This holiday season, it is more important than ever to shop smart, safely and small. Living and working in our own neighborhoods, many people have come to understand the importance of supporting your community, whether that be through ordering take-out from a pizza shop, purchasing handmade gifts from a local artisan or choosing to browse Etsy instead of Amazon for holiday gift shopping.
We spoke to Wayne Williams, assistant professor of accounting at the Fox School and an expert in startup small businesses and entrepreneurship, to discuss the importance of supporting small businesses, advice on how to shop small and what business owners can do to spread the word about their products.
Why is supporting local businesses so important, especially in 2020?
Small Business Saturday was launched in 2011 through a public-private partnership between the Small Business Administration and American Express. It was designed to promote and redirect that in-store traffic that went to big box stores on Black Friday and the Internet traffic that went towards online shopping on Cyber Monday to small businesses.
Small Business Saturday has always been vital for retailers because they purchase extra inventory during the holidays and also invest in decorating the store and hiring seasonal workers. That final quarter of the year, in some instances, creates more than 50% of the annual sales for small businesses. So it’s critical.
But with the pandemic raging and government-mandated social distancing guidelines in place, some folks are choosing to stay home. There’s also an uneven economic impact of the pandemic on consumers. So this year, small businesses face even greater obstacles.
What advice would you give to someone who is used to buying gifts on Amazon that wants to try shopping small or locally?
According to Amazon’s own small business report, which they released in September of this year to address this concern, more than two million of the independent partners that you find on Amazon are actually small business owners. That report states that Amazon has created over a million jobs for people who list their businesses using Amazon, and an additional 95,000 jobs delivering online purchases. So even though we think of Amazon as a big company, they have a small business network that customers can use to find and support small or local businesses depending on their region.
Visit Philly has a website that lists small businesses by neighborhoods. The site encourages shoppers to look for their favorite mobile business online, to either visit their website or to shop in-person at neighborhood commercial corridors. The city of Philadelphia has the added benefit of providing the appropriate social distancing guidelines so that you can have a safe shopping experience in spite of the pandemic.
So some great ideas are that you can vote with your wallet by making a deliberate effort to buy small. To help people understand how important this is: By some estimates, for every dollar that’s spent in a local business, 67 cents of that dollar remains in circulation within that local community. That means you’re helping your neighbor, you’re maintaining your neighborhood and you’re investing in our community. I consider it to be the trifecta. Shopping small helps you support your community and feel good about the experience.
What tips would you give to small businesses trying to get the word out on their products/services?
What I know is: Everyone loves a great find. So while we’re being encouraged to stay home, we’re online a lot. Instead of going in person and discovering those great finds, here’s a wonderful opportunity for us to use the internet right now in a positive way, by finding that great thing online.
Small businesses should be using social media channels to share and promote their products, and to encourage customers to do the same. Normally, we want to keep our great finds a secret, but we have to shift our behaviors and ask customers that, if they’re happy with a product, to share.
Do you have favorite small or local businesses you can recommend?
As a person who has spent much of my career working with and supporting small businesses, I’d have way too many to list. So instead of listing hundreds of businesses, I’ll make a suggestion for consumers to look for a few things as they do their holiday shopping this weekend: look at the hashtag #smallbusiness on social media. I would look on websites for the Small Business Saturday or Goldman Sachs 1,000 Small Businesses emblem, which shows that a particular business is part of that network.
Those are the types of businesses that are really critically dependent upon our behavior. We should all pledge to make one deliberate, intentional purchase this Small Business Saturday and throughout the holiday season to support small businesses.