Panel: E-commerce is the future of Baton Rouge’s retail scene

    From left to right: Veneeth Iyengar, Christel Slaughter, Deanna Smith, Clark Taylor, Alan Elias. Submitted photo.

    E-commerce can create various opportunities for Baton Rouge’s small businesses, a group of panelists agreed today during a discussion entitled, “The Future of Retail—Local Roots, Global Reach.”

    Coming nearly three months after eBay announced it selected Baton Rouge for its Retail Revival and eBay@Home programs, today’s event marked an effort to promote the application process for Retail Revival, which opened today. (So far, 22 locals have been hired for full-time eBay@Home customer service jobs, leaving some 18 spots open.)

    Among potential benefits is a small business’ ability to go global: 94% of Louisiana small businesses using the eBay platform export their products, according to an eBay-created report, compared to just 0.8% of traditional small businesses doing so statewide. Moreover, Louisiana’s eBay-enabled small businesses serve an average of 13 foreign destination markets, as opposed to the four others in the state serve.

    “I can open my business literally anywhere in the world where I have access to a printer,” said Clark Taylor, who owns Tin-Ups, a Covington-based business that uses the eBay platform to sell custom-made tin signs to customers in more than 100 countries.

    Offering e-commerce as an option to Baton Rouge retailers would give local startups a simple way to scale up their companies—a challenge they regularly encounter, said Deanna Smith, executive director of Southern University’s Innovation Center.

    Many of the businesses coming to the center consider using e-commerce as a key element for scaling, said Smith, adding those companies, no matter how small, don’t operate in isolation and tend to employ East Baton Rouge Parish residents.

    Between LSU, Southern and BRCC, Baton Rouge has a dense student population who could not only serve as an ideal test market for local retailers’ online products, but also as a talent pool for startup companies, said Veneeth Iyengar, assistant chief administrative officer for the city-parish.

    In today’s disruptive retail landscape, becoming an internet-proof business is practically essential, said Christel Slaughter, CEO of SSA Consultants, removing common challenges startups face, such as the cost of opening a brick-and-mortar establishment and lacking a proof of concept.

    “We need to ask: ‘What’s impossible to do in your business today that, if it becomes possible, would fundamentally change your business?’” Slaughter said. “We’ve told some companies, ‘You have to prove your concept online, get something under your belt, and realize if it’s worth the space or not.’”

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