The busiest shopping season of the year is upon us. Our inboxes are brimming with deals from businesses vying for our dollars. While there’s no indication that the pandemic will stop the Black Friday Cyber Monday surge, the way we shop has changed forever.
An increase in online shopping and adoption of alternative delivery methods are the most obvious trends. But what the pandemic has also uncovered—call it a silver lining—is an increased sense of community. We are all in this together. And our communities rely on the small businesses at the heart of them.
Small business owners have been hit especially hard by the measures and government mandates set to keep people safe. Many have been forced to close their doors. According to one report, during the first three months of the pandemic’s surge in the US, small business revenues were down 40% overall, and 40% of small businesses closed. Some may not reopen. Others have made clever pivots to service their customers without human contact.
We have choices right now.
We, as a global community, can secure the futures of those resilient small businesses and help them shine. This BFCM, consider diverting your dollars from big-box stores to local businesses—you may even discover a new favorite destination for buying gifts.
While the need to help the independent business community is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis.
While the need to support small businesses is most immediately obvious, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond times of crisis. We’ll illustrate why shopping at small businesses is good for everyone at all times and give you plenty of tips on how to do it—even at a distance.
🎁 Plus, we’re sharing 100+ gift ideas from independent businesses, just in time for BFCM and the holiday shopping season. Jump to the list. 👉
Why support small businesses
Beyond their size, small businesses are defined by their spirit. And at the helm are their intrepid founders—scrappy, ambitious, and resilient. They invent and build things despite uncertainty, because it’s what drives them. Their risks lead to innovation that moves the world forward. And we need them.
Small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society, and we all play a part in their survival.
Competition from chain stores, skyrocketing retail leases, and struggles to secure funding or manage cash flow all contribute to well-known small-business failure rates. But small businesses are important to the economic and social fabric of our society. Here’s why it’s important to support them.
1. They make a positive impact to the local economy
The spread of the global pandemic has undoubtedly affected the economy. We cannot stop this, but we can make a choice with our dollars to help local economies stay afloat and give small businesses a fighting chance to rebound when we emerge from our homes.
Growing companies, some that started in garages or coffee shops, foster eco-systems that enable other small businesses to thrive in their wake. Entrepreneurship inspires and facilitates more entrepreneurship—think online curators, who amplify even more small brands, bringing their products to new audiences.
When you shop local, your dollars stay in the community and help local development.
In terms of local businesses, the impact is even more obvious. When you shop local, your dollars stay in the community and help local development. This is called the multiplier effect. For example, a restaurant buying ingredients from local producers uses a local insurance broker and hires a local design firm, building symbiotic relationships that help the whole business community prosper.
2. They support communities and job creation
Small businesses, especially in the case of retail stores, are often major contributors to the heart of a community. “Main Street” becomes a hub of activity, where stores, business associations, and local government work collectively to create and preserve the character of their town or neighbourhood. A deliberate focus on supporting local business helps drive up the appeal of the shopping area and attracts tourism dollars into the community. The effect has a positive impact on adjacent hotels, attractions, and tours.
A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Small businesses also create local jobs. As of 2015, US small businesses employed 58 million people, or 48% of the private workforce. A healthy presence of small businesses in communities also helps people learn on-the-job business skills, empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs.
3. They are often sustainable shopping alternatives
While not true in every case, smaller businesses may have a shorter manufacturer-to-consumer journey, meaning there is more transparency in ingredients, materials, and the source of the products you buy. Small businesses are often makers, producing goods locally. Or they are resellers of products made by small-batch brands.
Smaller businesses often have the means to manufacture and source locally and ethically because of smaller quantities. You may pay more for these goods versus similar items at chain retailers, but you’re paying for the peace of mind that comes with ethical production.
4. They put customer experience first
Large brands have recognized that immersive experiences win in retail, but the intimacy and personalized care of small businesses is hard to scale. Many new business owners launch alone and fill every role in the business, including customer service. Without the layers of management and corporate policy, small business owners can make their own rules. The good ones will bend over backward for each shopper—because every customer matters when you’re small.
Every customer matters when you’re small.
Shopping with small businesses is often a point of discovery. Smaller, local, and handmade goods brands often can’t fulfill wholesale orders for larger chains, and their goods generally can only be bought direct from the business’s own website or sales channels, or in independent retailers. Where department stores win on volume, small businesses shine in diversity and uniqueness.
5 ways to support small businesses while social distancing
There are many ways your dollars—not being spent on bars or movies—can be diverted to small businesses. From pandemic survival basics to unique gifts, independent shops have you covered. Now that you know why it’s important to support small businesses, here’s how to do it.
1. Discover new brands
Take a look around while you’re out walking in your neighborhood. Is there a small grocer you haven’t noticed before? An independent bookstore you haven’t visited? Check with neighbors and review sites to discover local businesses that may become your new favorites.
You can also download the Shop app. It not only tracks all your orders from all online sources in one place, it’s also a great way to discover local and curated businesses and get notified when your favorite brands have new products in stock.
2. Buy gift cards
We’ll get through this. And once the lockdowns have been lifted, you’ll be back to your usual routine, visiting your favorite sandwich shop, taking a hot yoga class, or buying candles at the maker space. Help your usual haunts make it through the lockdown by paying for products and services in advance. Check their websites to see if they offer gift cards or class packs.
On Instagram, Good Neighbour founder Aziz Alam says, “We will dearly miss seeing our wonderful neighbours during this challenging time. As a small, family owned business that relies on foot traffic to keep things running smoothly we greatly appreciate your support [online]. Gift cards can also go a long way.”
3. Share your favorite stores in your social networks
Did your favorite small business close? Is it paying its employees anyway? Help it stay afloat by paying forward its goodwill. Tell your followers about ways they can support it, like buying gift cards for future purchases.
While others in your circles may be looking for gift ideas of their own, share your unboxing experiences or short reviews of products you’ve purchased from small businesses.
4. Reach out
You may have built relationships with some of the small business owners where you usually shop. Reach out and ask what they need right now. If you’re a business owner too, stick together and support your fellow founders—like Pause Beauty, which has committed to giving free pedicures to frontline workers when the risk is over. Think of the online business community as one big self-sustaining Main Street.
In a recent Instagram post, Noah Clothing founder Brendon Babenzien urged his followers to “buy something. Not necessarily from us, but from any independent businesses or creative enterprises you believe in, and preferably those that’ve made positive, ethical choices in the ways they create and operate.”
5. Buy holiday gifts from small businesses
Larger retailers have made it easy to shop, with incentives like free next-day shipping. But if you have a little more time to wait, you can find unique, handmade, or sustainable alternatives at small businesses. Give twice with every gift—your business means a lot to independent brands, especially now. Read on to discover dozens of ideas for feel-good gift giving.
The ultimate independent gift guide—100+ ideas for every occasion, everyone on your list 🎁
Gifts for your bestie, gifts for your stepmom, gifts for yourself. Whomever you’re buying for and whatever the occasion, there’s an independent business with the perfect gift. To get you started, we’ve picked 100+ ideas to kick off your BFCM and holiday shopping adventure.
Gifts for foodies
Many restaurants are closed for dine-in, but check in to see if any are offering delivery as an alternative. Gift cards to your favorite eateries make great gifts. Otherwise, get inspired by those hours of Top Chef you’ve been binging in isolation.
- Handcrafted wooden cooking tools from the family behind Old World Kitchen (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Professional-grade pots and pans by Saflon
- Zesters, pinch bowls, and other baking tools from Pot & Pantry
- Global inspiration (even if you can’t travel right now) inside a Mediterranean cookbook from Goods
- A trip to Italy in your own kitchen with virtual cooking classes by Nonna Live (📚Bonus: Read Nonna’s story)
Gifts for makers
Nine months into this thing, I think we’re all makers now. Give gifts for idle hands with easy-to-follow kits and supplies for more advanced DIY.
- Sew-your-own clothing patterns by Friday Pattern Company
- Simple wooden cross-stitch kits for tiny hands from Stitched Modern
- Artist-quality tools and brushes from Martha Mae
- Yarn and knitting supplies by The Knitting Tree, LA
- Architectural scale-model building kits for kids and adults alike by Arckit
- Indoor gardening tech by SmallGarden
Gifts for fitness buffs
Replicating the gym or yoga studio experience at home requires gear. Stock up on gifts for fitness lovers from these independent businesses.
- Cork yoga mats by Mukta Being
- Kettlebells and weight-lifting equipment from Fringe Sport
- Exercise bikes and home gyms from G&G Fitness
- Footwear by YORK Athletics Mfg. (📚 Bonus: Read their story)
- Fitness wear by Superfit Hero and Manduka
- Anywhere, anytime fitness with virtual classes by BodyLove Pilates, P.volve, and Hyl Fitness
Good gifts that give back
Supporting small businesses is already an act of kindness, but you can go a step further by shopping from sustainable and ethical independent brands. Here are a few that offer great gift ideas, too.
- Vegan, paleo, and delicious chocolate bars by Rescue Chocolate that support animal rescue organizations
- Ethically sourced Australian Aboriginal art from ART ARK
- Luxurious organic cotton sheet sets by Alterra Pure
- Organic MoonWomb nursing pillows by The Sustainable Baby Co.
- Grow Anthology long boards made in the US from Richlite recycled paper (a tree is planted for every deck sold!)
- Ethically produced footwear, socks, and accessories by Nisolo
🎁 Need more ethical gift ideas? Check out our list picked from more than 50 small businesses.
Gifts for entrepreneurs (and remote working life)
Working from home? Same. Now we’ve all joined the reality of the many entrepreneurs who start businesses from their kitchen tables. Give meaningful gifts that make the work-from-home experience more ergonomic and professional.
- Unique laptop stands by MOFT and Masaya
- Sustainable wood desks by From the Source
- Heated coffee mug by Ember
- Wall-mounted paper rollers by George & Willy
- Window-mounted standing desk by DeskView
- A gift for the aspiring entrepreneur: their very own business from Shopify’s Exchange marketplace
Shop gear and gadgets that automate tasks, keep your loved ones safe, and teach kids the basics of tech, all from independent brands.
- GPS tracking watches for kids by Lil Tracker
- Noise-cancelling earbuds by PaMu
- STEM kits for young people by Makey Makey
- Smart home security cameras by Momentum
- Retro flip clock by Schoolhouse
Swimming in plastic junk and stumped for gift ideas for kids who have everything? Get creative with ideas from small businesses that aim to spark creativity, encourage movement, and expand growing minds.
- Inclusive jigsaw puzzles featuring diverse characters from Puzzle Huddle
- Statement tees for future activists by The Bee & the Fox (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Jewellery designed for kids by kids from Gunner & Lux (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Cozy bamboo and cotton basics for active play by Little & Lively
- Fort building and construction kits by Fort Magic
- Kids’ music player by Jooki
Gifts for coffee and tea lovers
Local cafes may be closed, and free-flowing office coffee sources have gone dry, but you don’t need to resort to instant coffee. Please, I beg you. Shop these online retailers to send some caffeinated SOS to those you love:
- Pour-over coffee maker and accessories from Melodrip (or try the single-serve portable version by One Fresh Cup)
- Tea by BLK & BOLD (🎧 Bonus: Listen to their story)
- Beans by Detour Coffee Roasters and Rwanda Bean
- Grinders and espresso machines from Clive Coffee
- Handmade pottery coffee mugs by Red Bison Studio
Gifts for self care
- Luxe loungewear by Walls of Benin
- Cozy and cute slippers from BureBure and Patricia Green
- Self-care subscriptions by Lunarly
- 52 Lists books by Moorea Seal (📚Bonus: Read her story)
- Home mists and essential oil diffusers by Vitruvi
- Sleep machines and accessories by Yogasleep
We’re all spending a little more time in loungewear these days, but for those who haven’t given up on “hard clothes” altogether, there are plenty of independent fashion brands selling apparel that’s cool and comfy, too.
- Non-frumpy sweats by Ijji and OKAYOK
- Loafers by Blackstock & Weber
- Clothing for transgender girls by RUBIES (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Drop earrings by Octave Jewelry
- Cozy statement sweaters by SheNative Goods (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Apparel printed with designs by those with developmental disabilities by Alivia
Gifts for rainy Sundays
It might be a while before we can all escape the isolation and return to our book clubs or coding classes. In the meantime, give the gift of a new hobby or pastime with these picks from small businesses.
- Outdoor space explorer coloring book by Ooly
- Designer puzzles for the whole family by Four Point Puzzles
- Beer-making kits—chocolate maple porter and jalapeno saison, to name a few—by Brooklyn Brew Shop
- Custom board game shelves by BoxThrone (🎧 Bonus: Listen to their story)
- A subscription to Mouse Book Club—get portable versions of book classics and new favorites four times a year
Gifts for pets and their people
Pets are the real winners this year, basking in the love of their humans who have no choice but to be home bestowing pets all day. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a treat, too. These independent businesses sell everything from cookies to toys to custom pet-themed art.
- Ropes, balls, and stuffies for dogs by Harry Barker
- Healthy pet food and treats by Farm to Paw
- Custom pet portraits by Royal Pet Pawtrait or My Pooch Face
- Orthopedic dogs beds by Big Barker
- Colorful matching leads and harnesses by Wild One
Nothing says “I’m thinking about you” more than a truly personal gift. These independent businesses help you create one-of-a-kind gifts with your loved one in mind.
- Custom neon signs by Neon Mfg or MK Neon
- Build-your-own gift boxes by Happy Box
- Mystery book bags, based on your preferences, by Type Books
How else would we survive a year like 2020 without a little self care? For some, that means indulging in at-home spa rituals or even something as simple as wearing lipstick in a work Zoom meeting. For gift ideas for the beauty worshippers on your list, consult the experts: these independent skincare and cosmetics brands.
- Skincare by Then I Met You (📚Bonus: Read their story)
- Lipsticks curated for darker skin tones by MFMG (Makeup for Melanin Girls) Cosmetics (🎧 Bonus: Listen to their story)
- Monthly subscription box filled with good-for-you and good-for-the-earth beauty products by The Clean Beauty Box
- Skincare for men of color by Ceylon (🎧 Bonus: Listen to their story)
- Pillowcases that combat dry skin and tangled hair by Madison & White
Gifts for grounded travellers
I’m as gutted as you are that I haven’t explored outside my own city’s limits for the better part of the year. For others with an unsatisfied hunger for travel, give a gift that reminds them of faraway places or helps them explore safely.
- Backyard hammocks (in lieu of that resort vacation they’d planned) by Grand Trunk
- Hand-drawn maps to plan the next adventure by Xplorer Maps
- Custom-city-map etched glassware by Well Told
- National Parks notebooks from City Bird
- Backpacks for local hikes and urban exploration—neutral packs by Go Forth Goods or colorful packs by Cotopaxi
- Bikes for shorter trips around the neighbourhood by Brooklyn Bicycle Co. (🎧 Bonus: Listen to their story)
Gifts for outdoorsy types
We’re not saying you should panic, but preparedness never hurt anyone. These shops have everything you need to go on an extended off-grid stay in the woods—social distancing at its finest.
- Survival kits and gear from My Patriot Supply and Uncharted Supply Co.
- Axes for camping and chopping wood for the stove by Brant & Cochran (📚 Bonus: Read their story)
- Portable campfires for anywhere, anytime camping by Radiate Portable Campfire
- Fishing and hunting apparel by Habit Outdoors
- Garden kits and accessories by Coco and Seed
Gifts for hunkering down for a long (and socially distanced) winter
Soon we’ll say goodbye to socially distanced driveway hangs and hunker into full isolation for the winter. Give gifts that bring comfort to lonely souls and cold feet.
- Cozi Throw by Johanna Howard Home
- Denim and leather log-carrying bag for indoor fires by Mi Cocina
- Light therapy lamps by Verilux
- Luxuriously soft robes from All You Are
- Elf-Care Kit by Pinch Provisions
BONUS: Staff picks for independent gifting
My favorite little independent video rental spot closed last year (yes, it was so magical, it lasted until 2019). What was so special about it, like many other independent businesses, was the personal touch that Blockbuster could never replicate to scale—handwritten signs, weathered wood shelves, and best of all, the staff picks. The store was staffed by true film lovers, and I relied on the staff pick shelf to discover hidden gems.
In that spirit, I asked some of my colleagues to share their own gift ideas from independent businesses. Here are our personal picks from some of our favorite Shopify stores.
Wooden desk accessories by Grovemade
“I spend a lot of time in my home office (like a lot of people these days). So I decided to invest a bit into my workspace to make it more comfortable and more organized with Grovemade’s products.” —Braveen Kumar
Cocktail kits by Bar from Afar
“Bar from Afar delivers high quality cocktail kits so you can recreate the fancy drink experience at home with no equipment or experience!” —Desirae Odjick
Bath and body products by Alaffia
“Alaffia is one of my favourite gift shops. They sell bath and body products infused with Indigenous West African ingredients made by women in Togo through a cooperative that empowers women and kids.” —Shuang Esther Shan
Vibrant cotton and linen bedding by Maison Tess
“I bought the cotton amber bedspread from Maison Tess and the richness of the color was even better in person.” —Dayna Winter
Handcrafted home decor by Timber Made Design Co.
“As I moved recently, I discovered Timber Made Design Co., a small wood workshop that makes beautiful home decor.” —Adam Rogers
🎁 Still haven’t found the perfect gift? We compiled dozens more handpicked ideas from curators and tastemakers alike. Check out The Gift Better Guide.
Feature illustration by Isabella Fassler