How to support small businesses while shopping safely
Successful online shop business partners in a small office. Male and female entrepreneurs at their online shop warehouse looking at camera and smiling.

How to support small businesses while shopping safely 

LAWTON, Okla. – The holiday season is underway, and unfortunately, it’s coinciding with a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases.

Although everyone knows small businesses have suffered badly during the pandemic, they may be reluctant to trek out to local shops and potentially expose themselves to the virus.

While ordering all of your gifts from Amazon or big box stores may seem like the best way to go this year, there are plenty of ways to support local businesses while staying safe.

Shop during businesses’ slowest hours

If you’re not sure when you’ll find the emptiest aisles, call the stores and ask. Shopping during the slow periods provides you with multiple benefits, including not having to wait in long lines to check out. You’ll also reduce your risk of coming into contact with someone who has COVID-19, and you may help protect store staff by not piling in during a rush.

Chances are, you’ll have a better shopping experience as well. If you need to ask questions about products or services, it will be easier to stand six feet from sales associates when there aren’t a bunch of other people jostling around you. And, of course, wear a mask at all times while shopping.

If you don’t see a delivery option, call the store

Many small businesses have had to pivot in 2020, bringing their products online and navigating the digital retail space. With so many logistical and financial challenges, they may not have updated their websites with details on delivery orders or curbside pickup policies. But that doesn’t mean they don’t offer those options, or that they wouldn’t be willing to accommodate your needs.

“A lot of people are accommodating, because they don’t have a choice,” said Greg Gillman, chief revenue officer at Los Angeles-based marketing agency MuteSix.

Local mandates may force businesses to reduce their in-store capacities or offer delivery or curbside pickup options, so it’s always worth calling and asking about their policies.

That call may also give you a chance to forge a bond with the owner or to connect more with the brand, Gillman said.

“It’s fun when you call and you might actually find out more about the business and want to support [them] even more,” he said. “We’re so inclined toward these digital transactions where there’s no emotion. When you go into a store and actually talk to someone, it’s a different vibe.”

Although face-to-face interactions may be limited, a phone call can help you understand who you’re buying from and make for a more meaningful shopping experience.

Buy from online businesses and sellers

If you live in an area with limited shopping options, or you want to avoid in-person shopping altogether, you can still support small businesses. Look for brands that sell exclusively online, or check out platforms such as Etsy. You can find gift ideas for everyone on your list there, and you’ll be supporting independent artists, crafters and entrepreneurs by ordering through their Etsy pages.

You might also consider purchasing subscriptions for online zines, digital albums from independent musicians or commission pieces from up-and-coming artists. All of this can be done digitally, and it’s a great way to give unique gifts that your loved ones can enjoy all year round.

The beauty of small businesses is that they may have more flexibility in offering personalized discounts and services than big chains, says James Chong, founder of New York company Top Generator.

“In general, the smaller the store, the more likely it is to be willing to offer a personalized discount to you,” Chong said. “For example, a local mom-and-pop general store with only a couple of employees … would very likely be able to budge on prices, while a larger supermarket with tens of employees would be relatively unlikely to be open to personalized discounts.”

Chong recommends shopping in-store, and when a sales associate approaches you, broaching the possibility of a discount.

“Feel free to ask directly if there are any discounts going on at this time,” he said. “Sometimes stores offer discounts to students, teachers or veterans that aren’t openly advertised, and sometimes stores will issue coupons to anyone who signs up for their loyalty program.”

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