Sector trends

What will Christmas giving look like this year?

The impact of coronavirus on retail has been hard – but encouraging shoppers to buy locally may be just the festive boost small businesses need.

Inspired to be greener

Indeed, research from sustainable sharing app Olio found that 65% of people felt they have become more aware of environmental issues as a direct result of coronavirus, leading them to seek out greener gifts. As well as shopping sustainably, three quarters of those polled would prefer to support local retailers and makers this year, as opposed to large online retailers, such as Amazon.

Of course, with the best will in the world, sometimes it comes down to price and convenience. “If people have time to plan and shop early, they’ll do their research and shop small and local,” believes Selvey. “But if delivery time or price is an issue, Amazon is going to trade well.” 

However, as Selvey points out, Amazon as a platform also supports and hosts smaller businesses. Although an independent store might take more of the purchase price if you buy direct, buying on Amazon doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not supporting an independent.

Tech-driven customer service

Olio’s survey was conducted to launch Made, a new marketplace on its app, that allows locals to sell handmade crafts and home-made food, commission-free, in their neighbouring community. And with people unable to visit shops in person, these technological developments could be key to the success of small businesses – not only helping them with logistics but also with customer service.

For many local businesses, in-store customer service was their USP. According to Patrice Lusth from Making Waves, an agency in Sweden that helps brands drive engagement, just because customers can’t see you in person doesn’t mean you can’t maintain that relationship via social media.

“Your own unique brand experience and personal relationship with your consumers is dynamite when taking on the competition in large price pressuring marketplaces,” she says. “The transparency of social commerce drives engagement when customers get ‘behind the scenes’ access to the people behind a design or product.”

Small businesses that care

It’s certainly an approach that has worked for Melanie Porter. She started selling her handcrafted homewares in 2007. And in 2012 she began showcasing her work on Instagram.

“Normally I’d be doing local fairs and trade fairs for Christmas,” Porter says. “But because they’re not an option, I’m spending more time on social media talking directly to customers, and being part of a really supportive community where everyone is driving customers to each others’ brands.”

She points out that the drive to shop small isn’t just about individuals benefiting. For Black Friday, Porter donated 10% of all sales to her local food bank, and this ‘give as you give’ initiative is widespread.

Maleka Dattu is the founder and director of skincare brand Merumaya. She recently announced that for every melting cleansing balm (£20) sold on her website in December, £10 would be split between Beauty Banks, a charity that helps people who can’t afford hygiene products, and Beauty Backed, a charity that financially supports beauty professionals.

“Many women were happily going along earning their salaries and supporting their families and bam, they found themselves visiting food banks,” Dattu explains. “Although I face problems in my own life, they do not compare, so I feel it is incumbent upon me to do what I can to help.”

Less stuff, more experiences

And in a year where we’ve become conscious of feeling overwhelmed by how much stuff we’re living with – an idea popularised by the term ‘stuffocation’ – gifts that don’t take up space are set to be popular. At the top end that means tickets to events that we’ve missed attending this year.

Tim Badham, CEO of high-end lifestyle management and concierge company Inner Place, says many more people are asking about experiences as gifts, such as tickets to Wimbledon, Ascot, the Brits and the Baftas.

Many women found themselves visiting food banks. Although I face problems, they do not compare, so I feel it is incumbent upon me to do what I can to help

Maleka Dattu
Founder at Merumaya

But it can also mean vouchers for experiences at local businesses that have yet to reopen, such as beauty salons or restaurants, and gifts bought on behalf of individuals for others who need them more.

While charities such as Oxfam pioneered that idea this year, you can expect social enterprises to flourish through a combination of stuffocation and gratitude for what we do have.

Take Social Bite, for example, which runs social enterprise cafes throughout Scotland to help homeless people. Past initiatives have included a ‘pay it forward’ scheme so customers can buy a meal or hot drink for those who can’t afford to.

This year it is launching a Festival of Kindness campaign that features two 10m Trees of Kindness in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Shoppers will be invited to place gifts beneath the trees that will then be distributed to the homeless and those in need.

It seems this year’s annual ritual of consumerism will have a far more considered angle – which can only be good news for small businesses, the environment and those who really need help.

Shop local from home

While many Christmas markets have opted to not go ahead this year, others have chosen to host virtual events instead. If you’re looking to support businesses closer to home, here are some online festive markets for you to check out.


It’s often voted the most festive city in the UK. Now you can enjoy the York Christmas Market experience in the comfort of your own home. The unique and local York produce includes award-winning handmade shortbread, Fairtrade shea butter, craft luxury gin and earthenware pottery.

Peak District and Derbyshire

Brought to you by the area’s tourist board, the virtual Peak District and Derbyshire Christmas Market showcases Derbyshire-based producers and suppliers, offering unique gifts or experiences while supporting local businesses at a critical time. Derbyshire’s Chatsworth House has also taken its traditional market online for wreaths, jewellery, decor and food.


From homeware to personalised presents, Christmas decorations and handcrafted jewellery, you can purchase direct from the local creatives at Bath Christmas Market this year and feel reassured that you’re continuing to support small businesses.


Bringing together the best local Edinburgh independent businesses in one place this winter, Edinburgh’s Christmas Neighbourhood Market will showcase all sorts of artisan products from across the city, from makers to bakers, jewellers to distillers, charcuterie to champagne.


Available all year round to promote independent crafters, South London Craft Fair has launched a series of night markets in the lead up to Christmas. Taking place on Instagram every Monday, you can browse gift ideas from makers around the UK. If something catches your eye, click through to the profile of the small business and take it from there.


Helping people source local gifts while ensuring traders get much needed support with events being cancelled, Fowey Christmas Market is this year replaced with an online, buy local, gift fair. Traders will be selling anything from jewellery to gin, and kid’s clothes to Christmas puddings.

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