Survival Season for Small Businesses
We hear it all the time: “Shop small business!” But do we follow any kind of etiquette when we do? Shopping no longer means trips to faraway malls and stores with window shopping weeks ahead, calculating wait times, transportation back and forth, and meals eaten in between. Even while writing about it, I feel a twinge of nostalgia. But like a terrible flashback, I then recall piles of unsorted clothing in areas they don’t belong, store employees overworked because coworkers didn’t show up, and the exhausted look they give you where you full-heartedly believe that this employee both hates and fears you. As a shopper, you’re just so tired from it all, and the handles from the bags you’ve been carrying have left indents on your hands. In this state, you’re likely to eat anything greasy that’s put in front of you—probably an Auntie Anne’s pretzel and a sugary drink.
Today, I sit at home, away from the chaos, listening to music or playing a show in the background (like we all do for comfort), and there is no one screaming about how they thought this item was on sale or how they think the employee is lying about not having more in the back. As I browse the interwebs there is no one checking to see if they can skip ahead of me in line—my biggest hold-ups are items out of stock or a website crashing from too much traffic.
Quality over quantity is a principle many of us want to practice. However, it begs the question, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to receive quality goods from regular folks trying to better their livelihood? We’ve grown accustomed over the span of less than a decade to going from two- to three-week shipping delivery to under five days, and that’s if it’s not the “usual” one to two days, thanks to Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. Yes, we hate the man, corporations, etc. but “iF yOu hAtE tHeM sO mUcH tHEN wHy dO yOu sUbScrIbE tO AMazOn PRiMe?”
It’s the same reason why people shop at Walmart vs. their local grocery store: survival. These big brands can keep prices low and are incredibly convenient to our lifestyles. Inflation and being tackled by a recession has everyone’s head in a tizzy. It’s hard to plan, be present, and make good choices for our economy when staying alive is grueling and expensive.
What we do know, however, is that by supporting small businesses we see more money go to families and our own communities than we do at national chains. “Three times more money returns to the local economy when you shop locally,” according to The New York Times article How to Support Small Businesses on Prime Day (and Every Day), “while eating at locally owned restaurants brings in two times more money.” But like many things that can be good for us in the long run, it’s usually easier to take the shortcut.
Oftentimes we expect these small businesses to function like the big guys when we desire the ease and convenience a mega company supplies. Customer service can be a bot with interactive responses to suit your needs and easily report a lost package, initiate a refund, or conduct an exchange. In 2020 CNBC reported, “Amazon Prime members say they receive on average 51 packages a year, and one in three Americans report having at least one package stolen, resulting in $25 million of lost goods and services every day.” A conglomerate may have a budget for loss prevention, but a small business simply doesn’t.
Then there’s our psychological well being. Like so many of us, small business owners have seen changes to their mental health during the pandemic. “42% of them have recently experienced burnout,” according to a Capital One Small Business Survey. “The burnout is disproportionately affecting the nation’s minority business owners. Sixty-two percent of them reported that they recently experienced burnout, and nearly a quarter have experienced almost constant mental exhaustion.” Lack of sleep has been reported, as well as few holidays off. When you combine it all, it’s easy to see how productivity can be disrupted.
News about gas and other escalating costs have also flooded my timeline. Recently I saw someone joke about setting up a chart to show customers how the prices of their baked goods increased as the ingredients they needed to purchase did the same. Eggs had a shortage due to avian influenza. Butter is expensive because cattle feed costs have gone up, plus the labor shortage has made buying and maintaining cows difficult. So, if a cake or muffin seems pricey right now, there are definitely reasons why—factors that hit small businesses even harder than big ones. “Fewer resources and less negotiating power mean small businesses sometimes have no choice but to pay premiums,” writes Rekha Srivatsan on the Salesforce blog, “like the $185 some restaurants paid for a box of nitrile gloves that cost $40 before the pandemic. In fact, 91% of small business retailers feel that larger companies have an advantage in procuring inventory.”
As the holidays approach, this is a daunting time for small businesses, and much is at stake. Last year, according to 523 small business owners surveyed by American Express, “78% said that their holiday sales this year will likely determine whether they can stay afloat” in the following year. Also last year, roughly 33% more businesses closed than in a typical year, according to a study by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Even if your small business can handle these real problems, there’s still the online exposure. Can the algorithm help you keep your business afloat if you aren’t funneling it with money or posting to your stories every other day? Nowadays it seems it’s not enough to only supply a product, you have to be your own photographer, editor, and social media manager in order to make a buck. If you’re lucky enough to get the traction needed, having the infrastructure to support it when people have Amazonian expectations is another story.
I’m writing this as a plea to shop with small business practices in mind. Order your gifts earlier to accommodate for longer shipping times (especially during busy holidays), and preorder when it’s offered so those businesses can prepare. There are real humans behind these stores and that’s a big part of why we like to shop small. A little bit of planning and patience on our part might just help us all have a more enjoyable holiday season.