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How To Support Small Businesses—And Help Communities Thrive

Illustration depicting multiple people buying from small businesses

The past few years have altered the way we approach everything from travel to child care. While in some ways, a return to normal is starting to happen, one thing is certain: the way we shop has changed forever

From curbside pickup to consumer sustainability expectations, commerce rapidly evolved to the changing times. The effect has put pressure on small businesses to keep up.

As the effects of the pandemic started to reveal themselves, communities rallied and support for small businesses increased, according to Shopify research. Of those surveyed who reported shopping locally, 79% said they did so to protect their communities. “People are realizing, ‘If I don’t seek out independent businesses, they will cease to exist,’” says Satish Kanwar, VP Product, Shopify. 

Economic uncertainty and continued supply chain woes are among the latest concerns for founders. While the need to support small businesses is obvious during this time, the benefits of shopping small extend beyond it. Here, we’ll illustrate why shopping at small businesses is beneficial to you, to communities, to future generations, and to the local economy.

Plus, we’re sharing more than 100 ideas from independent businesses to help you find unique products to fill your shopping list. Jump to the list. 👉

5 compelling reasons to support small businesses

Person walks along a sidewalk in front of a giant mural that reads "good"
Unsplash

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. Even for those that survive, an impending recession is another cause for worry.

But small business owners 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

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 buy 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, using a local insurance broker, and hiring a local design firm, building symbiotic relationships that help the whole business community prosper. 

2. They support communities and job creation

Storefront of a hat business. Window reads "bold hatmakers, since 1895"
Unsplash

Small businesses, especially in the case of retail stores, are often major contributors to the heart of a local community. “Main Street” becomes a hub of activity, where stores, business associations, and local governments work collectively to create and preserve the character of their town or neighborhood. This helps drive up the appeal of the town, attracting tourism dollars into the community. The effect has a positive impact on adjacent hotels, attractions, and tours.

Small businesses also create local jobs. 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 (like DTC brands) 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

Two people in masks exchange bagged goods in the door of a store
Burst

Large brands have recognized that immersive retail is a winning strategy, but the intimacy of personalized shopping experiences common to small businesses is hard to scale. Many new business owners launch alone and fill every role in the business, including customer service. The good ones will bend over backward for each shopper—because every customer matters when you’re small.

Shopping with small businesses is also a point of discovery for new or local brands. Where department or chain stores win on volume and price, small businesses shine in diversity, uniqueness, and a personal touch.

5. They cater to diverse and niche customers

“When you’re ignored by the mainstream media, you have to become a problem solver,” says Yelitsa Jean-Charles, founder of Healthy Roots Dolls. “We have to solve our own problems.” Underrepresented founders often cater to the unique needs of their own communities. Entrepreneurship becomes a way to bypass systems that often come with discrimination or bias—allowing them to build products or offer services on their own terms.

Supporting small businesses is a way to help underrepresented founders thrive and build strength in their communities, paving the way for future generations.

How to support small businesses 

Inside of a retail store with pink walls and bold plants
Moorea Seal

Now that you know why it’s important to support small businesses, here’s how to do it. There are many ways your dollars can be diverted to small brands, from switching to the independent grocer for your weekly food spend to spreading some love on social media.

1. Actively discover new brands

Take a look around while you’re out walking in your neighborhood. Is there a small lifestyle store you haven’t noticed before? An independent bookshop you haven’t visited? Check with neighbors and review sites to discover local spots that may become your new favorite small business. 

You can also download the Shop App. It not only tracks all your orders from all online stores 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

A gift card from Good Neighbour
Good Neighbour

During the pandemic, many businesses pushed gift cards, asking their customers to support them until their doors opened. You can still buy gift cards for yourself for later use. It’s a way to support a business now, even if you don’t need anything.

Gift cards are also a great way to introduce people on your gift list to your favorite small businesses, giving them valuable organic word-of-mouth and a potential new customer.

3. Share your favorite stores in your social networks

Small businesses today are facing increasing competition, higher costs to acquire customers, and lower return on advertising spend. Brands with a small budget rely on their loyal customers to help spread the word via peer-to-peer and social referrals.

While others in your circles may be looking for ideas, it’s beneficial to share an anecdote about a positive experience, post an unboxing video, or submit positive reviews of products you’ve purchased from small businesses.

4. Buy gifts from small businesses

Two people having lunch on a patio exchange wrapped gifts
Burst

Larger retailers have made it easy to shop, with incentives like Amazon’s free next-day shipping. But if you have a little more time to wait, you can find unique, handmade, or sustainable alternatives from small businesses. Give twice with every gift—your business means a lot to independent brands. 

5. Rethink your budgets

Buying from an independent clothing brand over a fast-fashion brand or a big-box store often means spending more money. That’s because it costs more to produce high-quality garments ethically. But think about your budget in the long term: being smarter about how you allocate your clothing budget might mean buying fewer pieces that last longer—and supporting a small business in the process. This can apply to other types of products like home goods and furniture.

Shopping guide: 100+ products to buy from small businesses

Person shops in a retail store wearing a mask
Unsplash

Gifts for your bestie, gifts for your stepmom, a little something for yourself. Whomever you’re buying for and whatever the occasion, there’s an independent business with the perfect product. Here are a few to discover—everything from backyard hammocks to DIY STEM kits.

Food and drink

Set of cast iron pans on a rustic wooden surface
Old World Kitchen

While many restaurants closed during the pandemic and TikTok recipe hacks had everyone trying the latest food trend, home cooking was having its moment. From sourdough to preserves, the past few years have led many to discover a new passion for food. Keep that energy high and resist the takeout temptation by upgrading your kitchen with goods from these small businesses.

DIY and craft supplies

Person models a summer shirt and plaid pants against a bright yellow background
Friday Pattern Company

Like food, interest in crafts saw a surge as more of us found new hobbies to combat the effects of isolation. Up your craft game with these easy-to-follow kits and supplies for more advanced DIY. You might even be ready to start your own handmade small business

Fitness wear and gear

Close up of a person tying a sneaker
York Athletics Mfg.

If you replaced your local gym membership with a home set-up, you’re not alone. The at-home fitness trend exploded at the start of the pandemic. As you look to upgrade your home gym or replace worn out sneakers, check out these independent fitness brands with unique goods and services for getting in shape.

Goods that give back

Cropped photo of a person from the waist down walking alongside tall reeds
Nisolo

Supporting small businesses is already an act of kindness, but you can go a step further by shopping from sustainable and ethical independent brands or nonprofits. Here are a few that offer great gift ideas, too.

  • 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.
  • Plastic-free brushes by VirtueBrush (its tree-planting program has planted over 62,000 trees)
  • Ethically produced footwear and accessories by Nisolo

Need more ethical gift ideas? Check out our list of sustainable products picked from more than 50 small businesses. ♻️ Read the article

Remote work and home offices

Person writes on a large kraft paper roll affixed to the wall
George & Willy

Working from home? Same. Now we’ve all joined the reality of the many entrepreneurs who start businesses from their kitchen tables. Update your home office design with goods to make your experience more ergonomic and professional.

Technology and gadgets

A home security camera and a plant sit on a light wood surface
Momentum Home Automation

Startups are often the most nimble businesses, acting on tech trends to bring innovative products quickly to market. Shop gear and gadgets that automate tasks, keep your loved ones safe, and teach kids the basics of STEM—all from independent brands.

Kids clothing and toys

A kid bends sideways. They are wearing a shirt that says "future voter"
The Bee & the Fox

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. 

Coffee and tea

Coffee mug and kettle in a kitchen setting. Mug reads "detour"
Detour Coffee Roasters

Making coffee is one part art, one part science. And many brands have sprung to the challenge to bring artful coffee technology to homes everywhere. From pour-over makers to gorgeous pottery vessels, you can create a café-worthy experience without leaving your pajamas. 

Self-care

Four people in ornate loungewear sit on a waterfront dock
Walls of Benin

Stress and loneliness can creep in anytime. It’s important to stay in touch with your mental health and access wellness resources available to you, even as a preventative measure. And, it never hurts to indulge in a little self-care. These small businesses offer goods to help you sleep better and create an environment of calm.

Clothing and accessories

Two people in masks and loungewear pose beside some plants
OKAY OK

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.

Garments for Good 🩱 Shop these brands that take a mindful approach to business to protect humans and the planet. 👉 READ: 40+ Sustainable Clothing Brands

Leisure time

Hands assemble a colorful abstract puzzle
Four Point Puzzles

For some, their pandemic-born hobbies are here to stay. If you’ve burned through every jigsaw puzzle or overplayed your board game collection, small businesses are here to help with kits, games, and other diversions to keep idle hands busy.

  • 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
  • Mouse Book Club offers sets of curated portable versions of book classics and new favorites

Pet supplies

Dogs laying in the grass wearing colorful harnesses
Wild One

Pets are the real winners of the move to remote work, having humans close at hand for a scratch, a treat, or an impromptu game of fetch. These independent businesses sell everything from cookies to toys to custom pet-themed art.

Custom gifts

Gift box contents including a lavender seed pack and a bath bomb
Happy Box Store

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. 

Beauty and skin care

Woman applies balm on her face
Then I Met You

The skin care and cosmetics markets offer overwhelming choice—a trip to Sephora can be a dizzying experience. Take time to discover small brands with unique products tailored to specific skin tones or skin conditions to find your next go-to moisturizer or mascara.

Travel and staycation

Person in a hammock stretched in a backyard
Grand Trunk

While travel is starting to ramp up again, there are plenty of advantages of staycations, too. Kit out your backyard, engage in urban exploration, or start planning your next trip with these products from small businesses.

Outdoor gear

An axe is wedged into a tree stump
Brant & Cochran

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.

Cozy gifts

Person with an axe stands near a wood pile.
Mi Cocina

For those in climates that dip below freezing, getting warm and cozy is the best way to beat the winter blues. These independent brands sell goods to keep you toasty, from lush robes to indoor greenery.

Shop small for all

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. “Communities without businesses just aren’t communities,” says Toby Shannan, COO of Shopify.

It may take a little more effort to hunt down an independent alternative to each of your favorites, but it’s worth it. You’ll not only discover unique products, you’ll also be helping the local economy and future generations thrive.

Feature illustration by Isabella Fassler