Category: Shopping

5 Ways to Support Small Businesses This Holiday Season

Small businesses long have been the heart and soul of local communities. There is something to be said about being on a first-name basis with a local restaurateur or another small business owner, as such familiarity often translates into exemplary service.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses account for 99.9 percent of companies in the country, due in large part to the broad definition of small businesses (those with fewer than 500 employees). However, the vast majority of businesses in the United States have a staff that’s smaller than 20 workers, according to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. These firms employ nearly 60 million workers, says the SBA.

Despite the prevalence of small businesses, fewer than 80 percent of entrepreneurial small business ventures make it beyond their first year, and only around half make it beyond five years.

Consumers who want to help their favorite small businesses survive can use the holiday season and beyond to set the course for success. Consumers can make a concerted effort to fuel this important cog in their local economic engines.

Shop local. The concept is simple but effective. Opting to shop in local stores over larger conglomerates and franchises can help small businesses take root. Before making holiday shopping lists, visit local stores and base gift ideas on items they have in stock. Chances are those gifts will be one-of-a-kind.

Purchase gift cards/certificates. All businesses have slow periods, and post-holidays is often a time when sales stagnate. Gift cards may bring new customers into local businesses who might otherwise not have patronized them, potentially creating new repeat customers.

Cater holiday meals and gatherings. The holiday season is chock-full of entertainment opportunities. Individuals can rely on nearby restaurants and other food and beverage businesses to cater holiday parties. Some businesses also may be willing to discount or donate food for nonprofit group activities, such as church holiday bazaars, school holiday concerts or fundraising fairs.

Mention small businesses on social media. The holiday season breeds excitement. Therefore, when shoppers are in local stores, they can snap pictures of products and overflowing shopping bags and post them online while praising local businesses.

Think about subscription gifts. Enrollment in a health club or a massage therapy service are gifts that keep on giving for the recipient, but also help ensure consistent incoming cash for the business providing the service.

When shopping this holiday season, consumers can look to the small, local businesses in their communities that help make towns and cities unique.

How Consumers Can Show Their Support for Local Businesses

The road back to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic figures to have some twists and turns. Even after the rollout of vaccines began in late 2020, public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization emphasized the importance of people keeping their collective guard up, as previously unseen variants of the virus were still being discovered.

A slow march toward recovery has begun, but the uphill nature of that march underscores how important it is that communities continue to come together to support each other as well as the locally owned businesses that make towns and cities so unique. Consumers who want to help the local businesses in their community rebound and thrive in the months and years ahead can show their support in various ways.

• Take charge of your to-go order. Convenience became the name of the game when ordering food during the pandemic. Curbside pickup service was offered as a safety measure, and many restaurants that never previously offered delivery or takeout started to do so to generate revenue at a time when in-person dining was limited if not disallowed. Some restaurants began offering delivery through apps like Grubhub or Uber Eats, and though that may be convenient for diners, restaurants must pay a fee to utilize those apps. In lieu of ordering through a third party delivery service, consumers can take charge of their to-go orders and pick up the food themselves. That saves restaurants the delivery app surcharge, allowing them to increase net profits on the meals they sell.

• Continue to be loyal. A recent study from researchers at the Harvard Business School found that a customer’s eighth purchase was an average of 80 percent higher than his or her first purchase. That highlights just how valuable repeat customers are to small businesses. Consumers who have had positive experiences with small businesses in their communities in the past can continue to support those companies by looking to them first when they need new products or services. Doing so not only helps small businesses retain more customers, but it increases the likelihood that consumers will again have positive buying experiences.

• Share experiences via social media. Small businesses recognize the value of social media. A 2021 survey from Visual Objects found that 74 percent of small businesses in the United States are active on their social media accounts at least once each week. Social media can become even more valuable to small businesses when their customers utilize such platforms to share positive experiences and encourage their friends and neighbors to patronize local businesses.

Consumers can take various steps to support small businesses in their communities as such establishments look to regroup and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How School Shopping Has Changed in the Pandemic Era

Back-to-school shopping sales have long been indicators that the summer vacation season is coming to a close. Students and their parents may visit area stores or browse online looking for items to make the coming school year a success. Those lists have looked similar for decades, but shopping for school supplies in the pandemic era may prove to be a unique experience.

Though hundreds of millions of adults and adolescents have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, there figures to be some lingering effects of the pandemic during the upcoming school year. That could affect which school supplies families buy in the weeks to come. Here’s a look at some of the latest trends.

A shift from physical stores: According to data from IBM’s U.S. Retail Index, the pandemic has accelerated a shift away from physical stores to digital shopping by about five years. It’s likely that school shoppers will turn to the internet for their supplies, which means local brick and mortar shops should increase their web presence and digital shopping capabilities to reach online shoppers. This includes omnichannel fulfillment, such as buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS) options.

Reassessment of what’s essential: The pandemic may have changed which items consumers consider essential. For example, clothing became less significant as a greater number of students were enrolled in virtual learning. Back-to-school shoppers may purchase less clothing and focus more on tech items, among others.

Traditional supplies become less necessary: In 2020, Deloitte forecasted that a shift in preferences and intentions would result in parents buying fewer traditional supplies, such as notebooks and office supplies, as they chose to invest in digital resources to supplement children’s education. That shift likely will continue into this school year.

Support for local retailers: Community spirit grew in the early days of the pandemic and continues now. Many people prefer to shop in locally owned stores. Eighty percent of customers surveyed feel more or as connected to their communities, according to the business industry consultant company Accenture.

Customers are trying new brands and products: Shoppers are trying new products out of curiosity as well as necessity. Back-to-school shopping may include novel brands and other items that may not have been readily purchased in years past.

Back-to-school shopping may continue to look a bit different than in previous years, spawning trends that may ultimately become the new normal.

The Various Advantages to Shopping Locally

Residents of a given town or city are often encouraged to support local businesses by looking to these firms to fill their needs. Small businesses are not just integral parts of communities, employing millions across the country, they also are operations that fund the very communities they service.

Efforts to promote shopping local appear to be working. According to the Commonwealth Financial Group, over the last several years there has been a shift in consumer purchasing behavior marked by a preference among consumers to support locally owned shops and stores over big-box retailers and even online shopping. The following are some key reasons why shopping locally not only benefits small business owners, but also the communities they call home and the customers they serve.

• More money stays in the community: According to the American Independent Business Alliance, for every $100 spent at a local business, $68 remains in the community. Conversely, only 43 percent of every $100 spent at a chain retailer stays in the community.

• Job creation: The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies says local businesses create the majority of economic growth. They employ millions of Americans by creating roughly two-thirds of private sector jobs. Local business owners also tend to hire people who represent the demographics of the communities where the business is located, which may include historically underserved populations.

• Diversity of products: Local stores tend to diversify their products and services to meet the needs of the local communities, whereas chain stores often stock their shelves based on national demands.

• Personalized service: A small business owner may be more inclined to go to great lengths to make customers happy because the long-term success of the business depends on customers becoming repeat customers.

• Personal connection: Knowing the people behind a business facilitates a connection not easily achieved with other companies. Customers may celebrate when a favorite business succeeds and look to spread the word about that business because they feel like they played a positive role in its success.

Shopping locally has gained momentum and is fueled by the many advantages to supporting local businesses.

Shopping Locally is Now More Crucial Than Ever

The importance of shopping locally has been emphasized with increasing urgency in recent years. Events like Small Business Saturday and Plaid Friday have brought some much-needed attention to the importance of shopping local, which is even more crucial now as so many small businesses try to survive the pandemic.

A poll from the trade group the National Federation of Independent Business reported that about half of all the businesses in the survey reported a 25 percent drop in sales since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, and roughly one in five businesses have seen sales decline by more than 50 percent. If the economic climate does not radically improve, 20 percent of small businesses won’t survive.

According to NBC News, small businesses employ 60 million people in the United States, almost half of the nation’s private-sector employees. In addition, small businesses generate tax revenues that help communities by funding schools, maintaining parks and contributing to public safety programs. However, based on research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, even before COVID-19 spread across the world, only 20 percent of healthy small businesses had sufficient cash reserves to continue to operate if they experienced a revenue loss for two months. Some have been shuttered for much longer. Individuals looking for everything from clothing to home improvement services to office supplies can look to small businesses to fill those needs.

• Look for small businesses for any and all of your shopping needs. Chances are items sold by big box retailers also are sold by small businesses. When the options are the same or similar, purchase from a small business instead of its big box competitor.

• Readily provide recommendations of small businesses with which you have done business. Too often people are quick to complain about places that have failed them, but those same people don’t think to say kind words about companies that went above and beyond. Share great experiences on social media or through word of mouth.

• Talk to small businesses owners first if you have an issue. It’s tempting to go directly to social media to complain about something, but such complaints can have a dire impact. Always take issues to the manager or business owner first to see if a resolution can be reached. A manager may not be aware of an issue at all. Give small businesses a chance to make it right before taking things public.

• If you own a small business, rely on other small businesses to fulfill your needs. Order supplies from fellow small business owners, seek the help of local financial advisors and tax professionals and use local suppliers and delivery personnel.

Small businesses have experienced unprecedented setbacks due to COVID-19. By supporting small businesses, communities can help them regain stable footing.

Shop Safely this Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is a lucrative day for retailers. According to Adobe Analytics, which measured transactions from a majority of popular online retailers in the United States, consumers spent an average of $11 million per minute between 11 p.m. EST and midnight EST on Cyber Monday in 2019. And it wasn’t just the final hour of Cyber Monday that proved popular, as total sales in 2019 increased by roughly 19 percent compared to Cyber Monday a year prior.

The internet has made holiday shopping easier than ever, and retailers capitalize on that convenience every year on Cyber Monday. Savvy consumers recognize there’s great deals to be had on Cyber Monday, but the popular shopping holiday also marks a great time for cyber criminals to target unsuspecting online shoppers. Holiday shoppers spend more time and money buying gifts online every year, so before the buying season begins it’s wise for shoppers to consider a few strategies for shopping safely this Cyber Monday.

Beware of malvertising. In recent years, cyber criminals have employed malvertising to trick online shoppers into taking them to websites that look reputable. But looks can be deceiving. Malvertising injects malicious code into legitimate online advertising networks. If consumers accidentally click a malicious ad, the malvertising can trigger a code that installs malware or adware on their computers, redirect users to a malicious website instead of the one the ad suggests or redirect users to a website that looks just like a legitimate retailer’s site, even though it’s not. Update antivirus and ad blockers prior to Cyber Monday. In addition, update browsers and plugins, which can often prevent malvertising attacks.

Update your software. Skipping or delaying software updates on a computer, tablet or smartphone can make online shoppers vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals. Install new operating systems on your devices when such updates become available, and check to see if any new updates can be installed before shopping on Cyber Monday.

Avoid searching through search engines. When shopping, resist the temptation to look for deals through search engines. Cyber criminals can insert malicious links into search results, directing unsuspecting to consumers to malicious websites designed to target their personal information. When looking for deals, visit the websites of established retailers instead of conducting searches through browsers like Google or Firefox.

Read a URL before buying anything. One old yet still effective trick cyber criminals employ is creating websites that look identical to those of trusted retailers. These copycat sites may only be one letter different from legitimate sites. By reading URLs closely prior to entering any personal information, such as their credit card numbers, consumers can protect themselves from copycat websites.

Cyber Monday is a popular shopping holiday. Cyber Monday shoppers should be as cautious about cyber criminals as they are excited about finding great gifts for their loved ones.

The Fabric of Plaid Friday

The holiday season sometimes arrives with a frenetic pace. At the dawn of the holiday season, there seems to be so much to fit into a relatively short period of time, including planning celebrations and shopping. The rush often begins the Friday after American Thanksgiving on a day called Black Friday. Plaid Friday was born out of a recognition that the frenzied nature of Black Friday may not be for everyone. The event was created in Oakland, Calif., to transform holiday shopping for family and friends into a more connected, pleasurable activity than Black Friday. Plaid Friday promotes the diversity and creativity of local and independent businesses. On Plaid Friday, customers are urged to shop locally and enjoy choosing gifts in a more leisurely fashion.

According to event organizers, the name “Plaid Friday” was chosen from the idea of weaving individual threads of small businesses together to create a strong fabric that celebrates independent businesses. While Plaid Friday may have originated in California, it has now spread to local towns across the country. Plaid Friday precedes Small Business Saturday, meaning holiday shoppers can turn their two-day, post-Thanksgiving shopping excursions into 48 hours of opportunities to support small businesses. Shoppers have many different ways to support the Plaid Friday movement.

• Look for signage or social media advertising regarding Plaid Friday. Many establishments may advertise Plaid Friday sales. Keep an eye out for signs or hashtags on social media, such as #plaidfriday, #shoplocal and #dinelocal.

• Let others know you’re supporting local businesses. Spread the word about Plaid Friday to others who may not be aware of the movement.

• Wear plaid clothing on Plaid Friday to show local business solidarity.

• Search community blotters and other local websites to find out more about Plaid Friday efforts in your community.

• Certain shops may have scaled-back sales due to COVID-19 restrictions. Continue to support these businesses as much as possible, taking advantage of curbside pickup or delivery options that can further streamline holiday shopping.

• Explore new offerings. Some businesses you frequently shop with may have altered their services and products to fit the changing times. As a result, you may be able to purchase a greater variety of items all in one store.

Local shopping is at the heart of Plaid Friday. Shoppers who want to avoid the typical rush of Black Friday shopping can visit small local businesses.

Tips for Buying Jewelry This Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is rife with tradition. Couples may have their own unique traditions, but others, like Valentine’s Day date nights, are widely popular.

One Valentine’s Day tradition many couples embrace is the exchange of gifts. Shoppers might not need much advice when purchasing heart-shaped boxes of chocolates or flowers for their sweethearts. However, when shopping for jewelry, Valentine’s Day celebrants may feel as though they’re in over their heads. The following tips, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau®, can help shoppers as they navigate the potentially confusing process of buying jewelry.

Diamonds

The BBB notes that diamonds’ value is based on color, cut, clarity, and carat. Often referred to as the “4 Cs,” this criteria refers to the grade of the color (color), the way the diamond is finished (cut), how flawless the diamond is (clarity), and its weight (carat). When shopping for diamonds, the BBB advises asking jewelers if they have the most up-to-date testing equipment, which makes it easier for them to distinguish between diamonds and lab-created gemstones. That’s important, as lab-created gemstones resemble diamonds and may not be detectable if jewelers are using testing equipment designed to identify cubic zirconia.

Colored gemstones

Colored gemstones are very popular, and the BBB notes that various new stone treatments have been developed to improve their appearance and durability. However, the BBB also notes that such treatments may adversely affect the value of the gem and necessitate special care in order to maintain the gem’s appearance. When shopping for colored gemstones, ask the jeweler if an item has been treated and if there’s any special maintenance required. Imitation or assembled stones may look like natural stones, so shoppers should ask if a stone is natural, synthetic or imitation before purchasing anything.

Gold

When used alone, the word gold implies an item is all gold or 24 karat gold. But the BBB notes that gold is naturally soft and, as a result, is typically mixed with other metals to improve its hardness and durability. The karat-quality marking indicates what proportion of gold is mixed with other metals. For example, the most common mark for gold jewelry is 18K of 750, which signifies an item is 75 percent gold. Lower-karat gold jewelry may include copper, silver, zinc, or other metals. Consumers should ask about these alloys and determine if the item’s ultimate recipient is allergic to certain metals or if he or she has a high acid content in their bodies. People with high acid content in their bodies may have their jewelry turn black as a result.

Buying jewelry can be intimidating. However, jewelry buyers can work with their jewelers to find a beautiful piece their sweethearts will be proud to wear this Valentine’s Day.

More information on buying jewelry can be found at www.bbb.org.

The History of Black Friday

Black Friday marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. Come Black Friday, shoppers strive to get the lowest prices on gifts for their loved ones. Much of the focus of Black Friday is on finding the best deals, but it can be interesting to take a breath and learn how this phenomenon developed and how it has evolved over the years.

“Black Friday”

The term “Black Friday” was originally associated with gold prices and manipulation on the part of speculators Jay Gould and James Fisk. This scandal occurred in September 1869. Commodity prices plummeted 50 percent as a result, and the term “Black Friday” was coined to refer to that drop. The phrase “Black Friday” also became famous for all the wrong reasons in 1966. Philadelphia police used it to refer to the Friday traffic jams and crowding in downtown stores from tourists and shoppers who flooded into the city in advance of the Army-Navy football game held the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year. Bigger crowds and rowdiness contributed to long hours and stressful shifts for local police.

Black Friday Reinvented

The retail industry started using the term “Black Friday” in the late 1980s. Spin doctors turned previously negative connotations into positive ones by associating the phrase with stores turning a profit and moving accounting ledgers from “red to black” thanks to big year-end sales. Retailers and consumers rallied around low-cost “doorbusters” and other discounted prices. Interestingly enough, according to the National Retail Federation, Black Friday really hasn’t been the most lucrative day for retailers over the years. In fact, greater profits and larger crowds are often seen on the last Saturday preceding Christmas.

Shopping Weekend Evolves

While Black Friday may have been the catalyst, in recent years shoppers have made the entire weekend of Black Friday a lucrative one for retailers. Many stores now open on Thanksgiving and extend sales through the entire weekend. Small Business Saturday and Sunday promote patronizing mom-and-pop stores. Cyber Monday emerged when online shopping became a popular way to grab deals, and it marks the close of the opening weekend of the holiday shopping season. In 2017, Black Friday weekend attracted 174 million shoppers who spent an average of $335.47, according to the NRF.

Sunglasses Buyers’ Guide

Blue skies and ample sunshine help makes summer special. Come summer, many people spend more time enjoying recreational pursuits and everything seems a bit more laid back. Even though people may take a more relaxed attitude in summer, the National Eye Institute says people should wear sunglasses that block UV radiation whenever they head outdoors in daylight hours. This is essential for men, women and children. Sunglasses are necessary during the times of day when the sun’s rays are at their strongest, but wearing them anytime the sun is out can protect one’s vision.

Sunglasses present a great defense against UV rays that can cause short- and long-term eye damage, states the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Diseases such as cataracts, cancer and growths on the eye all can result from prolonged exposure to UV rays, which can damage the eye’s surface tissues as well as the cornea and lens. Prolonged exposure to UV rays also may affect retinal cells. When purchasing sunglasses to protect the eyes, consumers should consider these important factors.

• Ultimate protection: The American Optometric Association says that sunglasses should offer 100 percent protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Some glasses will simply list a numerical indicator. In such instances, sunglasses that offer protection against UV 400, which will encompass the wavelengths for both UVA and UVB rays, are best.

• Buy from a reputable retailer. Not all sunglasses live up to their claims. Sunglasses sold at doctors’ offices, department stores and sunglass speciality shops often meet the standards for protection, advises The Vision Council, a trade organization for the optical industry.

• Choose tint for activity. Tint will not affect UV protection, but it can make certain activities more enjoyable. Darker lenses may help at the beach, where there is more reflective light. Orange or yellow lenses increase contrast while driving or fishing. On cloudy days, amber or rose lenses can help improve contrast. Customers should choose a tint that makes them feel comfortable.

• Polarized lenses help fight glare. Polarized lenses and those with anti-reflective coatings can alleviate glare. Such lenses work by only letting in specific amounts of light at certain angles, which helps to reduce the brightness of that light, says the Discovery Eye Foundation.

• Go big. Bigger frames or wrap-around designs can further block UV light from different angles, particularly the side of the eye. Consumers should consider various factors when shopping for their next pair of sunglasses.

For more eye safety tips for the summer , visit www.aao.org.