Articles - 10th December 2020

Shopping Small for a Big Change

Words by Ella Delancey
Illustration by James Merritt

I’ve been working from home alone recently, so any opportunity to interact with another person is exciting. So, when I opened the door and found the postman stood there with a parcel saying, “this one’s for you, love”, I was gripped. I admired my name and address on the box, handwritten in a calligraphic script. Inside, I found my purchase nestling on a bed of brightly-coloured shredded paper, alongside some penny sweets and an earnest note from the seller. Thank you, it said, for buying from my business! I smiled and tucked the sweets into my pocket as I headed back to my computer for an afternoon of work. As I’ve learned over this past year of making more conscious and ethical shopping choices, this is generally the experience of buying from a small, independent seller. Personal, friendly, thoughtful, and impactful.

It’s not just me making this choice – swathes of consumers across the UK are keeping their ‘Stay At Home’ shopping closer to home by spending their money with local and small businesses. Although we have seen much financial uncertainty over the last few months, in the wake of the pandemic, online shopping rates have surged, growing 129% week-on-week in the UK and Europe.

As the world continues to change rapidly, people have found the opportunity to either scale-up their already existing small businesses, or throw themselves wholeheartedly into a wayside passion using Etsy, Not On The High Street and even Instagram as their marketing springboards. Alongside this, consumers are beginning to recognise the impact their buying choices have on those who benefit from their money.

Lara, 27 said: “I love buying from indie shops. I feel like I can find something really unique and special for either myself or a loved one. I also know that especially at the moment, these sales make such a huge difference for the people behind the business.”

 

The Happy Dance

Something ubiquitous with independent sellers I found during my research is the excitement and positive reinforcement that is experienced when a customer makes an order in their stores. Levi, who runs popular wax melt business LeviAquarius on Etsy said: “I do a little happy dance! It makes me so happy that someone has chosen to use their money to support my little shop, especially when so many have had changes to their personal circumstances this year. It really does make my day when I get an order notification.”

“I have noticed recently that a lot more people are vocal about supporting small businesses this year,” she continued, “On social media I’ve seen that a lot of people are asking for recommendations for small businesses to shop from, and other small business owners are being super supportive of one another which is really lovely. I do think that the effects of this year have led more people to want to support independent shops over large retailers.”

Levi’s thoughts when it comes to shopper intentions are echoed in recent research from Enterprise Nation, which found that 37% of respondents are actively planning to spend more with small businesses online this Christmas – a figure that rises to 50% among 18 to 34-year-olds.

 

Adapting To The Times

“This is the best Christmas present that small businesses could wish for after a catastrophic year that’s seen them unable to trade in the normal way over some of the most critical shopping periods of the year,” said Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones.

“Small businesses have adapted; they have embraced the digital world, some for the first time. They have invested in new technology to serve their customers. That also makes them more accessible for shoppers who are looking to discover unique and different brands over the festive period.”

Adding to the explanation behind the shop small phenomenon, 61% of respondents said that small businesses offer something unique when you shop with them, while almost three-quarters (72%) think that shopping small helps support the economy.

There is, of course, still the argument for larger retailers, especially behemoths such as Amazon that can take an order and deliver it to your home just a few hours later. When asked the reasoning behind buying from a large retailer rather than from an independent seller, many people I asked said that “cost and ease” were the main draw. However, consumers are becoming disillusioned with the faces behind the shopping giants. Who could forget the viral TikTok in which Jeff Bezos’ unmatched wealth was put into context using grains of rice?

James, 35 said: “I would much rather give my money to someone creating something in the kitchen or bedroom, than pay a couple of pounds less and buy something mass-produced and found on Amazon.”

 

Every Little Helps

With a difficult winter ahead, chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a Bounce Back Loan in September for small and medium-sized businesses worth up to £50,000, with no interest charged or repayments needed in the first 12 months. But aside from the government’s help, these smaller businesses still need more support, and many are at the “use it or lose it” stage.

It’s understandable that everyone is struggling at the moment, and it may not be possible for some people to spend more to shop smaller. However, no one needs to be perfect all of the time. Like recycling where you can and using less plastic where you can, why not try to change your mindset to shop independent and small where you can? Just imagine all those happy dances.

Personally, I have loved discovering incredible, creative, heartfelt brands this year with products and services that sellers have put so much effort into. Shopping small is a trend which has seen a strong upward arc in 2020, and long may it continue. Sellers, keep shouting about your livelihoods from the rooftops – we’re listening.

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