What the internet hath taketh away, the internet can also giveth to local retailers.

Mom-and-pop stores have certainly seen faraway businesses pull away some local customers and their cash. But that dynamic can just as easily be flipped: those same local businesses now have the ability to harness faraway customers and bring in their money.

Ken Szymusiak (center)

Ken Szymusiak (center)

Promoting the latter is the goal behind eBay’s Retail Revival program, which was the subject of a panel discussion titled “The Future of Retail: Local Roots, Global Reach” recently hosted by the City of Lansing, MI and featuring panelists from the Eli Broad College of Business, eBay and the local small business community.

“I think it’s going to empower a lot of local businesses to really understand they have the power of eBay,” said Ken Szymusiak, managing director of the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Broad College. “I think most people still think it’s an auction site, but the reality is it’s become a marketplace.”

Lansing was chosen by eBay as its second “Retail Revival City” in the United States, where the ecommerce giant is working with local small business owners to think and compete globally. Involved in the Greater Lansing area are 49 businesses, which have made 13,000 sales to all 50 states and to 88 countries through the program, according to Lansing Mayor Andy Schor.

“We really empower micro and small businesses and entrepreneurs to sell globally, to kind of break free from their local markets,” said Alan Elias, a senior manager with eBay’s government relations team.  “What we’re doing with Retail Revival is we’re looking at brick-and-mortar stores without an online presence and we’re helping them to get online and establish that … and really teach them how to sell globally.”

Elias said 61 percent of Michigan-based small business sellers on eBay have customers on at least four different continents. “You can stay where you are and your dollars come back,” he said.

“This is revolutionary,” Elias said. “If you were a brick-and-mortar store in 1990, your customers were coming into your store and that was really it” because of the cost of establishing retail locations and marketing at distance. “Because of platforms like eBay, that cost has reduced so much that now anyone can get onto eBay … and suddenly they have an international customer base.”

Participating businesses in the Greater Lansing area have seen their share of international sales grow to 9 percent and vendors already on eBay have averaged 20 percent sales growth since joining the project, according to Schor.

“Small business owners know what it’s like to put in a day’s work and this partnership with eBay is putting more money in their pockets and in the community,” he said.

Said Szymusiak: “I think it’s really great for the city to have this type of partnership. It’s just going to help boost local retailers and provide new tools.”

That’s important because in today’s retail climate, retail or online is a bit of a false choice; both are needed depending on audience and circumstance. Szymusiak cited online retail giant Amazon’s rollout of physical stores as of late as a sign of that.

“They’re actually opening brick-and-mortar locations,” he said. “I don’t think anyone saw that coming.”