The holiday season is a time to search for gifts as perfect and unique as the loved ones they’ll be gifted to, and if said gifts can be purchased from local businesses, it’s a win-win situation on all fronts.
According to data intelligence company Morning Consult, 51% of shoppers are open to exploring new brands when buying gifts for the 2020 holiday season, and 64% of shoppers said they still plan to shop in-store. Many local businesses are still open for the holidays and are stocked with locally made or hard-to-find products perfect for stuffing stockings or stowing under the tree. All it takes is a little planning upfront to help keep holiday shopping equal parts seasonal and safe.
Be prepared to shop
Trying to juggle mask mandates and social distancing can leave some shoppers too discombobulated to open the front door. To prevent confusion, many local retailers have added signs or arrows showing how crowds are meant to flow through the store, including where entrances and exits are located.
“All along, we’ve followed every single recommendation that was put out there to provide a comfortable shopping environment in this pandemic,” Mike Curran, general manager of Timberwinds Nursery, said. “We do control the flow, we do control the entries and exists, and those are all clearly marked. In fact, if we anticipate a particularly heavy traffic day, we usually have people manned at the doors to explain to people, ‘OK, this is how you get in, here’s how you get out. How can we help you?’”
Shop local online
With the rise of e-commerce, many local retailers also have created websites that individuals can patronize to find unique gifts when leaving home isn’t an option. Many places, such as C.R. Frank Popcorn, are offer online ordering in conjunction with curbside pickup, which gives the consumer multiple options depending on their schedule comfort level.
“Our website has always been available to use for tin orders; however, most people in the past have used it only to place orders to be shipped,” Susan Woltering, CEO of Select Drink Inc. and C.R. Frank Popcorn, said.
Ask for advice
Nobody knows a business’ best-sellers more than its owner. When it comes to holiday gift ideas, they can provide recommendations for individuals of all ages and interests. This can not only help cut down on idle browsing time, but build connections with business owners that will carry over into future visits.
“My customers walk in the door, and I know what many of them are shopping for because they often buy the same things, and they have their favorites,” Deborah Patterson, owner of Patterson Family Farms in Wildwood, said.
Pick up curbside
Curbside pickup options and procedures have become somewhat streamlined in the past few months, but still may vary from business to business.
Before ordering, touch base with a company or check their website to find out what their curbside procedures are. In the case of C.R. Frank Popcorn, customers don’t even have to leave their car.
“We ask that our customers call from the parking lot, tell us what it is they want and we gather their items and deliver it to their cars,” Woltering said.
Even as C.R. Frank Popcorn looks at re-opening its showroom on Nov. 27, curbside services will remain available for orders as well to maintain customer comfort and safety.
“Masks will be mandated and social distancing (will be) enforced,” Woltering said. “Once our customer has placed their order, we will ask them to return to their cars and we will bring the completed order to them. We have created a path through the showroom so traffic all flows in one direction.”
Make it uniquely yours
Small business owners have more control over the products and inventory in their spaces, meaning more leeway when it comes to customizing gift boxes or orders to suit a customer’s wants or needs.
“I think communities want to have small businesses that they have those relationships with, that they can trust, that they can customize and they can call and ask ‘Can you do this for me?’” Patterson said.
Those customization and personalization opportunities even extend to corporate gifts.
“We use (the company’s) logo, and that represents that the gift is coming from them and also that they are supporting local by shopping at Patterson Family Farms,” Patterson said. “That the items within the box are also from local companies.”
If the availability of a specific item or gift is causing shopper hesitation, picking up the phone and calling can yield the quickest answer.
“If people are looking for a specific something, the best thing to do is call,” Curran said. “There are many ways for us to get in and see if we have a particular item.”
Many businesses also have Facebook pages where customers can message a store with questions and receive live replies.
According to Curran, multiple communication channels proves that many businesses are not only devoted to staying open, but are continuing to find safe and effective ways to keep customers serviced during the pandemic and beyond.
“I’m very impressed by the responsiveness I’ve seen through Facebook,” Curran said. “It’s reminding people that these are the stores that are there at the last moment. These are the stores that employ people you know. These are the stores that keep the local economy going.”