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1 Dec 2020

How to shop online with independent retailers this Christmas

Find out about Amazon's new indie rival, plus virtual craft fairs near you

Independently run shops need more support than ever this Christmas, but regional coronavirus restrictions mean you might not be able to visit in person. You can still shop small, though: from books to crafts, we share tips on shopping with indie stores and take a look at new book-buying platform bookshop.org.

Retail saw a 5.8% increase in sales year-on-year in October 2020 (Office for National Statistics), as people rushed to shop ahead of further lockdowns. The majority of this was down to an increase in online sales, which largely benefitted retailers with a strong online presence.

Despite this, 50% of people told YouGov that they felt it was unfair for large retailers to continue advertising and promoting offers on non-essential items while other stores were forced to close.

It would be easy to overlook smaller, independent retailers while shopping this Christmas, particularly if you're shopping from the comfort of your sofa rather than hitting the streets.

You may not know the best way to find and support them - here we share the ways you can shop small this year.

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Supporting an independent bookstore online

With lockdowns meaning most of us have spent more time at home this year than ever before, many people have returned to those books they've been meaning to finish for years, or taken solace in the pages of old favourites. In fact a survey by the Booksellers Association (BA) revealed that three quarters of people read more books than normal in the six months to October - so this Christmas could be the perfect time to gift a book.

Until recently the number of independent book retailers was in decline, and had been for decades. And after three years of slight growth - from 883 stores in 2018 to 890 in 2019 - the industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with lockdowns putting a stop to bookshop browsing.

According to the BA, 96% of book buyers intend to shop locally rather than online this Christmas. But even if you can't make it to the shops, you could support an independent store from the comfort of your own home, as many have websites and you can arrange home delivery or click and collect.

And for stores that don't yet sell online, the launch of the Bookshop.org platform could help.

The launch of bookshop.org

Following its success in the US, bookshop.org recently extended its offering to the UK.

The platform is an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops - attempting to rival Amazon's speedy shipping and low prices with ethical buying and investment into the publishing sector.

How does bookshop.org work?

It lets independent bookshops set up an online store front for free, and sell to customers without dealing with fulfillment, delivery or returns - this is handled by book wholesaler Gardners.

The bookshops earn a 30% commission on books bought through the platform, and any time they direct a customer to the site through a link on their own website, emails or social media.

10% of all other sales on Bookshop.org - which could come through links shared by authors, publishers, social media influencers or celebrities - go into an earnings pool, which is then evenly distributed between partnered bookshops every six months.

The website also features a map for finding specific local bookshops to support and place orders with. Using this feature means that the bookshop receives all of the profits from an order.

How does bookshop.org compare on price?

You may not get the cheapest prices with bookshop.org. The platform states that it 'is committed to supporting prices that reflect a fair price for publishers, authors and do not undercut independent bookshops' own offerings'. This means it doesn't offer discounts, beyond a standard 7% discount that's applied to the price set by Gardners.

It's worth keeping in mind, however, that bookshop.org only launched recently in the UK. There are a handful of reviews from UK buyers so far on Trustpilot, and some have reported long delays with orders.

Despite this, when we checked on 25 November, Bookshop.org claimed to have already raised £298,782.96 for local bookshops since it launched in the UK on 5 November.

Virtual craft fairs

Entering a hall filled with independent traders, Christmas music and the buzz of festive chatter may not be on the cards this year, but many Christmas craft fairs are offering virtual alternatives instead. Even big names like Country Living moved their exhibitions online.

These may not have the same number of 'stalls' as you're used to seeing, but they allow you to view a range of items from independent retailers in one go - and perhaps pick up a few impulse purchases.

If there's a particular craft fair you usually go to for your Christmas shopping, have a look at its website to see if it's offering a virtual alternative this year. Even if not, it may feature a list of exhibitors, so you can find the details of your favourite companies from past fairs.

To support local makers, you could search online for 'craft fairs near me' - or, given that this year you don't need to venture from your sofa, you could look further afield.

Sites such as Event Brite have lists of craft fairs from across the country, while Etsy.com is a shopping platform entirely dedicated to independent makers.

Using social media to find independent retailers

Using Facebook on a laptop
Some independent makers and retailers do the majority of their trade via social media, so this is a great way to find them.

If there's a shop you're particularly interested in but it doesn't have a dedicated website, search social media channels such as Facebook or Instagram to see if you can find them.

If you have a local market, check its social media page for the contact details of the stall holders. Alternatively, your local council may have shared a list of local shops and how they are operating deliveries on its Facebook page.

There are lots of Facebook groups set up for finding independent retailers, too, although you might need to be a member to view what's posted.

On Instagram, small businesses may use hashtags to help people find them - these could include #smallbusinessuk, #supportindependent or #supportsmall.

As independent retailers are often run by just a handful of people, it's a good idea to leave plenty of time for ordering and delivery. They may have an earlier final order date than big brands, or use services such as Royal Mail that have cut-offs for Christmas deliveries.