Amazon keeps Carol’s Bridal busy during pandemic

With a boom of ordering items online during the pandemic, especially for the holidays, local business Carol’s Bridal and Gift Boutique is operating well as a third-party seller on Amazon, fulfilling orders all over the country.

The business doesn’t sell items like prom or wedding dresses on Amazon  — those are sold only in-store and on the business’ own website — but about 2,800 other items are listed on Amazon — things like china pieces, crystal, candles and Fontanini, Italian nativity-scene figurines that are also carried in the shop.

Usually the busiest time for the business on Amazon is during November, December, and January, but co-owner and the business’ namesake Carol Senn said during the pandemic, Amazon sales have been “amazing.” Fontanini has been doing well in particular.

“This year it’s been all year because of COVID,” she said. “They can’t get out and shop. They’re home.”

Another thing to note is that January is a big time for people to use gift cards for online orders, even pre-pandemic. David Senn, Carol’s husband and co-owner, said they learned that the hard way. One year they went on vacation after Christmas and were in St. Augustine when Carol was looking at her phone, watching all the Amazon orders pouring in. They missed some orders that year, so they’ve learned not to take vacations in January. Carol said she expects possibly even more January orders this year than usual.

“I expect that this year because so many people will give gift cards this year because it’s easy to mail if you’re not going to go see your family,” she said.

Carol’s Bridal has been putting listings on Amazon for about five years now in the business’ 37 years of operation. David puts most of the listings up and edits the descriptions of items, which makes them more competitive with other third-party sellers who might be selling the same items on Amazon, and he said Carol’s Bridal puts together their own boxes, bubble wrap and tissue paper. It’s a careful process, as everything must be priced, have a barcode, have a packing slip and be wrapped so it won’t break. He usually comes into the shop every morning and edits.

“There’s a tremendous amount of time editing, inputting the data,” David said.

Carol said in the last 90 days, the business has shipped out about 425 packages, and “that is a lot of merchandise.” About 45 orders have been sent out each of the last two Mondays. Business can go until 8 or 8:30 p.m., fulfilling orders.

“We’re not complaining, believe me,” Carol said.

But Amazon does have its downsides, she said. Amazon takes a good chunk of commission — it depends on the item, but on average Amazon takes 20%, she said. Then, Amazon keeps the money businesses have earned for about three weeks.

“They make a lot of money on the interest of the third-party sellers’ money,” Carol said.

And the market is highly competitive with other third-party sellers, and businesses get smarter the longer they do business on the site. Customers look at business’ ratings on shipping and packing, and they might go with a higher-priced item because there are better ratings, comments or item descriptions. David said Carol’s Bridal also does a lot of price comparing with other third-party sellers. Part of price-setting also involves trying to make up for the money Amazon takes and other factors, such as supply and demand.

When it comes to in-store business, a lot of foot traffic has been lost due to the pandemic. The business does curbside orders and takes pictures of items to show customers. Going into the shop to look for dresses is by appointment only, and one bride is permitted into the shop at a time, who can only bring in three people with her at a time. Normally, the shop is packed on the Saturdays around prom, but with proms canceled, that wasn’t the case this year.

Carol said usually, she doesn’t like when people choose to shop online instead of supporting their local businesses, but this year, it’s been beneficial since there haven’t been proms and sales for weddings are still doing well but have gone down.

“If you’re going to compete and stay in business for all those people who still want to shop locally, you’ve got to have more markets,” Carol said, like Amazon.

She said evolving and adapting is important for local business’ survival, as most small businesses don’t make it past five years.

When it comes to her own business, she got her start at the Hub department store, where she learned a lot from the owner. She then opened a card shop, then bought the bridal shop. After she and David married, he started helping in the shop when her mother no longer could. He’s been involved with the business for 30 years and is also a real estate agent. Now, it’s a joint decision to handpick each dress, and the couple works together every day. In addition to the shop, Carol is also executive director at the McDowell House Museum — she was a history major at Centre College — and co-founded the Heart of Danville Main Street program.

The shop’s location on Main Street is important to both of them, she said, and the shop is “definitely a joint venture.”