How Global Brands and Platforms are Supporting Small Businesses During the Coronavirus Pandemic

We’ve said it before: now, more than ever, small businesses need our help to stay afloat. But as consumers, there is only so much we can do. Our donations, purchases, shares, likes, etc. will only go so far. That’s not to say we should stop doing all of that—we shouldn’t, our support is essential. But we shouldn’t be the only ones keeping them alive. And, thankfully, global platforms, retailers, and brands are rising to the occasion.

Just last week, Shopify, the global e-commerce logistics platform, launched Shop, a new mobile shopping app designed to make the shopping experience, from product discovery to package delivery, more cohesive. Shop allows you to follow your favorite stores and receive relevant product recommendations from them, consolidate all your order tracking info in one place and receive real-time updates, check out with a single click, and discover local businesses through Shop Local. Shop Local enables you to locate nearby merchants and support local businesses based on the zip code you provide with your shipping address.

According to Melissa Ho, Shop’s Product Marketing Lead, the app has been in the works for two years. The plan had always been to launch the app in April, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, Shopify wanted to make sure the app would offer what shoppers really need right now. 

“There were two features we built in response to COVID that we thought would really help the shopping experience today,” Ho told Fashionista. One of which was the Shop Local feature, and the other was the addition of specific details on each retailer’s profile, which would allow for up-to-date information on how they’re operating and what they’re offering.

Behind the scenes, Shopify has other efforts to support its small merchants. It’s extending its free trial for new merchants from 14 days to 90; making its gift card feature available for all plans; offering local delivery and pickup as shipping options; offering its email marketing features for free to all users through October. 1; and working to expand its Shopify Capital small-business funding initiative, which allows for store owners to get some quick funding to bridge short-term cash flow issues or expand their inventory to offer products currently in high-demand.

Similarly, at eBay the focus has been on helping small retailers transition to online. According to Marketing firm Blue Corona, only about half of small businesses have their own website, which definitely poses as a problem when consumers can’t shop in-store. Last month it launched Up & Running, an accelerator program aimed to help shops without an e-commerce presence transition to selling online. The company has pledged up to $100 million through this program in support of small businesses across North America.

Through Up & Running, businesses will receive a free basic eBay store for three months, waived selling fees, and will be allowed to sell up to 500 items for free. eBay will also provide new sellers with the guidance and resources they need to successfuly run their business, including a suite of exclusive marketing and merchandising tools, educational webinars, individual support, customization features to build a brand, discounted shipping supplies, and access to experienced sellers willing to mentor those who are new to e-commerce. 

eBay has also made significant moves to help the small and medium businesses that already sell on eBay, including deferred fee payments, added seller protections, and 100,000 incremental free listings. The company has invested more than $200 million in support programs for existing sellers. In the coming weeks, the company will also highlight small business sellers on their site and provide new ways for shoppers to support their favorite local businesses.

At Pinterest, allowing its users to discover small, independent brands when pinning, planning, and making mood boards is key. According to its data, searches over the last few weeks on its platform for the keywords “support small business” have increased by 351%, proving that the search for small is important. With The Pinterest Shop, users can browse a selection of curated products from small businesses within the same Pins and Boards framework they’re already familiar with.

The Pinterest Shop launched last November, at the time featuring a selection of products from  small businesses that consumers could skim for holiday shopping.  Currently, The Pinterest Shop features hundreds of shoppable Pins from 21 U.S.-based sustainable and ethical businesses.

“With Pinterest traffic surging and Pinners planning, deciding what to try or buy next and looking for inspiration, providing greater visibility for small businesses is key during these times,” Pinterest told Women’s Wear Daily.

One platform that has always focused on small, independent boutiques and under-the-radar fashion brands is Garmentory. So while helping small businesses is party of its everyday routine, it has increased its efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has included focusing its marketing messaging on its smallest boutiques to make them more visible to consumers, hosting flash sales, and offering guidance and advice on the backend.

Another online marketplace making special efforts to support its small boutiques is Farfetch. Farfetch has hundreds of retail partners across the globe, approximately 700 of which are small boutique partners, and many of which previously relied on brick-and-mortar sales. To support these businesses, the company has created an initiative called #supportboutiques, the mission of which is to increase visibility and engagement for their small business partners.

The company is also lowering the fees to use its platform, offering to move inventory and fulfill orders for these small businesses when they’re unable to, providing protective gear for boutiques’ staff, and offering overall guidance.

At Quebec-based Simons, the 180-year-old, family-owned fashion retailer, the pandemic focus has become about supporting its crew of artisans.  In 2018 the retailer launched its Fabrique1840 program, which provides e-commerce support to local makers in the fashion, home, beauty and wellness sectors. During the pandemic, the online market has seen “exponentially” increasing sales. This seems to confirm consumers are seeking to shop and support local artisans. And in effect, Simons is looking to expand its Fabrique 1840 program. The digital platform currently has 117 makers; Simons’ goal is to grow the Fabrique 1840 community to 500 Canadian artisans.

As part of an international program called Foot the Bill, Vans is partnering with local and community-driven skate shops, restaurants, art galleries, and music venues to create and produce shoes custom-designed by the businesses. The shoes will be sold on Vans’ website, with all proceeds (minus the cost of materials and shipping) going directly to the business.

And at Brother Vellies, an accessories brand built on celebrating traditional African designs practices and techniques, you can find a very unique pandemic-inspired offering: a monthly subscription box called Something Special. For only $35 a month, consumers can receive a special handmade item from the Brother Vellies community of artisans, including anything from a handcrafted vase from Mexico to a candle hand-poured in NYC. The program is set to last for at least six months, and will help keep both the company and its suppliers going in this tough time. And you can get a unique little present to look forward to in the mail, too.

While alone none of these initiatives will save the fashion industry from an inevitable decline, together they all show that support and collaboration may be the fashion industry’s path to resiliency. Separately, many fashion businesses will not be able to weather the storm, but with help from larger giants their path may be brighter.

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