As we have long known, information technology has been pushing independent retailers closer to the brink, whether via the selection of Amazon or the efficiencies pioneered by Walmart. And yet IT is also helping us through the year of social distancing, as businesses and schools went over to digital channels.
After months of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, could it be that the year IT did so much to save the economy could actually end up boosting those shops — by giving us a peek at downtown in a world in which they would be no more? If we were given a glimpse of that world as some of our favorite restaurants went into hiatus — or in some cases, went away, period — December is make-or-break season for retailers.
Want to save your local shop? Bail them out this holiday season with any splurge you might be able to spare — and as importantly, bring them back into the fold (of your wallet) in the months and years to come. Here are a half-dozen ways of going about it — with a little “IT” embedded along the way.
For many people, this year’s holiday season is going to be a lot less hectic, what with many businesses dispensing with annual holiday parties; schools, churches and other groups ratcheting back gatherings; and curtailment of the traditional rounds even to the homes of family and friends. In theory, that should free up extra time for the shopping excursions that so many people have shifted online to save time. Take yourself back in time to those shopping trips marked in your memory from years before, and create some fresh happy memories this holiday season. Set a Google calendar reminder now for the days you plan to explore the (still) eclectic collection of independent shops that dot Connecticut towns and cities.
In the drive to check off as many (wrapped) boxes in one trip for everyone on the gift list as possible, it’s always tempting to go to the big-box stores. This holiday season, make the commitment that, for every time you drive into a retail chain’s parking lot, the next visit will be to an independent shop. Better yet — give that shop owner the first crack at your spending dollar before hitting the mass retailer. Same goes as those dot-com shipping deadlines creep closer in the run-up to Christmas.
Put it on plastic
Ask your local shop about gift card or gift certificate availability, which you can bundle with something small to unwrap in the moment. While that rotating gift card display is now ubiquitous at grocery stores and pharmacies, crammed with the familiar logos of mass retailers and dot-coms, many independent retailers offer gift cards as well under their own brand. That’s up-front revenue — and the promise of a future visit that could turn into a steady new customer.
If “Amazon.com” pops up in the URL the moment you punch “A” on the keyboard, consider revisiting the websites of your favorite walk-up shops. As foot traffic dissipated last spring, many scrambled to add e-commerce functionality to support curbside pickup, then worked to develop those channels further. You might be surprised at the expanded product lines some now offer as a result.
Double the spend at your favorite local shops — or triple, or quadruple — by bringing along a friend (or two, or three). You will get some fresh gift ideas — and in all likelihood learn about a store or two you have not visited before, while sharing your own favorite nooks with the others.
Ironic, but the best way to save your local shop is to sing its praises to the handful or dozens or hundreds of people you connect to on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest. Visit the social media sites of your favorite independent stores, and boost those posts to your own following. After you visit, chronicle it (without giving away what’s in those gift bags and boxes, of course). And word-of-mouth is still what some shop owners prize above all else — make a point of telling acquaintances outside your circle about your favorite retail haunts.
It is the public service announcement that needs no introduction, but it is the world we will be living in for some time to come. Protect yourself, protect others — and just as importantly, protect the shopkeeper’s image by practicing the latest recommendations to limit the possibility of any spread of germs and viruses. Be respectful of spacing entering and exiting a store and while browsing the shelves; and if you are feeling off on the day you have put aside to shop, put it off to another day.