Our favorite local businesses to shop

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday — historically the biggest and busiest retail days of the year — there’s another standout shopping event: Small Business Saturday. Started by American Express in 2010 and co-sponsored by the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) since 2011, Small Business Saturday aims to create awareness about the impact shoppers have when they buy “small” year round, whether they physically visit stores or shop online.

This year, 85% of consumers say they’re likely to shop “small” during the holiday season, according to the American Express 2023 Shop Small Impact Study. That represents a multibillion dollar opportunity — consumers are expected to spend an estimated $125 billion at small businesses this holiday season, up 42% from $88 billion in 2022, as reported by Intuit QuickBooks

We spoke with experts about resources you can use to support small businesses and what impact your purchases have. We also rounded up some Select-staff favorite products from small businesses we love.

SKIP AHEAD What is a small business | Select’s favorite small businesses | Current state of small businesses | How to support small businesses year round

Select’s favorite small businesses of 2023

To recommend a variety of small businesses to shop from, we rounded up products from a few of our favorites around the country. This is by no means an exhaustive list — read more about ways to find small businesses to shop from below.

Backlot Coffee Flying Squirrel

Thank goodness Backlot Coffee ships nationwide because it’s what I miss most about living in Evanston, Illinois. I camped out in this shop for hours every weekend in college and sipped its Flying Squirrel blend until the sun went down. I can taste its chocolate, fig and toasted almond notes as I’m writing this (perhaps because I just brewed a fresh pot, as I do every morning).

Bonita Fierce Coquito Candle

Bonita Fierce is one of our favorite Latino-owned businesses, and NBC Select updates editor Mili Godio says the brand’s coquito candle is her favorite one to burn. It makes her apartment feel homey and fills it with the sweet scents of coconut, buttery rum, vanilla, cinnamon and spices.

Josu Just Salt

NBC page Hannah Fuechtman recommends adding Josu’s mineral-rich Korean sea salt to your spice cabinet. Unlike typical table or kosher salts, which are made up of 100% sodium chloride, Josu’s salt has calcium, potassium, magnesium and other minerals, according to the brand. It comes in a 3-ounce jar and you can sprinkle it on any of your favorite dishes.

Tchotchke Bubble Menorah

If you’re looking for Hanukkah gifts, consider menorahs from Tchotchke, one of NBC Select editor Lindsay Schneider’s favorite small businesses. She particularly likes the brand’s stoneware Bubble Menorah, which has a nontraditional design and looks beautiful displayed on tables, mantles or shelves beyond the holiday. It fits standard Hanukkah candles.

Polar Bottle Breakaway Wave 20-oz. Bike Bottle

NBC Select reporter Harry Rabinowitz frequently takes this brand’s water bottles on his bike rides. The Breakaway bottle is lightweight, designed to fit most bike cages and has a grooved grip pattern. It’s available in 20-ounce, 24-ounce, and 30-ounce sizes.

Isla Beauty The Elixir

Bethany Heitman, NBC Select contributing editor, says Isla Beauty’s essence has transformed her skin, making it her all-time favorite skin care product. Similar to a toner, The Elixir is an essence that brightens and strengthens skin, making it smoother and more balanced over time, according to the brand.

The state of small businesses in 2023

On the surface, people have always recognized the importance of shopping small, says Joe Black, the director of product, commerce, at Intuit, where he works with small and medium product-based businesses. But in recent years, he says shoppers developed a deeper understanding of just how crucial it is to do so. They saw small businesses struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and watched as many closed permanently. 

Now, despite being on more stable ground, some surviving small businesses can’t fully recover from years of economic upheaval as they’re being hit with supply chain issues, staffing shortages and inflation. “Small businesses have faced the gauntlet over the last few years,” says Black. “They’re dealing with these massive challenges on top of constantly competing against larger businesses with bigger budgets.”

Despite these hardships, small businesses are working to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and adjust their business models to reach more customers long term. Their main areas of focus are e-commerce and social media, evidence that they’re investing in becoming omnichannel, meaning they are available to customers across shopping platforms and modalities, says Black. This trend partly started out of necessity — during the pandemic, many small businesses were forced to close their brick-and-mortars and start selling through their own e-commerce sites or others like Etsy, Shopify and Amazon. But now, tapping into the digital space is seen as a tremendous growth opportunity, says Black. It allows small businesses to meet their customers where they are — which is largely online — and show them that they’re willing to raise the bar on shopping experiences year after year.

Now, in the thick of the winter holidays, consumer sentiment toward small businesses is largely positive — 85% of consumers say they’re likely to shop small this season and 50% say they plan to participate in Small Business Saturday, according to American Express. But this high level of support for small businesses needs to extend through the whole year in order for them to continue growing, and Small Business Saturday is an annual reminder of that, Black says.

How to support small businesses year round

Every day, new small businesses are opening across the country — 13.6 million new small business applications have been filed since 2021, a rate 65% faster than the pre-pandemic average, according to Amex. But in order for them to stay open, they need shoppers’ support. Purchasing their products, gift cards and subscription services is the best way to lift small businesses up, experts say. However, showing your support doesn’t stop there. Here are a few ways experts recommend cheering on small businesses year round.

Share your positive reviews online and via word-of-mouth

Because so many customers rely on reviews when determining where to shop, sharing your positive experience goes a long way, says Black. Consider reviewing the product you bought and loved on Google, Yelp or the businesses’ website, or discussing the business’ exemplary customer service, flexible store hours or convenient payment options. All of these details mean a lot to small businesses and encourage customers to shop there.

Follow and interact with small businesses on social media

Social media helps small businesses share news about their company, and those that do so are nearly twice as likely to report that their anticipated revenue for this fiscal year will be higher compared to last year, according to Amex. (60% of those on social say revenue is expected to be higher, compared to 37% who are not on social, according to Amex.) Following your favorite small businesses can alert you to sales, new products, special promotions and more. Some small businesses also sell and advertise their products directly through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest. This gives you a convenient way to purchase items if you’re scrolling and see something that catches your eye. 

Black also encourages shoppers to interact with small businesses by liking and commenting on their posts, or forwarding them to friends and family members who you think might be interested. You can also post about a product you bought from a small business and tag their account, whether that’s in an Instagram Story, on a Facebook page or through a TikTok. When you do this, you’re sharing the small business with everyone who follows you, giving them  exposure with just a few clicks, says Black. That business might repost your photo or video, showing their followers how someone uses their products in real life. 

Seek out small business sellers on larger e-commerce sites

In addition to shoppers making more of an effort to shop small, large retailers are too. Amazon, for example, now adds badges to product pages on its site if items are sold by small businesses. And retailers like Target and Walmart are beginning to carry more products from minority-owned brands, most of which are small businesses. Experts say that as consumers’ intent to shop small continues to strengthen, corporations are forced to respond.

Use small business shopping guides, maps and other search tools

If you’re looking to find small businesses to shop from directly online or in stores, you may be able to find guides and maps available through your city or town to point you in the right direction. Additionally, the American Express small-business map allows you to input your zip code so it can recommend local shops in your area and beyond. Google also has a “small business” filter on desktop and mobile, and one for Google Maps on mobile. When you tap the filter, you’ll only see products from merchants that identify as small businesses to help guide your shopping.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Jessica Ling is the senior vice president of global brand advertising at American Express, which started Small Business Saturday in 2010.
  • Joe Black is the director of product, commerce, at Intuit, where he focuses on helping small and medium product-based businesses succeed using QuickBooks. He has over 20 years of experience in ecommerce, working at companies including eBay and PayPal to build platforms that help connect consumers and small businesses.

Why trust Select?

Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor for NBC Select who has covered deals and sales since 2020. For this piece, she spoke to two experts about the impact of Small Business Saturday and referenced relevant studies from Quickbooks and American Express.

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