If you plan to "shop small" this weekend, you might want to adjust your expectations.
That's according to small-business owners across the country, who say their stores could be shorthanded due to ongoing labor shortages. Or, they could sport bare shelves due to nationwide supply chain problems. Want to order online? Expect shipping delays.
Taken together, that's a problem for many of your favorite local stores, which might need the holiday sales to survive: 78% of small-business owners say this year's holiday season will affect whether they keep their doors open in 2022, according to American Express' Shop Small Impact Survey, published earlier this month.
"Larger companies, like big-box stores, are going to be fine, really, no matter what," says Ali Rose VanOverbeke, the owner of Flint, Michigan-based Genusee, a seven-employee company that turns recycled plastic water bottles into sustainable eyeglasses. "It's the small businesses where [the] holiday season, especially this year, is make or break."
This Saturday will mark the 12th year of Small Business Saturday, a campaign launched by American Express in 2010 that aims to steer Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers toward small businesses. Here's what four of those business owners say you should expect, including their best advice for shopping small this year.
In 2020, "shop small" campaigns from local governments — and large companies like American Express and Amazon — helped prop up struggling small businesses during last year's holiday season, especially those with women and minority owners.
Ashley Rouse, 34, says her Brooklyn, New York-based vegan jam company, Trade Street Jams, brought in 300% more revenue in 2020 than the previous year — amid an "outpouring" of support for Black-owned small businesses like hers at the height of the pandemic.
Now, she fears last year was an anomaly. "We saw a spike, and now we're kind of leveling out this year," she says. "There's definitely tons of people who are still supporting Black-owned businesses. But, you know, I'll be honest, I think people forget."
VanOverbeke, 31, also says she's concerned that last year's groundswell of support for small businesses in general could recede, as consumers return to their normal shopping habits — especially with more than half of Americans fully vaccinated against Covid-19. She notes that her company recently had to raise some prices, to account for both inflation and labor shortages.
She says she tried to be transparent with her customers, telling them: "We're doing this because we are paying a living wage to our employees."
For Keewa Nurullah, 38, the problem is simpler: Her store, a Chicago-based children's clothing and toy boutique called Kido, can't stock some of its most popular items right now, due to supply chain issues.
"There's more than a dozen of our products — our bestsellers — that even this past summer, we knew weren't coming back until next year," Nurullah says.
That's disappointing, but Nurullah also knows it could be much worse. Last year, the country saw rampant business closures: 33% more than a typical year, according to a study by the U.S. Federal Reserve. "I'm just grateful to still be open," she says.
There are two primary ways to support small businesses right now, business owners say: Spend your hard-earned money with them, and spread the word.
"Taking pause and really thinking about the joy of the holiday season and how mutually beneficial it can be when you do shop small is incredible," says Kira West, 28, owner of online jewelry boutique MadeByKwest, which launched in August 2020. "Even sharing it just with your community, your family, the folks that you talk to around the season can be helpful, because you never know what someone's looking for."
VanOverbeke agrees: If you're conscious about where you're shopping, you're taking a major step. "It's the most competitive time of year for all businesses," she says. "And it's really easy for small businesses to get lost in the mix."
If you do shop small this weekend, Rouse says, do it with "patience and understanding." In normal times, small businesses and artisans can rarely match the shipping speed of national retail chains. And with widespread shipping delays expected this holiday season, she says, the best she can do is to keep customers updated on their order status — and hope they'll stick with her anyway.
Understanding customers "make our life easier," she says. "The small businesses, they're working their tails off to get everything out and right, and to grow. So having that support from the community is everything."