Exploring and investigating another trend of the consumer behavioural changes during the spread of corona virus, we focus on the small shops that shape our streets and neighbourhoods while making them unique. SMEs are especially vulnerable during the lockdown, as often they rely purely on in-shop transactions compared with bigger businesses able to invest more capital in e-commerce operations. Further, smaller businesses have less of a ‘cash’ cushion to rely on to pay their employees and rents while having their doors shut. (Jolly, 2020; Obordo, 2020).
Governments around the world have put rescue emergency cash funds, emergency loan regulations and holds on taxes for the next weeks and months to ensure liquidity and access to capital, two of the most important aspects of keeping SMEs afloat during the crisis (Monson, 2020; Obordo, 2020; ORF, 2020). However, one of the most important challenges is not just surviving the lockdown, but to keep consumer relationships going during and after the crisis, in order to establish a healthy business on the other side of the crisis.
Many journalists, influencers and celebrities are urging their readers and followers to help those small independents businesses through the crisis with a trend emerging to shop more locally from all those small stores that are important to the economy and our society and community. Online vouchers can be bought from many SMEs now, whether they are shops or small cafés and restaurants – they bring in important cash flow, but further, give the consumer something to look forward to after the lockdown. The Austrian Post, who already launched the online marketplace shöpping.com for small Austrian businesses several years ago and was struggling to keep afloat since the beginning, has quadrupled its orders since the start of the crisis and is finally in the black, as consumers want to shop locally and support their native economy. (Wächter, 2020; Winter, 2020; Russel, 2020).
Many small shops are also launching their own online shops, helping to meet the demand of their consumers and keep producing revenue, even if it’s less than with open shop doors. Some come up with very creative ways of keeping up their strong relationships with customers through various online tools. For example, a Portland comic book store owner Katie Pryde created a Google Form to help her to curate personalised comic book packages for her customers, a service normally previously available in-store (Gebel 2020).
One of the biggest challenges for those SMEs is the communication with their customers. Small shops and businesses often don’t have a big social media presence, as they rely on foot traffic and being known in the neighbourhood, but haven’t invested in building a strong online community. With closed shop doors and less foot traffic than ever, due to the restrictions, many of those SMEs don’t even know how to reach their consumers. They rely on the help of their communities, journalists and other ways to spread the word.
Influencers such as Danielle Bernstein from WeWoreWhat are informing their followers on how to support local businesses. She has recently started an appeal on her Instagram Stories to support those small local businesses. When asking every small business in her community how she could help, it resulted in over 10.000 messages. She is currently giving them coverage on her platform, with over 2.3 million followers, but is working on more concepts on how to help those small businesses in these though times (Spectrum NY, 2020; Bernstein, 2020).
Organisations such as SmallBusinessBigInfluence are popping up on Instagram, matching SMEs with big influencers, but also providing consumers with templates in which they can easily share and promote their favourite small shops and businesses (Small Business Big Influence, 2020).
Instagram itself is also launching tactics to support SMEs. Last week they added a new feature, in which small restaurants or shops can add a ‘buy gift card’ button into their page or order food directly through Instagram, or even add a fundraiser to their page to help keep the business afloat. Followers, consumers and others can share those stickers in their profiles, helping to spread the word and promote their favourite restaurants and shops in those uncertain times (Allen, 2020).
Emerging from this, a trend can be seen where #ShopLocally /#BuyLocal hashtags are booming in Instagram and Twitter. Consumers currently experience purchasing decisions processes with another layer of emotionality, they haven’t experienced before. With the constant mostly negative news coverage on reported COVID-19 case numbers, the economy on hold and many small businesses struggling, consumers are uncertain if they should spend their money at the moment, but also where. Those small businesses who are eliciting trust, communicate authentically, and support their local communities are more likely to attract customers now. With enough support and easily accessible and affordable online tools, small businesses can not only survive but possibly even change consumer behaviour for one embracing more local consumption.