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How Shoppers Can Support Small Businesses (And Why We Should)

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As we’re still in the midst of social distancing, shut-downs, and shelter-in-place or stay home orders across the country and even the world, to a varying degree, the economic impact of COVID-19 continues to fluctuate in these uncertain times.

According to a report released by the NFIB Research Center,76% of small businesses say they have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and 68% of owners say they’re very concerned about its potential impact on their business.

But we as consumers, we can make some conscious decisions that will help support our small business community and keep our economic engine going, even if there is a little sputtering along the way.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the biggest impacts to the global economy, including some specific to ecommerce, and ways you can use your purchasing power to help keep small and local businesses afloat.

COVID-19 Affecting Small and Large Businesses

As world leaders work to balance public health concerns with economic ones, global stock markets have responded to uncertainty with wide fluctuations.

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Economic uncertainty also led Moody’s Analytics and IHS Markit to cut their growth forecasts for the world economy.

To help nudge the stock market back up and stem some of the economic fallout, the U.S. has passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill, which will provide some financial support to those affected.

The allotted funds will be meted out among:

  • Individuals, in the form of cash payments and expanded unemployment benefits,

  • Corporations — including airlines suffering due to travel bans,

  • Small business loans,

  • State and local governments, and

  • Public health.

According to Marketwatch, “Small businesses will get $350 billion in guaranteed loans that can be forgiven provided they don’t lay anybody off during the weeks and months ahead.”

Amidst all the fluctuations, there are two things we know so far:

  • The impact on each individual business varies between industries and even from business to business, and

  • Consumers are buying less — and that’s expected; in the face of uncertainty and economic disruption, consumer confidence declines, and sales follow.

1. The impact on industries varies.

The travel industry, of course, has been hit particularly hard, and the price of oil has fallen. The auto and apparel industries have also taken a hit.

However, grocery is up — people are shopping online when they can, instead of going into crowded grocery stores with unpredictable inventory. In that same vein, people buying wine and other alcohol online is increasing.

For example, as of Monday, March 16, alcohol delivery service Drizly reported their GMV was up 500% year over year.

2. Customers are buying less.

Several major department stores relying on ecommerce now that stores have been shuttered to enforce social distancing are not seeing their typical sales online. Nordstrom, for example, noted a “deceleration in demand,” and Macy’s has furloughed “most” of its 125,000 employees.  

Though the closing of brick-and-mortar stores has created more online shoppers, they are pulling out their credit cards and purchasing less — focusing more on necessities versus discretionary purchases.

Why Support Small Businesses?

A report released in late 2018 showed that small businesses account for 44% of U.S. economic activity. Shopping at these small businesses not only puts more money into their local economies, it also keeps alive the diversity of options that makes each community unique.

1. Community support.

Local small businesses are essential to their communities economically, and they also become part of the fabric of life there. Supporting small businesses is, essentially, showing support for the community — and small business owners then can give more back to their communities as well, through fundraisers and special events.

2. Economic impact.

Local shops help create local jobs and add unique flavor to the community around them, further improving the economy by attracting more visitors and making it a desirable place to live.

3. Personalized customer service.

Shopping small is great for receiving personalized service — sometimes even from people who know your name. Many small business owners make a point of developing relationships with their customers and learn their needs and preferences.

4. Unique product offerings.

Small, local shops have a unique opportunity to fill a more narrow niche than do larger or big-box stores. If you’re looking for something unique or uncommon, small shops are the way to go.

5. Competition.

When there are a lot of small businesses, that creates deeper competition — which helps keep prices low and innovation high.

10 Ways to Support Small Businesses

To help serve the essential needs of customers and ease supply chain strain, Amazon earlier this month announced it would temporarily cease supporting fulfillment for third-party sellers’ non-essential goods like apparel and electronics.

Instead, it’s focusing its efforts and warehouse space on essential goods, like household staples including food and cleaning supplies, medical supplies, dog food, and diapers. This pause of FBA creates added need for other ecommerce brands to bridge the gap.

This may decrease the convenience factor for some shoppers, but it also presents an opportunity to support a part of the economy that has already been particularly hard hit by the impacts of coronavirus — small businesses.

1. Purchase apparel from your favorite ecommerce site.  

As already mentioned, apparel is a vertical that, in general, has seen a significant drop in traffic and sales. If you’re feeling the need for a little retail therapy, your purchases online — especially from small businesses — would go a long way toward supporting the economy.

2. Sign up for a subscription service.  

Subscription services have been on the rise for several years now, and they’re a great way to support small businesses. Subscription boxes like FabFitFun or Causebox, for example, often include products from small businesses or artisans who don’t yet have broad brand awareness, and these opportunities for visibility can be priceless for them.

3. Buy books from online stores.

Amazon is still a go-to for many when it comes to buying books. After all, that’s how it started! While Amazon is focusing on essentials, fill your extra time at home with a good book from a smaller online store.

3. Gather your WFH supplies from an ecommerce store.

With so many people suddenly working from home, the need for desks, chairs, and office accessories has increased. Support a smaller retailer by finding an online shop focused on furniture or accessories to set up your office for perfect productivity.

4. Gift cards.

Consumers’ needs have certainly changed over the past several weeks, but you can still support the businesses you love — even if you don’t need a new pair of pants or piece of luggage right now. Purchasing gift cards or gift certificates will show them your support and keep cash flow coming in during closures.

5. Get a move on.

With gyms shuttered, people aren’t just working from home — they’re working out from home as well. You can buy at-home equipment from an online business, or support a local gym that’s offering classes online to bridge the gap until they’re able to open again.

6. Redecorate your home.

How many of you have discovered just how uncomfortable your couch is these past few weeks? (I, for one, am raising my hand.) There are plenty of smaller, online retailers that sell unique, high-quality furniture. And if you just want to refresh your decor, you can find that too!

7. Order in. 

Many restaurants and bars, largely closed for dine-in service, have pivoted their model to include delivery. Picking a night or two (or more, no judgment) to order in will help support workers in the service industry.

8. Entertain the kids.

If you’re looking for new ways to entertain your kids while they’re stuck inside, check for specialty stores for toys, games, learning tools, and more.

9. Treat yourself.

There is a lot going on right now. It’s normal to feel stressed. It’s okay to be exhausted. Don’t forget that this isn’t a race — it’s a marathon. You need to take some time out for yourself. Purchase all your self-care treats from a small business, and help relieve some of their stress, too.

10. Spread the word.

When you find an online small or local business that provides great products and service, share that with your networks on social media. Word of mouth is a great way to drive traffic to online stores, and the business owners will appreciate the extra amplification.


We’ve already said it, but it bears repeating. There is a lot going on right now! And so much of it is out of our hands. So many people want to help in some way, but aren’t quite sure how.

Shopping small is one small way we can help. Sure, it’s not standing on the front lines — but the more we support small business owners and entrepreneurs, the more vibrant our economy will be when everything goes back to normal.

In this time of uncertainty, it makes sense to pull back on discretionary spending, but if you need something, choosing a small business to support does make a difference — to the community and the economy.

Victoria Fryer avatar

Victoria is a content marketing writer, researcher, and content project manager at BigCommerce. Specializing in writing and web content strategy, she previously spent eight years in public relations and marketing for Tier I research universities. She holds a B.A. in English Writing and Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University and a Master of Liberal Arts from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.