Shopping Small Is Big This Year. So Is Berating Small Businesses
In the list of pandemic responsibilities, somewhere under “wear a mask and stay home” sits “keep small businesses afloat.” Every holiday season brings on the rntreaties to shop local, but in a year in which big box stores saw record profits and many small businesses struggled to keep the lights on, the urgency grew more intense. The fervor really picked up on Black Friday, with many businesses and influencers sharing and tagging their favorite local businesses. And even that early on, they issued a warning: order soon. This would not be not a normal Christmas.
Indeed, 2020 seems to have created a perfect storm for small business owners. First, a pandemic that keeps people at home, away from shops. Then, a defunded postal service struggling to keep up with the volume of orders so many newly-homebound Americans were placing. Add customers who have become used to Amazon’s fast-at-all-cost Prime shipping, and you guess what will happen next.
Anticipating of delays, many small businesses pushed their holiday delivery timetable way back. My Oh My Supply Co., an online apparel company, created a permanent banner on their homepage alerting shoppers that no orders placed after December 10 could be guaranteed by Christmas, says co-owner Allison Faccenda. They got that date from their manufacturers and warehouses that ship their orders. But, as it turns out, those businesses incorrectly estimated shipping times, leaving many people waiting for orders. While Faccenda has seen an uptick in business as people want to shop online and shop local, she is now dealing with the other side of that: emails from disgruntled shoppers upset that their orders haven’t arrived yet.
Even businesses that ship their own products aren’t immune. Shannon Maldonado, the founder of Yowie, a Philadelphia-based lifestyle brand, took to Instagram recently to explain why orders aren’t shipping faster. In her story, now saved to highlights, she explains that, even after dropping off packages, it could take days for the overwhelmed post office to scan a package and start processing it. She also says something that many other small business owners have reiterated on social media this year: “Once we give it to [the post office], we have the same exact tracking information as you.”
While many shoppers are satisfied to wait as long as it takes (and even—gasp—give a picture of a present, or an IOU), business owners are certainly feeling the strain from customers shocked, just shocked to not be receiving orders in the midst of a global pandemic.
Right now, Faccenda says, “the bad [emails] definitely outnumber the good ones.” And it’s not just an issue of time. Customers who demand refunds for missing packages, despite it being out of My Oh My’s control, are cutting into the company’s bottom line. Faccenda blames Amazon, whose model includes fast shipping—and whose business can withstand refunds for missing packages—for customers’ warped expectations.
Which raises the question: What do people want from shopping small? Clearly, many people didn’t reckon with the trade-offs (and unexpected delays in an unprecedented holiday season) when making these purchases. The entitlement and anger are reminiscent to the response from angry white shoppers who, after flooding Black-owned bookstores this summer, were angry that their copy of White Fragility didn’t ship faster. The lesson was sobering: White people are interested in learning about racism in theory, but don’t want to examine their actual place in it. This season, we seem to be learning that many shoppers also want to have their holiday cake and eat it, too: They want small businesses to survive but don’t want to sacrifice the convenience only achievable by the mass optimization of an Amazon warehouse.