Small Business Ahead
Small Biz Ahead

You bring the passion

The Conscious Consumer Goes Mainstream

By Elaine Pofeldt | Forbes

Buying local is far from a new idea, but it seems like we’re at a tipping point when to comes to consumers’ desire to do so. While Americans have clearly not sworn off of shopping at big retailers’ brick and mortar and online stores, more seem to be realizing that there’s real importance to supporting small businesses. And this is not just on Small Business Saturday.

Deloitte’s 2013 Annual Holiday Survey found that 66% of consumers planned to shop with local retailers this year–and 60% of them said it is to support the local economy. Other reasons consumers cited included buying unique gifts (53%), convenience (44%), excellent customer service (39%), “it is critical to the U.S. economy” (30%), loyalty to a local retail store (30%), special deals from local retailers (26%), a personal relationship with store owner (19%) and free service such as gift wrapping (18%). Respondents were allowed to choose more than one reason.

More small businesses are joining forces with others to encourage local consumers to keep their money in their communities, and it’s helping.  Independent businesses in communities with a ”buy local first” initiative had 5% more revenue growth in 2012 than their counterparts in communities that didn’t have such a campaign, according to a survey earlier this year by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR).

The ILSR says that more than 150 cities now have such campaigns, and they include more than 40,000 small businesses. The trend has contributed to the growth of everything from pet shops to sewing stores. One pocket of growth that many people enjoy is of farmer’s markets, which increased from 3,000 to nearly 8,000, over the last decade, according to a presentation the ILSR gave at a conference in September.

Nonetheless, there are still many more communities that could benefit from putting their small businesses front and center. And with more Americans concerned about the low wages paid by large mass market retailers, the timing could be right for a major push to promote small businesses in 2014. It is now widely appreciated how much small firms contribute to local economies, something that wasn’t top of mind before the recession and its aftermath. Small retailers don’t necessarily pay higher wages than their larger counterparts, but as consumers in the Deloitte research point out, they do contribute many extras that count for a lot.

Many small business owners really don’t toot their horns about all they have to offer, but 2014 could be the ideal moment to do that. Americans realize that there’s a not-so-hidden cost to society of the cheap merchandise at mass market stores, and, while not ready to give up on it, do seem readier to spread their money around to small businesses than in the past. That’s a good thing, for our communities and the people looking for work there.