Connections – Not Just Products –
Win Consumers Over

The encouragement to support neighbourhood businesses by shopping local has been a consistent push throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy has been slowing down, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have been hit hard.

SMBs make up a huge part of our economy, and society is realizing the importance of keeping them afloat. I believe that shopping local is here to stay long after COVID for three reasons:

  1. Shopping local is important to consumers.
  2. Large players are supporting the “Shop local” movement.
  3. Building genuine connections with customers and communities is becoming increasingly important, and SMBs are well positioned to create more authentic relationships than big-box retailers.

“Shop local” is here to stay

1. Shopping Local is Critical to Consumers

Research suggests that during the pandemic, consumers are more likely to purchase from a local business over a national retailer. In fact, 68 per cent of respondents stated that they’ll continue to make purchases at local businesses post-pandemic. More than 70 per cent of Millennials agreed with the following statement in a survey conducted by cloud-based software company Salesforce: “I’m committed to supporting small businesses more than I was before the pandemic.”

The primary driver behind shopping local is the desire to support one’s local community, according to Agility PR Solutions firm. This further reinforces that consumers understand the significance SMBs play in our society. SMBs make up more than 99% of companies operating in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, and employ 8.3 million individuals, or 69.7 percent of the total private labour force, according to Canadian Government data.

Jean McCabe, acting head of umbrella group Retail Excellence Ireland, told Pricewatch, “I think that desire to shop local is something that will endure…I think the lockdown and the pandemic has recalibrated people’s awareness of local businesses and it is almost like they rediscovered the absolute necessity of small shops.”

2. Big Players are Supporting Shopping Local

RBC and American Express Canada are two large organizations promoting the support of shopping locally. Both heavily invest in multi-media advertising campaigns to support this message and offer incentives in return.

Another example includes Kraft Heinz donating media ad space to local shops during the Pandemic. Daniel Gotlib, Kraft Heinz Canada’s Senior Brand Manager, Brand Building and Innovation, said the company will put its media weight behind helping small businesses with their messaging. “… Canadians don’t need to see another peanut butter ad today, but they do want to show support for these local owners who need it,” Gotlib said. This is aligned with Kraft’s brand ethos, “Sticking Together,” which focuses on keeping consumers connected to each other, and to their communities. Connecting these efforts around small businesses is “a natural extension,” Gotlib added.

Additional big-business efforts to help small players include the following:

3. Authentic Connections Matter, and SMBs Can do it Better

Big-box retailers will always win on price and promotion. While it’s hard for consumers to resist a great deal offered at big-box retailers, consumers also crave “real” connections with the brands they interact with.

Building connections with consumers and their communities is becoming a must-have, not just a nice-to-have.

  • Almost 65 per cent of consumers want brands to connect with them, and 72 per cent expect brands to be positive contributors to society, a study by social media management tool provider Sprout Social has showed.
  • More than half of consumers surveyed in the same study said they want businesses to show a community-minded sense of purpose, and 53 per cent said they expect to see it in the near future.

SMBs have a distinct advantage when it comes to connecting with consumers and their communities. Consumers already see local stores ingrained in their communities; not to mention that people employed by SMBs live, work and socialize in these same communities, making them more in tune with what’s going on in their neighbourhoods.

When customers feel connected to brands, companies obtain two primary benefits, according to Sprout Social:

  • Increased customer spending. More than 55 per cent will increase their spending, and 76 per cent will buy from them over a competitor.
  • Increased brand loyalty. About 65 per cent of consumers will be loyal to the brand or business.

SMBs can more easily create genuine connections with their consumers and communities, compared to large retail chains

Here are a few tips from Sprout Social that SMBs can leverage:

Various social media-related icons float around with the thumbs up in the middle.

Use Social Media

Of all digital channels, social media was ranked as the No. 1 method to connect with consumers.

A phone showing a person with connections to potential customers

Show Your Personality

Consumers want to learn more about the people behind their top brands. When a brand’s CEO is active on social media, 70 per cent of consumers feel a stronger connection to the brand.

A virtual meeting with other small business owners or potential and current customers

Host Online Conversations

Almost 45 per cent of consumers say this increases their connection to the brand.

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Be on Top of Industry Trends

When brands share key learnings and what’s trending in the industry, 40 per cent of consumers feel a stronger connection to the brand.

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