COVID-19

How small stores are cutting through the noise from the big-box stores this season

Kristin Schwab Nov 26, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

How small stores are cutting through the noise from the big-box stores this season

Kristin Schwab Nov 26, 2020
Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Traditionally, Black Friday actually kicks off on Thanksgiving Thursday, just after the turkey dinner and the turkey nap. But this year, the sales started early, and with a lot of advertising.

Small businesses, of course, don’t have the marketing money to match the big brand names. Still, 74% of shoppers plan to make an effort to shop local this year, according to a survey by Adtaxi. And retailers are doing everything they can to make sure those shoppers follow through.

At Terra Toys in Austin, Texas, Black Friday weekend is usually one big celebration.

“When they walk in, they think they’ve joined some mosh pit of toy shoppers,” said general manager Sylvia Edwards. “There’s children running up and down everywhere and loud music and noises from different toys being played with. It’s just a cacophony of magic madness. It’ll never get like that this year.”

And not just because of social distancing. Terra Toys has divided its shopping hours: adults only, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; all ages welcome, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The store is also offering night owl tours, private appointments for shoppers after closing.

“You get a whole hour in the store, and then a little personal salesperson that walks you through the store and shows you our toy workshop where we still cut wood and make toys,” Edwards said.

These are the kinds of personal touches that could help small retailers cut through all the noise coming from big-box stores.

Traditionally, a third of shoppers do most of their buying this weekend, said Alexis DeSalva Kahler, a senior research analyst Mintel who focuses on retail. And the message from retailers is that they hope to see even bigger numbers this year.

“Basically start thinking about your holiday shopping now, because it’s just only going to be more of a challenge to get what people want on time,” she said.

The goal this season is to make every day an occasion to shop. Frank Reiss, who owns A Cappella Books in Atlanta, is doing that with extra virtual book clubs and author events.

“A lot of our business in normal times is not in this little store,” he said. “What a lot of our business is is offsite events.”

And he’s also doing the free delivery thing, by hand. Because the bottom line is: Amazon sells books, too.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

With a slow vaccine rollout so far, how has the government changed its approach?

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes to how the federal government is distributing vaccine doses. The CDC has expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone 65 and older, along with people with conditions that might raise their risks of complications from COVID-19. The new approach also looks to reward those states that are the most efficient by giving them more doses, but critics say that won’t address underlying problems some states are having with vaccine rollout.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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