As we head into a second wave of the pandemic this holiday season, small businesses need your support now more than ever. With some people under full-blown stay-at-home orders and others just trying to social distance as much as possible, many have been turning to Amazon and similar one-stop-shop commercial entities. In other words, small businesses are struggling while Amazon is literally benefiting from an international crisis. The holiday season is normally a time when businesses experience their highest volume of sales for the year, but it can also be a major stressor, feeling the overwhelming need to compete with the speedy service these corporate giants can offer. It’s great to choose small businesses over corporations, however, there are some common misconceptions that can arise when it comes to wanting to shop small. Make the decision to be a conscious consumer for the holidays, and read the rest of this article for the dos (*and dos) on the best practices when choosing to support small businesses.
*We know usually it would be dos and don’ts...but we think you can figure out what not to do based on our dos when shopping small this season ;)
Do: Appreciate the Discounts Brands Can Offer
With Black Friday looming on the horizon, we feel this is an important place to start. You may be used to seeing crazy discounts upwards of 50% because many big businesses (who pay so little for materials and labor) can afford to slash their already ridiculously marked-up prices. Ethically-sourced small businesses, on the other hand, generally spend more on materials and make a smaller profit per item, meaning they may not be able to give such a high discount. Keep this in mind before you complain about smaller discounts from smaller brands. But this doesn’t necessarily mean small brands giving large discounts equates to them having cheap or unethical products. Sometimes having sales can just help businesses with less inventory space clear out stock.
We didn’t wanna make an entire “don’t” dedicated to this point because we feel it goes without saying: don’t complain if small brands can’t afford to offer higher discounts.
Do: Start Planning Your Holiday Shopping Early
In the age of Amazon Prime, we’ve grown accustomed to instant gratification, sometimes receiving the items we order in two days or less. When you make the decision to shop small, you need to keep in mind that many small businesses may make their items by hand, and often only a single set of hands. This makes their products all the more special and valuable...but can also make them take a bit longer. Small businesses can get overwhelmed with high volumes of sales all at once (i.e. the entire timespan between Black Friday to Christmas), and may encounter other roadblocks that Amazon wouldn’t. Instead of waiting ‘til the last minute and then getting frustrated, stressed, or disappointed about potentially late orders, give them (and yourself) some extra time and start doing your holiday shopping early.
Do: Ship via USPS
Speaking of delays, possible shipping complications are another testament as to why not to wait last minute to order. This season, many of us have to forgo travel plans and may have to spend our holidays away from some of our loved ones...shipping presents instead of giving them out in person. Because of the volumes the post office experiences during the holiday seasons (especially due to COVID this year) there could be delays, BUT that’s not to say that you shouldn’t ship via USPS.
Note: if you’re reading this from outside the US you can skip forward to the next “do” because, unfortunately, this advice doesn’t pertain to you. However, if you wanna read on for some interesting statistics about how the United States Postal Service is actually more reliable than other private shipping companies despite being a publicly-funded, government agency, read on!
When choosing between postage options, it’s important to ship via USPS, both to help fund them, and because they’re actually just the most reliable shipping option for Americans. USPS is a vital part to many communities, servicing some of the most rural areas in the country, even going as far as travelling by mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to deliver mail to the indigineous Havasupai. The Postal Service truly encompasses what it means to be a public service that’s actually for the people.
Now here’s where the problem lies. Not to simplify a very complicated subject, but this is the gist: in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required USPS to pre-fund the retirement plans of all of their career employees. The current issue that calls on us to help fund/support USPS lies between the incredible financial burden directly stemming from the 2006 act, declining mail volumes (USPS shows a decrease in mail volume by about 10 billion parcels between 2016 and 2019), and the continual wait for a much-needed COVID stimulus package from the federal government that has yet to be granted.
On another note, despite USPS handling 142.6 billion packages last year compared to the combined 8 billion UPS and FedEx handled, the Mail Recovery Center reports around 90 million parcels (less than 0.07%) reaching them each year. Although it’s hard to get a clear statistic on package loss, one thing is clear: USPS is the only company that seems to be transparent about it, probably because their percentage for package loss is ridiculously low and has no need for hiding.
via @therealpercythepersian on Instagram
Do: Communicate Directly with Small Business Owners
One of the many benefits of shopping small is that customer service is much more accessible. Rather than talking to robots on the phone or dealing with untargeted automated email responses, you can easily reach out to small business owners via dm or email, and expect a much more personal and directly helpful response. However, it is important that you respect boundaries. For example, just because it’s a small business doesn’t mean there aren’t business hours. Don’t be mad if you don’t get a response within minutes at 2:32 in the morning on a Tuesday, but maybe reach out again if more than 48-72 business hours have passed (this time could obviously vary from business to business if they otherwise state it, so don’t quote us!). Communicate your concerns before you go and do something like write a nasty online review. If you never hear back, then you’re definitely within your right to leave honest feedback like this:
Do: Package with Care
We are also here to remind you that you can purchase more than just gifts from small businesses. When it comes to packaging, there are plenty of small businesses with nice wrapping paper, greeting cards, and anything else you might need to package your gifts with care. If you wanna spread some xtra xmas cuteness, you can wish your loved ones a very Merry Hexmas with this limited holiday greeting card made by OG Greeting Cards:
Here’s a list of some of our favorite small brands who specialize in gift wrapping materials and greeting cards:
- OG Greeting Cards - greeting card brand with a focus on pop culture founded by Courtney Okolo when she realized that the black community was underrepresented in the greeting card industry
- Olivias Paper - independent graphic design and printing company that focuses on high-quality, eco-friendly materials
- Mock Up Designs - UK-based brand started by graphic-designer Natalie Mock, “clean, contemporary style,” with a healthy dose of color, designed in Cardiff studio and printed in the UK
- Humdrum Paper - brand with “cheeky cards for your day-to-day,” printed locally in California and designed by artist Brittany Meronek
- PlanetTrout - Etsy seller with vintage gift wrap from every era
Following these nice tips will surely keep you off the naughty list this holiday season. The takeaway is to be mindful of the obstacles small businesses face in an increasingly corporate world. Shopping small for presents is also a gift to the shop owner, who truly appreciates your business, and sees you as more than just another dollar sign. Thank you for your support and have a very Merry Hexmas.
By Joely Phenes and Stephanie Wrobleski