 PM
Gaylord Paul Garcia: A Special to Maui Now · 0 Comments
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Maui's Online Marketplace. Maui Now graphic.

Maui’s Online Marketplace. Maui Now graphic.

On May 2016, Kent Untermann, an entrepreneur who turned a swap meet business to a $15 million dollar business, spoke at the Third Annual Maui Small Business Week. According to Untermann, the two key drivers of current business change are technology and demographics.

Untermann said that present-day consumers have an “omnichannel expectation” where a need for a consistent online and physical store experience is expected.

A sign of the continued intersection between commerce and technology is shown by the steady increase of online shopping, where 68 percent of US consumers shopped online at least once per month, according to the Walker Sands 2015 Future of Retail Study.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, however, are experiencing the negative effects of online shopping. In March 2016, Sports Authority, a sporting goods store chain that has a retail location on Maui filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  News sources contributed their demise in part to the growing popularity of online retail.

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On the contrary, some customers still prefer purchasing goods and services from physical stores and want to experience the personal touch of customer service. Lisa Burke, an owner of a mom-and-pop window covering shop on Maui, said many of their customers choose them because of the personal service and knowledge they offer.

“They are more comfortable with that. They know we’ve been here for years, that we are accessible and have a proven track record,” Burke commented.

Various local retail stores, however, have adapted to the fast paced change of business, integrating omnichannel retail distribution methods for their products. Showing that it is not about deciding between brick-and-mortar stores or online stores, but rather a balance between the two.

In 2013, with more than 26 years of retail experience, Tapani Vuori returned as the general manager of the Maui Ocean Center and started the Hawaiian Aquarium’s e-commerce operations.

Maui Soap Company owner, Conor Neary said that an online presence helps a company’s authenticity, trustworthiness, and showcase a full catalog with little cost.

“A website is a low cost and easy to operate store where customers can find us and where we can ask full retail price for our products,” Neary said. “Websites also authenticate a business. A nice looking website tells customers that you are professional and trustworthy.”

The increasing demand for locally made Maui products outside of Hawaiʻi can be attributed to the yearly percentage increase in visitor arrivals on Maui. A recent report by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism shows that visitor arrivals by air increased 2% and visitor days increased 3.2% for the 2016 first quarter.

“Having an online shop allows our customers to purchase from us once they are back on the mainland,” Neary added.

Queen Bee Productions Maui founder, Kether Keyser said that their skincare company sells locally, interisland, nationally, and worldwide through their online store. The company’s products can also be purchased throughout Maui at various retail stores, from the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa to the Down to Earth organic retail store in Kahului.

“People deserve quality, handmade, local products. Buying local puts money back into our own community and helps other small businesses succeed. Maui products are unique because of our geographic location providing both benefits and challenges. But they are unique to the place we are grateful to call home,” Keyser concluded.

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