Resources for Small Businesses and Customers

November 1, 2021

We have entered that time of year – the ever-important fourth quarter – that can be a “make it or break it” time for small businesses. The holidays are knocking at the door and as customers return (at some level) to shopping in person, small businesses are gearing up to meet the demand. While many supply chains are still backlogged and cargo ships sit in the waters off the coast of California, there are many tasks we can do in our downtowns to promote a profitable holiday season for our small businesses. Iowa downtowns are poised to capture some of these holiday sales with the unique businesses that fill our main streets across the state. Local chambers and Main Street organizations are once again planning holiday events encouraging consumers back downtown.

What trends are we seeing on a national basis? While we are still not completely out of the woods related to the pandemic, we are starting to see encouraging signs. Health concerns are still on the minds of consumers in many parts of the country, but many communities are bringing back holiday events and promotions at some level. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, consumer expenditures were up 11.3% in the first quarter of 2021, showing consumers are ready to get out and spend money. However, interactions between consumers and businesses have fundamentally changed. During pandemic lock downs, consumers learned new habits related to shopping and many of these habits are here to stay. Many consumers will be shopping earlier, and many have already started to do so based on media reports of supply chain issues and the possibility of merchants running out of some holiday products. In many areas, they still favor curbside pick-up and delivery and expect to be able to find a store online or on social media platforms. 

Businesses also developed new habits – 76% reported how they pivoted in the way they provided goods and services to their customers – 73% expect to pivot again next year. While many saw an increase in sales through e-commerce, they realize consumers are anxious to get back into brick-and-mortar locations. Small-scale production and locally made products continue to be huge, building on the Shop Local efforts brought on by the pandemic. Consumers love locally made products that tell a story and provide a human connection to the small business owner. Etsy, the online marketplace for small creative businesses, grew 118% in the fourth quarter of 2020. This trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Small business owners are using social media platforms to engage with customers, usually on a daily basis. According to recent consumer surveys conducted by the Iowa Downtown Resource Center’s Main Street Iowa program, the top platform used by consumers is Facebook, and Instagram is second. Newer platforms like TikTok and Snapchat are growing in usage, especially with younger consumers.

Short videos showing new products, short shop tours, and sharing tips related to the products that a business sells help develop customer loyalty and help drive customers into brick-and-mortar locations. Digital marketing tools help build on the “Shoppertainment” desires of today’s consumers. They are not only shopping for products – they also want to be entertained, have a memorable experience or learn a new skill. These types of “gifts with an experience” are growing in popularity and help set a business apart from its competition.


The Shop Iowa platform is seeing even more local Iowa businesses list their products and services on the site to allow consumers to shop local small businesses online. This online platform sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority is free to Iowa small business owners until 2023 and is a wonderful way to create an online presence without a huge investment. Be sure to check out all the Shop Iowa resources.

Shop Sooner

The Iowa Small Business Development Center recently released a new program called “Shop Sooner” to encourage consumers to start their holiday shopping earlier this season to help small businesses navigate pandemic-related supply chain issues. Encouraging consumers to “shop sooner,” will hopefully help alleviate some of the supply chain and other issues businesses face during the busy holiday season, including those impacted by COVID-19. Consumers will also experience benefits of shopping sooner through saving money on shipping, more inventory and less stress that accumulates during the holidays amongst many other benefits. We encourage the use of hashtags like #shopsooner and #buynowgiftlater to track shares and promotions. Timeline: Campaign runs throughout the year. Resources such as videos, social media images (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), social media verbiage, press release, logos, flyer, signage etc. can be found here.  

Neighborhood Champion

Does your organization want to help bring small businesses and shoppers together this holiday season and beyond? If yes, apply (for organizations only) to become a Neighborhood Champion. 

As a Shop Small® Ambassador, you will help encourage your community to Shop Small on Small Business Saturday® (November 27) throughout the holiday season, and beyond. Connect shoppers and local businesses so they can get out there and celebrate the season. 

Help promote Shop Small® in your community and apply to be a Neighborhood Champion.

<<< Return to Downtown Resource Volume 3 - 2021