Ahead of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, which remain key days on the retail calendar even with this year’s shifting schedules for holiday sales, local shops are poised to compete against big-box retailers for fourth-quarter gains in a world of socially distant shopping and increased reliance on e-commerce.
Holiday retail forecasts offer signs of optimism for small businesses. A survey from Visa shows that 69% of small and micro businesses in the U.S. say the season is their top sales opportunity, and 60% of holiday customers plan to do at least half of their shopping at locally owned businesses. Another report, from the National Retail Federation, predicts holiday sales this year will grow 3.6% to 5.2% over last year.
But small businesses have faced unprecedented struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic, as big-box stores take in record sales and widen the gap between themselves and smaller local shops. Small business advocates around Missouri have urged people to shop local and support businesses in their community for Small Business Saturday and the rest of the holiday season.
Jon Malcolm Richards, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Kansas City office, called for further support for small businesses during the pandemic.
“It is more critical now than ever before to support small businesses in every aspect,” Richards said in a press release. “Shop early and shop often.”
Nickie Davis, executive director of The District, a community improvement district in downtown Columbia, said national chains have reaped more of the benefits of increases in e-commerce sales this year.
“Target, Walmart, Amazon, all of their sales are dramatically up compared to where they used to be in previous years, and our small businesses are dying,” Davis said. “It is incredibly important that people be mindful this holiday season and continue to support these amazing small businesses that make Columbia what it is.”
To become more competitive, Davis said The District has curbside pick-up available on nearly every block. The organization tried to get people shopping earlier so there wasn’t as large of an influx over the weekend, but she anticipates some stores will have a one-in, one-out system to allow for social distancing.
That’s what David Overfelt, president of the Missouri Retailers Association, is most concerned about. His organization has joined about 15 others, including the Missouri Hospital Association, in the Coalition for Healthy Missouri Communities. The group encourages people to practice social distancing, wear face masks and avoid large gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But he said a desire to maintain social distance could send people to larger chains with more products for their shopping.
“They’re condensing,” Overfelt said of consumers. “(They think), ‘If I can buy this here, I’m just going to buy this here instead of going, like I normally would, to another location.’”
Given those shifts in consumer behavior, Premium Pets in Jefferson City expanded at an opportune time. The pet supply store’s original location, a 1,500-square-foot facility, may not have been able to accommodate as many customers as desired with social distancing in place this holiday season. But owner Brittany Schlup opened a second location last year, reducing some potential for crowding.
For Black Friday, the pet store is taking additional steps to avoid congestion in its aisles. Rather than promoting tiered deals, with better ones in the morning to attract customers, Schlup said Premium Pets’ deals will be the same all day.
Schlup, who runs the business with her husband and four part-time employees, said the store has some advantages as a small business. She said her store can be more flexible with its hours than larger chains, as she’s come in before or after hours to let customers shop without other people around.
Schlup has also helped a customer order products over FaceTime, along with the store’s usual online ordering, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery around Jefferson City. She is optimistic about this holiday season.
“I really do foresee the remainder of this month and December still being really good, despite everything,” Schlup said. “We have really loyal customers, and they show up for us.”
Overfelt will be watching with great interest as stores and shoppers navigate the holiday shopping season’s biggest days in the midst of a pandemic.
“It’s going to be a very interesting Friday,” he said.