In times of financial uncertainty, everybody feels the pinch. We cut back on unnecessary spending and inject a degree of caution into our spending habits – it seems the right thing to do, surely.
But this is when it’s more important than ever to support local businesses.
Be it your local organic grocer, your pop-up cafe or artisan jeweller, independent retailers depend on customers like you and me to survive and hopefully, thrive. While you may not be able to give them your patronage in person, there are still many things you can do to show your support.
We take a look at the benefits of choosing to shop at local businesses, as well as how you can support them from the comfort of your own home at any time.
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Why Shopping Local Is So Important
If you’ve ever put your entrepreneurial pants on and tried to start a small business, you’ll know just how difficult it can be. It takes heaps of financial planning, a lot of hard work and a hell of a lot of guts to get your dream business up and running, nevermind keeping it afloat.
As a consumer, it can be tempting to shop at larger chain stores that seem to offer everything and more at a lower cost. But let’s face it, helping the little guy just feels better and can have a significant positive impact. Here are four reasons why shopping small and shopping local is the way to go.
They’re a Big Part of the Economy
According to AXA, 99.9% of the UK’s businesses are small to medium-sized. At the start of 2019, SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) accounted for three-fifths of the employment, and around half of turnover, in the UK private sector. As such, small businesses are seen as the key engine of growth and sustainability; their collective successes and failures have a massive impact on the economy.
When you buy from small businesses, you’re not just helping small business owners and their employees, you’re helping the national economy as a whole. Shopping at an independent retailer supports local traders and in turn, the local economy, enabling local businesses to prosper and grow.
They Provide Jobs
One of the most obvious plus sides of supporting local businesses is that you’re contributing to job creation. Although the majority of small businesses are not employers – sole traders who work independently make up 59% of private sector businesses in the UK – SMEs still make a huge contribution to job creation in the UK. In 2019, total employment in SMEs was 16.6 million (60% of the total), whilst turnover was estimated at £2.2 trillion (52%).
As smaller businesses feel the brunt of financial difficulties, they may be forced to let some of their staff go. That, in turn, leads to greater unemployment and less disposable income to be spent at other businesses and in the overall economy.
They’re at the Heart of Communities
Research by Indie Retail found that for every £1 spent shopping online or at a large corporate, out of town retailers only generate around 5p back into the local community. On the other hand, spending the same amount at a local, independent business would circulate 50p-70p back into that local economy.
SMEs tend to utilize other local businesses, pumping more of the profits from their economic activity back into the community and sparking economic development. This process, termed the multiplier effect, means your money stays in the community and helps local development. By shopping local, you’re having a positive impact on the area you live in too.
Not only do small businesses drive economic growth within our community, but they’re important to the social fabric of society. Small business owners care about and are invested in the well-being of their community and its future. They work together with local government and other business associations to drive up the appeal of the area. The sense of tradition, uniqueness and charm of a bookshop that’s been run in the same family for generations is something local residents and visitors value; and it’s something which cannot be bought.
Small businesses are also more likely to build personal relationships with other local business owners and their customers, adding that personal touch to a transaction which retail stores don’t offer. Walking into your local family-run cafe and having them preempt your order is simply priceless.
They’re Better for the Environment
Much like the multiplier effect on communities, buying local has a “green ripple” effect. That is to say, when you buy from smaller, local businesses, it creates multiple rounds of benefits. And the positive effects might stretch further than you’d imagine.
Smaller businesses like local restaurants and grocers typically carry a greater portion of locally-produced goods and use more local inputs coming from smaller-scale farms and producers. This, in turn, means less packaging and a shorter field-to-fork journey.
Let’s take a delicious, locally-grown organic tomato as an example. The simple act of buying that tomato from a local grocer has ripple effects through the global food assembly line. Reduced food miles means fewer refrigerated containers on fewer oceangoing vessels, and fewer carbon emissions to get onto your plate.
The food is also likely to contain more nutrients, meaning it’s better for you as well as the environment. Researchers at Montclair State University found that the vitamin C content of broccoli was cut in half when it was shipped from out of the country compared to when it was sourced locally. The longer fruit and veggies spend on a truck or in storage before being delivered to you, the greater the loss of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Moreover, smaller businesses tend to cluster around residential or business areas. Being directly closer to customers means reduced car usage and more cycling and walking. Traffic congestion is lowered, helping to decrease carbon emissions from vehicles, as well as making the streets safer for pedestrians.
In short, by supporting small businesses, you’re also helping the planet. And we’re all for helping the planet.
So now that you know why it’s important to support small businesses, it’s time to take a look at how. Sure, it might seem a big change from your norm but in reality, we’re already doing them in one way or another. And boy, is it worth the switch!
Ways to Support Local Businesses
Buy Gift Cards & Vouchers
Buying gift cards is one of the easiest ways to continue supporting your local businesses. Even if you’re not physically able to go into your favourite shop or restaurant, purchasing a gift card that can be redeemed at a later stage is a show of continued support to businesses that rely on their customers to make ends meet. What’s more, buying a gift voucher for a loved one is a great way to show them you care. You’re not just giving them a great gift; you’re giving them the gift of something to look forward to. And that’s something we could all do with.
In the age of online retail and digital gifting, purchasing gift cards and vouchers is easier than ever. For those businesses that don’t offer online gift vouchers, other businesses have stepped up to the plate to lend a helping hand.
Online small business lender Kabbage launched a service that allows any business to sign up and sell gift certificates to consumers for future use at their retail locations. Small businesses on the platform can sell gift certificates ranging from $15 to $500. Revenue is then received by the small business within one business day of purchase.
In the instance that you’ve bought a gift voucher but are unable to use it, instead of returning it and asking for a refund, get in touch with the business to see what your options are. Can you exchange it for something else? Can the expiration date be adjusted?
Dealing with an independent business can mean quicker turnaround time, greater flexibility and understanding, and a much more personal touch – you may even know them already! And that counts for a lot.
Today, online shopping knows no bounds. The rise of Amazon Prime and similar same-day shipping options means practically anything can be delivered to your door at an alarmingly fast rate. And as online consumers, we’re loving it.
According to a report by law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, online shopping will account for more than half (53%) of the total retail sales in the next ten years. And based on research by Statista, roughly 93% of UK internet users are expected to do online shopping by 2021, the highest online shopping penetration rate in Europe.
In response to our desire for easy, fast delivery, smaller businesses have adapted – and they deserve our support. From bread to beauty products to beer, all kinds of local firms have diversified to bring their products to your door.
A family craft bakery with over 151 years of baking under their belt, Botham’s of Whitby now delivers their freshly baked goods in the shape of beautiful care packages filled with beautifully fresh breads, Yorkshire biscuits and cakes. For luxurious clinic-standard results at home, Skin Design London dispatches their skincare products with free shipping to Europe, USA and Canada. And you no longer have to head to your local for that pub experience. Rooster’s in Harrogate is doing a take-home taproom, which includes 15 cans and some great bar snacks.
If your local retailer sells its goods online, make an effort to purchase them, even if the goods won’t be available immediately. Try to seek out local businesses for your online purchases wherever possible. Getting a trickle of income, however small, could mean the difference between staying afloat and going insolvent.
Shopping online also means avoiding the crowds and queues of going into a large retail store (and staying cosy in your slippers). It’s a win-win for everyone!
We all know that guilt of sitting on the couch, ordering your favourite take-out at the click of a button (more like the tap of a screen these days). But while you might feel shame for not whipping up a home-cooked meal using the wilting veg in your fridge, you’re supporting restaurants and the overall food industry.
In the light of shifting consumer habits to “click and deliver”, restaurants have adapted accordingly. According to Forbes, online food delivery is estimated to be worth a hefty $200 billion by 2025, to the point of having a big impact on dine-in restaurant businesses. Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver cited online food delivery services as being one of the main reasons his restaurant chain collapsed.
What’s more, a lot of the guilt associated with ordering take-out comes from the traditional perception of take-out food being oily, greasy, bad-for-you fast foods. But those days are long gone. These days, customers have access to practically limitless choices of cuisines and dishes. Signed up for meat-free Mondays but are still craving a burger? No problemo. In the mood for some authentic Japanese sushi from the comfort of your couch? You got it.
In 2015, Supper was launched as the world’s first Michelin delivery service, delivering food from high-end eateries throughout London. From the Supper app you can order exceptional food for up to 30 people, from the likes of Kai Mayfair’s roasted Peking Duck to suckling pig with mustard fruit puree from Michelin-starred Hide.
As more restaurants turn to online food delivery services, it’s never been easier to give the household chef a break from cooking, and still enjoy a cracking good meal. And as such a huge part of the economy, keeping smaller, local restaurants afloat is crucial.
Continue to Financially Support
Some of the best local businesses are those which provide a service, rather than physical goods. Think hair salons, dog walkers, daycare providers and caregivers. They all provide us with a service that keeps our lives in order and makes them significantly better.
Because you never know when life is going to throw a curveball, be compassionate and understanding if your service provider is going through a particularly tough time. If it’s within your means, have the kindness to continue to pay them, even if they aren’t able to offer you their services for a while. You could even offer to pay them upfront for multiple jobs they could do in the future. After all these years they’ve taken care of you; now is the time to take care of them.
Due to the impact that the coronavirus COVID-19 has had on the restaurant community, a number of relief funds for restaurants, bars, and food service workers have sprung up. One such initiative is Dining Bond, started by Helen Patrikis and Steven Hall to get immediate funds into the hands of restaurants around the world, even if they are temporarily closed. It works much like a savings bond, or rather, a “dining bond”. Essentially, the bonds are gift cards, vouchers, and certificates sold at a price lower than face value (how much lower is decided by each individual restaurant), but redeemable at face value upon dining at the restaurant. Buy now, eat later and save money doing it!
Dining Bond is just one of many initiatives set up to continue to financially support local restaurants and bars. For more way to support, visit this list of relief funds.
Sharing is Caring
Local businesses often don’t have a huge marketing budget to hire a marketing agency to get their business out there. As such, they rely on word of mouth and the power of social media; and we all know powerful social media can be.
Rather than using your online voice to spread the already exorbitant amount of fake news out there, use it for something good. If you know of a small business that’s offering a big sale to drive profits, give them a shout out on your Instagram story or share it on Facebook. In the age of mass social media, you have the power to give businesses practically free marketing. That means greater attention from customers, and in turn, more business.
Do Your Research
As an active member of your community, it’s your responsibility to find out what local businesses are in your area. Go online and do some research into the businesses that you can start to support. It might take a bit of digging, but it’ll be worth it. Once you’ve found that artisan baker who hand delivers freshly made sourdough to your door every week, you’d be well glad you did.
Another bit of online research you could do is to personally reach out to local businesses, drop them a message and ask them how you can help. If you’re a small business owner yourself, think about how you can offer your services in exchange for theirs, or better still, offer them for free.
In this modern, fast-paced society, it’s as important for our own well-being to take a step back, stop being busy for busy’s sake and lend a small fraction of our time (even an hour or two) to support each other. We’re all in this together.