Buy local, or say goodbye to local

School of Retailing director offers tips to businesses to encourage more local shopping this holiday season.

Other parts of the world may be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as early as December, but with the recent announcement by the federal government that Canada is set to receive shipments later than other countries, we will need to continue to be diligent and safe this holiday season. That includes being safe with our Christmas shopping.

A silver lining of this pandemic has been the renewed focus on supporting local businesses. This is critical, as a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) indicates that 14% of Canadian businesses are actively considering bankruptcy or shutting down, and another 31% will be forced to shut down in less than a year based on current revenues. With holiday sales expected to be down by 30% this year, and with full or partial lockdowns already in place in many parts of the country, it’s now or never when it comes to saving our favourite local shops.

Business owners and operators should capitalize on the current momentum to support local; big box stores and Amazon can’t provide everything to everyone, and a meaningful shopping experience still matters. With that said, here are a handful of tips for businesses to help customers shop local for the holidays.

Take advantage of Black Friday weekend. Many businesses are seeing a large backlog on inventory due to the lockdowns and a decrease in foot traffic throughout the year. Now is the time to offload as much as possible. Businesses should: 

  • Offer curbside pickup for customers who do not wish to enter their store
  • Clearly communicate the terms of their promotions online and in store
  • Offer promotions for an extended time. Holiday sales are expected to last longer this year, providing owners the opportunity to move through some of their inventory before it becomes a depreciating asset

Personalize the shopping experience. This is the biggest opportunity to add value in ways the big box stores cannot. Businesses should:

  • Allow customers to book in-store appointments, before or after hours. Make it easier doing an initial consult, then pre-selecting options for them to look at based on their individual preferences
  • Provide the option to pick up orders that are already wrapped and ready to go under the tree. This is an easy task for staff and a great incentive for customers
  • Provide virtual personal shopping appointments so consumers can select the perfect gift over Zoom before picking up at the store
  • Host virtual parties to teach customers how to use the products available for purchase in your store. Adding a bit of fun to the holiday shopping experience is a great way to capture new and existing customers. Here’s a great local example.

Utilize your Instagram and ecommerce sites. This is a spot to share inspiration about how your products or services can add value to your customers lives. Businesses should:

  • Post gift ideas using Instagram’s many features, like Stories, IGTV, and Reels
  • Post often about different products, and showcase inventory
  • Share holiday tips and tricks on things like wrapping, baking, or decorating the house
  • Ensure they are posting contact information so people can connect with them to make their purchase. If stores don’t have their own ecommerce site, using social media as a point of contact for email or phone sales is a good alternative

Make it easy. So much of the appeal of shopping on Amazon or with the big box stores is convenience. But local businesses can offer even additional conveniences to their customers. Businesses should:

  • Offer delivery. There is more pressure on couriers to deliver holiday goods this year than ever before. With the potential of gifts not arriving at homes before Christmas, this is a great way for a local business to capitalize and gain customer loyalty
  • Create a new return policy. Offer an extended return window for customers to exchange or return their items
  • Offer curbside returns. Forty-two per cent of customers want their shopping to be contactless, whether online or in store. The same should be applied to returns. Allow customers to place the return in their trunk, scan the receipt, and let the customer be on their way
  • Offer gift cards. Thirty-one per cent of Canadians plan to give more gift cards than in previous years. Make sure you have an efficient process in place for offering gift cards
It is more important than ever for Canadians to support their local businesses. With big box retailers and Amazon leaving something to be desired when it comes to a personalized experience, shop owners can really help themselves out by embracing new practices. If a business can offer some, many or all the services listed above to their customers, not only will they be helping their bottom lines. They’ll also be helping make all of our holidays a little more magical. And let’s face it, this year we need as much magic as possible.