THERE IS A SAYING THAT "in the rhythm of the needles there is music for the soul"; that is, knitting keeps you from unravelling. But is there still a place in a wired world for the local yarn shop, long the source of needles and yarn, and traditionally a gathering place for knitters? Will the restructuring of the retail segment that brought about the demise of many local bookstores take the local yarn shop as well? This case study examines how a small number of yarn stores on Vancouver Island have been adapting to changing consumer buying behaviour and advances in digital technology. The results have meaning not only for the future of retailing but also for the future of the downtown cores of the communities in which such stores were and are located.
Traditional retailing in North America is under siege due to the rise of online shopping. In 2015, online sales on Black Friday, a significant shopping event in both Canada and the United States, exceeded in-person sales in the United States for the first time (Nassauer 2015). As with other commodities available for purchase over the internet, yarn purchases have been migrating away from the local yarn store. In 2010, a Knitter's Review (Parkes 2000-15) online poll of 2,304 knitters revealed that 16.2 percent of respondents bought the majority of their yarn online. (1) When the poll was repeated in 2014, 51.9 percent of the 1,243 knitters who responded bought their yarn online. Local yarn stores provide many services. In addition to supplying yarn, they offer patrons customer service (such as advice about how much yarn to buy or what type of yarn would be most suitable for a particular pattern) and technical assistance (e.g., about how to read a pattern instruction or how to fix a mistake). The internet is also more than a source of supply: web-savvy knitters can subscribe to one or more newsletters, follow the blogs of their favourite knitwear designers, join a knit-along, listen to a podcast, watch a video, or chat with other knitters. Ravelry, the largest online community of knitters in the world with over 4 million registered users, allows members to share patterns, participate in discussion forums, and seek advice (ravelry.com n.d.).
Research reveals that consumers want what the internet can offer extended product information, customer reviews, two-way dialogue, and the convenience of anytime/anywhere access--as well as the personal service, opportunities to handle the product, and convenient returns offered by a physical store (Rigby 2011). To compete with internet retailers, most large retailers have changed their focus from selling to "engaging and empowering customers, with the ultimate goal of creating a rewarding customer experience" (Sorescu et al. 2011, S3), which they attempt to achieve by adopting a mixed retailing model that leverages the advantages of both a physical and a virtual presence (Grewal, Iyer, and Levy 2004).
However, most small- to medium-sized retailers have been slow to incorporate the internet into their business models (Poon and Swatman 1999) despite...