The weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest shopping days of the year. Last year, a record 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, an increase of 14% over 2018, according to the National Retail Federation.
Shoppers in 2020 are expected to spend more, with Kiplinger’s forecasting a 29% increase in e-commerce compared to 2019 and a 5% bump in in-store sales. Yet those predictions are triggering concern that consumers will end up spending millions at national or international businesses to the detriment of local businesses struggling to keep up amid the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Florida, retailers see 20% of their annual sales in November and December, the Florida Retail Federation said. In this unique and challenging year, holiday sales are even more critical for many small businesses on the Space Coast and across the Sunshine State. After months of outright shutdowns and dwindling business and increased operating costs, these retailers are counting on consumers to truly #ShopLocal.
While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, women are more likely than men to own businesses in industries that have been hit hardest by COVID, such as restaurants and retail shops. Women and people of color are also less likely to have the same access to capital as white men. A U.S. House committee report found the federal Paycheck Protection Program left behind many minority- and women-owned businesses because of how banks prioritized their lending.
Furthermore, women are more likely than men to use entrepreneurship as a second job to help compensate for systemic income inequality. The growth in “side-entrepreneurship” among women over the last five years has been incredible, but increased demands on parents during the pandemic has meant many women are struggling to keep their businesses going.
Take Cheryl Wojciechowski, Ph.D., from White Rose Apothecary in Indialantic. Trained as a biochemist, she founded the business as a side project 2 ½ years ago with a desire to help clients use essential oils correctly. After consistent growth selling her science-based health and wellness products, demand for her products designed to help boost the immune system actually increased during the pandemic. However, she still will be relying on holiday sales to make ends meet.
Like many small-business operators, she distinguishes herself through personalized sales experiences. Yet reflecting worries across many small businesses, Wojciechowski is concerned that as shopping intensifies for the holidays, competing against national brands with far greater resources may lead to slower sales when success is most needed.
“I know it is easy for customers to just click on a product from Amazon or one of the larger companies,” she said.
Clicking on a product from smaller, local businesses has benefits beyond just that individual business. Studies show that when you buy from a locally owned store, significantly more of your money is then used to make purchases from other local businesses and service providers, thus multiplying the impact your dollar has within the community.
And local spending generates sales tax revenue that stays in our community, supports our local schools (Thank you, Brevard voters!), and helps keep and create jobs.
In fact, a recent report from the Florida Small Business Development Center found that from 2012 to 2019, 60% of all new jobs created in Florida were created by businesses with fewer than 100 employees – and female entrepreneurs were at the heart of this growth. Over the past five years, total employment by women-owned businesses rose 8% nationally, while for all businesses the increase was 1.8%.
At weVENTURE Women’s Business Center at the Florida Tech Bisk College of Business, we are working to make it easier for consumers to find and support female entrepreneurs. We are excited to again partner with The Avenue Viera for Start-up Viera. Held Nov. 27-29 outdoors at the retail center’s Central Park, the event allows patrons to shop directly from female entrepreneurs and weVENTURE clients.
We have also compiled a directory of local, women-owned businesses to make it easier for shoppers to find and support women entrepreneurs. This searchable database is available at weventure.fit.edu.
Small businesses have worked tirelessly to adapt to the demands of the pandemic. Many have also increased their capability for online sales and shipping. If you feel the same way we do about supporting local businesses and our local economy, consider taking the time to shop local, whether in-person or online.
Help make this a joyous holiday for everyone: Give the gift of your business to a local business.
Kathryn Rudloff is the executive director of weVENTURE Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech.