British Columbia

B.C. businesses urge customers to shop local this holiday season

In a year where stores have been forced to close for months at a time and shoppers have turned to online retailers like Amazon, small businesses say it’s more important than ever to choose local options when it comes to holiday shopping.

'Traditionally, 30 to 40 per cent of their annual sales happen in this period of time,' says UVic professor

Shoppers stand in line outside Comor Sports in Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In a year where stores have been forced to close for months at a time and shoppers have turned to online retailers like Amazon, small businesses say it's more important than ever to choose local options when it comes to holiday shopping.

"I think if shoppers don't support them with their spending through the holiday season, many of them will not make it," said Amy Robinson, who founded LOCO B.C., which works to connect, support and promote local businesses. 

Her organization is coordinating a Buy Local Week from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 with B.C. municipalities and businesses to encourage British Columbians to buy local.

Vancouver retailers like Comor Sports and The Latest Scoop, a clothing store, have adapted by offering Black Friday deals over longer periods of time to spread out customer traffic.

"We have had lineups everyday," said Jenny Wong, who works in Comor's marketing department. "We've been in the Black Friday campaign for about two weeks now."

Comor Sports, pictured, has had a mandatory mask policy in place since late summer and is implementing temperature checks for customers. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The sporting goods store has been in business in Vancouver since 1974.

"The major benefit is the quality of knowledge, the quality of service you'll get shopping from us as opposed to online retailers like Amazon," Wong said.

Comor has had a mandatory mask policy in place since late summer and is implementing temperature checks for customers. The company has also dedicated one of its stores as a pick-up location for online shoppers.

Both Comor Sports and The Latest Scoop have reduced capacity in stores while increasing staffing levels to make sure physical distancing and cleaning protocols are being followed.

"We're anticipating an easy shopping experience for anyone that wants to come out on Black Friday and we encourage it because as a local retailer we need it," said Jada Campbell, director of retail at The Latest Scoop.

Going local — online 

Brock Smith, a professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at the University of Victoria's Gustafson School of Business, says this period is make or break for many retailers.

"Traditionally, 30 to 40 per cent of their annual sales happen in this period of time," Smith said. 

Smith says it was already a tough retail landscape for brick-and-mortar stores before the pandemic — noting major retailers like Home Outfitters, Payless Shoes, Gymboree, and Forever 21 had already shuttered before the pandemic began.

Local businesses have struggled to compete with online giants like Amazon even more during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

One of the main reasons traditional retailers have seen a decline, he says, is because of competition from online retailers. And consumers have turned to online shopping in even greater numbers during the pandemic.

"Not everybody was shopping online [before]," he said. "But, you know, last spring, you know, many people found that they needed to and, you know, they found it convenient and they found it relatively easy."

Smith says one thing local retailers can do is meet their consumer online, saying the convenience of shopping online combined with the good feeling from supporting a local business can be an advantage.

Mike Black, owner of Capital Iron, a hardware and general store in the Victoria area, says the pandemic was a catalyst for moving online.

"[The pandemic] was a bit of an eye-opener. We've been looking at [online] more slowly than we should have," Black said.

"We'll be dragging ourselves into the current century, technology-wise."

Businesses struggling with second wave

Advocates want the message to shop local to last beyond Black Friday and into the holiday season.

"It's critical that we at least shift some of that money that we're spending toward local businesses, instead of to big multinationals online," said Robinson.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also encouraged shoppers to support businesses in their communities at a Friday news conference.

"Support our local businesses who need our support whether that's shopping online and picking up, or booking ahead, or going at a time when it's not so busy."

The period between Black Friday and Christmas is one of the most crucial for retailers, says University of Victoria business professor Brock Smith. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

While many businesses survived the first wave, Robinson says, the owners and managers have reported working longer hours and struggling with their mental health. 

"Those businesses are people's friends and neighbours. They keep other people employed," Robinson explained. 

"It's not just an individual business. They leave a big hole in the neighborhood when a storefront closes down."

With files from All Points West, On the Island, Roshini Nair

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