Small shops still recovering from financial losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are hoping for a bounceback this holiday season, particularly on Small Business Saturday.
But high inflation and consumers' recession worries will cut into retail spending this holiday season, affecting small businesses more than their large competitors, some retail experts warn.
“I think they’ll have it tougher because they don’t have the leverage with their suppliers to keep costs down or scale to absorb intermittent bumps in supply chain and labor availability. This will make it harder to compete with larger players like Walmart, Amazon and Target, who are in full promotional mode,” said Sarah Wyeth, retail sector lead at S&P Global Ratings, a Manhattan-based financial analysis company.
As small stores on Long Island geared up for Small Business Saturday and the holiday retail season overall by sprucing up and rolling out promotions, they said they are offering consumers something that large chains severely lack — high levels of personalized customer service from experienced employees.
“I personally have … 30 years of experience in the business,” said Kathy Cruthers, owner of Flipflopogram, a women’s clothing and accessories boutique that has been in downtown Amityville since 2015.
“What people like when they come to me is that I can curate any outfit for them. Our personal-shopping edge is amazing. I know the customers. I know their body,” she said.
Her boutique is offering 20% discounts on all merchandise throughout the holiday season, and gift card bonuses through Sunday.
At The Giftologist, a Rockville Centre boutique that sells clothing, home décor, jewelry and other items, business is a little softer than it was last year, and rising prices for inventory and shipping have been contributing factors, owner Kerry Punzi said.
“It’s been rough ... the prices have gone up significantly,” she said.
Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are typically huge sales generators for the 11-year-old boutique, said Punzi, whose store will offer 30% discounts on merchandise on Black Friday, and a free winter accessory and a $10 gift certificate with each $25 purchase on Small Business Saturday.
Though shoppers are being more cautious about parting with their money these days, foot traffic has been picking up, she said.
“Right now, my thought is it’s going to be decent” business this weekend, she said.
Small Business Saturday is a campaign that American Express founded in 2010 to encourage consumers to shop at small businesses after Black Friday, the day when large chains stand to benefit more from a boost in sales.
Participating businesses often offer promotions on Small Business Saturday, while chambers of commerce and other local groups organize Main Street events that include Christmas tree lightings, visits from Santa, parades, gingerbread house decorating contests and other activities to attract shoppers to downtown business districts.
American Express reports that consumer spending at independent stores and restaurants on Small Business Saturday last year reached an estimated $23.3 billion, an 18.9% increase from the $19.6 billion spent on the day in 2019, before the pandemic started. The data is based on online surveys of 2,426 U.S. adults.
Local small-business owners, chambers of commerce and economic development officials are well aware of the challenges independent retailers are facing this year, but the groups are collaborating more than ever to promote the benefits of supporting small businesses, said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a downtown planning organization based in Northport.
“The people that support Main Streets do it because they want to see Main Street businesses continue, so I think that there has been a loyalty through the pandemic that has kept small businesses afloat,” said Alexander, who also is founder of Long Island Main Street Alliance, a coalition that represents 45 downtowns on Long Island.
The alliance has compiled an online listing of 40 downtowns that are organizing community events on Small Business Saturday or later in the holiday season.
Local businesses’ approach to the holiday season this year is more “offense, than defense,” compared with the two previous holiday seasons of the pandemic, said Frank Camarano, president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.
The five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday are regarded as an indicator for how retailers will fare over the whole holiday season, but high inflation will affect that bellwether, retail experts said.