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Small Business Saturday 2021: How to shop small

Experts recommend ways to support small businesses during the shopping holiday and year-round, from buying gifts to leaving positive reviews.
Aunts et Uncles in Brooklyn, New York
American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010, and the shopping event has been co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration since 2011.Diane Bondareff / Courtesy American Express

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Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while many big-box stores are still slashing prices on everything from tech to skin care, there’s another shopping standout: Small Business Saturday, which highlights online and brick-and-mortar retailers nationwide.

The shopping highlight was founded in 2010 by American Express (which sometimes offers incentives for its cardmembers throughout it) and has been co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration since 2011, to address what small businesses cited as their most pressing need: getting more customers in the door, whether physically or virtually, said Walter Frye, vice president of global brand management at American Express management. That’s been an especially urgent issue in 2021, as many small businesses are recovering from the pandemic, during which some lost revenue or had to temporarily close.

Since Small Business Saturday was founded, Frye said “it’s become a movement and a staple in the retail calendar.” And despite many small businesses recovering from 2020 lockdowns, they’re facing a new challenge in 2021: global supply chain bottlenecks, which have caused shipping delays, low inventory and more. Small businesses are also grappling with labor shortages, and the price of raw materials is being driven up by inflation, said Shilpa Reddy, vice president of QuickBooks Commerce at Intuit, the financial software company. So, what does this mean for shoppers?

“Given the impact of all of these macro issues on small businesses, it’s important for consumers to have patience and empathy and understand small businesses don’t have the same resources as large corporations,” Reddy said.

Because many are thinking about shopping small during Small Business Saturday and the holiday season, we talked to retail experts about resources to help you find retailers to buy from, as well as other ways to support small businesses year-round. We also discussed how the holiday season affects small businesses across the country.

How Small Business Saturday helps mom-and-pops survive

Many retail businesses rely on sales from the holiday season to carry them through the rest of the year, Frye said. In the recent American Express Shop Small Impact survey, 78 percent of the 523 U.S. small-business owners and managers who took part said holiday sales will help decide whether they can keep their doors open in 2022. But larger retailers often dominate the holiday shopping space by offering steep discounts, some of which begin as early as October.

“Small businesses can't always compete with the blockbuster deals that have become really popular on Black Friday,” Frye said. “That's why American Express started this tradition. Coming one day after Black Friday — one of the busiest holiday shopping days of the year — Small Business Saturday is really a day to shine a light on the importance of supporting small businesses and the impact consumers can have when they shop small all year round.”

Where to shop online during Small Business Saturday 2021

To help reach more customers and to continue selling during 2020’s stay-at-home orders, an overwhelming number of small businesses adopted e-commerce during the pandemic, Frye said. And e-commerce has never been more important than it is now to small businesses, Reddy said — it’s crucial in terms of selling products and gaining overall consumer awareness..

We rounded up several ways to shop online from small businesses during Small Businesses Saturday and year-round according to expert recommendations and insights.. We also included resources you can use to find small businesses near you, in person or online.

Amazon

According to its 2021 Amazon Small Business Empowerment report, the retailer’s third-party selling partners include nearly 2 million small and medium-sized businesses. And in 2020, more than 200,000 new third-party sellers from around the world began selling in Amazon’s U.S. store, which represents a 45 percent increase since 2020.

Shoppers can visit Amazon’s Support Small page to browse items sold by small businesses. You can shop by product type and region, as well as by business owners, if you’re looking to buy from Black-owned, family-owned or women-owned businesses specifically. The Support Small page also calls out current deals.

Bookshop

Bookshop allows shoppers to buy books online from local stores across the country — specifically those represented on its map — which receive the full profit from your order. You can also buy without going through a specific local store, in which case profit from your order goes into an earnings pool that Bookshop says is evenly distributed among independent bookstores.

Etsy

Etsy’s marketplace is full of products made by independent craftspeople, collectors and other sellers, and its Cyber Week Sales event is live through Dec. 1. Participating sellers are offering up to 60 percent off items from customized ornaments to serving platters. Etsy also released a Gift Finder to help you find items for loved ones this holiday season.

Shop Small x ByBlack online marketplace

This year, American Express launched the Shop Small x ByBlack online marketplace during the holiday season, an extension of ByBlack, which is a national business directory and certification program for Black-owned businesses. The marketplace showcases a variety of products from ByBlack-certified entrepreneurs, like skincare, apparel, home goods and more. Eligible American Express card members can also receive a special offer by shopping through the marketplace, too.

Social media

“Social commerce has played an important role in how consumers shop,” Reddy said. “For small businesses, the increased shift toward e-commerce and having a robust online and social media presence allows them to reach new customers outside of their immediate geographic area,” Reddy said.

QuickBooks’ recent small business shopping report, which surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults, found that more than three in five consumers said they use online sources to find local small businesses to shop at, including social media advertising, posts from friends and followers on social media and Google or Apple Maps.

In 2020, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest made it possible for users to shop through the social media platforms, and TikTok followed suit this year.

Artisan marketplaces

Marketplaces like NOVICA, Ten Thousand Villages and more showcase artisan-made goods from across the world. Products are handcrafted, and many are inspired by specific cultures, regions and traditions.

Small-business shopping guides and maps

If you’re looking to find small businesses to shop from directly online or in stores, you can use a variety of guides and maps to point you in the right direction. Some round up small businesses to shop from across the country, while others allow you to input your zip code so it can recommend local shops.

Here are some small-business shopping guides to help you find retailers in your area and beyond:

Other ways to support small businesses year-round

Overall, “purchasing products, gift cards or subscription services from small businesses is the No. 1 way to support their business on Small Business Saturday and year-round,” Reddy said.

But you can also lift up small businesses in other ways. For example, Reddy suggested following them on social media, sharing their profile with your friends and followers and recommending them via word of mouth. She also said that leaving positive reviews makes a difference.

“Reviews help businesses get found more easily in online searches, boost business credibility and impact future customer purchasing decisions,” she said. "A small comment can go a long way.”

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