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Christmas shopping: how to shop local and support small businesses this winter

Consider this your ultimate guide to a more meaningful Christmas shopping experience.

It’s that time of year again, when Michael Buble urges us to have a Holly Jolly Christmas and Mariah Carey reminds us that the presents underneath the tree aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. (Love, she insists quite rightly, is key to a very happy holiday season).

That being said, though, Christmas shopping is one of the festive season’s most time-honoured traditions. 

And, this year in particular, we’re being urged to think a little harder about the gifts we’re buying and where we’re buying them from.

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Oh yes: while it’s infinitely easier to shop with big companies, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic means that we’re all being urged to shop locally. Indeed, almost half of small business owners say that if everyone in their local community just spent £5 extra per week with small businesses it would help to keep them open in the long term, according to The Independent.

But, with yet another lockdown upon us, how can we support our communities? Here, we’ve pulled together some ideas for a meaningful Christmas shopping guide, which should hopefully inspire you to spend your money with those who’ll appreciate it most.

Because, to quote Hello, Dolly!’s eponymous character, money – pardon the expression – is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.

Happy shopping.

Ask your neighbours for recommendations

Christmas shopping: Ask your neighbours for recommendations
Christmas shopping: Ask your neighbours for recommendations

The majority of towns and villages have community pages set up on Facebook, as I discovered during the first of this year’s lockdowns. Recently, I popped up a post asking everyone to share their favourite indy shops and businesses (with an aim to ensure I support those around me during the Christmas period) and just under an hour later I had over 50 recommendations to scroll through.

If your area doesn’t have a Facebook page, though, don’t despair: the Nextdoor app is also a great way to instantly connect to the people, businesses, and happenings near your home (as well as pore over local gossip, too).

Visit a virtual Christmas market

That’s right, wannabe elves: many Christmas fairs and markets are taking their business online this year. The East Surrey Online Christmas Market, for example, has well over 4,000 members, and sees pre-approved stallholders share their wares via Facebook posts and photos. Kilkenny Christmas Market, meanwhile, acts as a virtual shop for local independent businesses. And Bath’s famous Christmas market has, too, taken its offerings online.

Give your area a google and see if there are any virtual fairs set up. And, if there aren’t any, why not consider setting one up yourself? It’s a great way to support indy businesses and small local shops – as well as a great way to rally some community spirit, too.

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Support your local farmer or deli

When it comes to sourcing your roast dinner, it’s all too easy to head to one of the big supermarkets. Don’t forget about local farm shops and delis, though: from fresh fruit and vegetables, to delicious cakes and pastries, to the roast turkey itself, many allow you to place orders well in advance – and there are usually plenty of bargains to be found, too.

Treat your friends to dinner

It doesn’t have to be now, of course, but many restaurants and bars are now offering gift cards, so friends can still treat each other to dinner – which could be the perfect Christmas gift, quite honestly, as it’ll give them something to daydream about long into the new year.

Christmas shopping: Treat them to a cinema date de futuro.
Christmas shopping: Treat them to a cinema date de futuro.

… or even a cinema date

Whether you plan to use them yourself later in the year or give them to friends and family as presents, buying gift vouchers in lieu of cinema tickets is a great way to support your local movie theatre.

Opt for handmade gifts

Whether you’re on the search for jewellery, posters, mugs or blankets, there are so many handmade businesses out there just waiting to be discovered. So why not swerve the usual big brands and instead shop online via sites such as Etsy, Not On The High StreetWakuda, and Folksy?

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Visit an (online) indy bookstore

As previously reported by Stylist, there’s a small pool of Black-owned bookshops across the UK that are currently closed due to the pandemic, but they’re still taking online orders. Check out our list of these independent bookshops which either specialise in texts that relate to Black culture, or are owned by a person of colour and spread the word to help them increase their sales and feel your support.

… or gift them a unique reading subscription service

And Other Stories is a not-for-private-profit company that focuses on publishing fresh, contemporary fiction.Think of world-class writing, not ‘world writing’.

“So far we have concentrated on translations because there are so many amazing writers currently not available to readers in English,” explains a site spokesperson.

Subscribe now for two, four, or six titles per year to support forthcoming books, and you’ll be thanked by name inside each of the books your subscription helps make happen. Well worth the wait, right?

The books everyone lies about reading, if you fancy a challenge
Christmas shopping: Gift them a unique reading subscription service

Support Black-owned businesses

Black-owned businesses are more likely to struggle than those with white owners for a plethora of reasons, so why not make an effort to purchase products or services with local and online Black-owned businesses? 

To help get you started, we’ve created a lifestyle edit of 14 Black-owned brands, from stationery to candles, to buy something from this Christmas.

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Sign loved ones up to online classes or clubs

From yoga workouts to cooking classes, crystal healing workshops to creative writing courses, many businesses are now offering their services online. So why not source a course that suits your loved one, sign them up as a Christmas gift, and help support an indy organisation in the process.

Shop from online charity stores

Many charities have the option to support them by shopping in custom-made online stores. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, for example, has a lovely selection of pet treats and accessories, Shelter has some thoughtful festive gifts that promote its message of homeless support, while Oxfam’s usual trove of donated treasures are available in an online portal (as well as local stores). Buying gifts and supporting a cause you believe in at the same time? It’s a win-win.

Image of someone sifting through a charity shop rail
Many charities have online outlets you can shop from

Buy vouchers from local pubs and restaurants

As we’re all aware, the hospitality sector has been particularly hard-hit by the events of this year. So Christmas is a great opportunity to give your local boozer or neighbourhood restaurant a leg up by buying a voucher or two. Not only does this support the venue in the moment, it can also be used to introduce your favourite haunt to a wider circle of people – who will then hopefully return and have more meals there. A cunning strategy, non?

Make the most of to-hire and mend services

As well as buying gifts, many of us look to Christmas as an opportunity for an upgrade: whether that’s a newly repaired sequin top to wear to your outdoor gathering of six (hey, we can but dream) or a interiors dust-down so that at least – if you’re going to spend so much time in it – your home can look cosy. For all these kind of make-do-and-mend makeovers, local business is your best friend. Go rooting through your wardrobe for long-forgotten pieces you can get a nearby repair service to transform, or Google local rental services for outfits, jewellery or even furniture to hire.

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Embrace Secret Santa

The great thing about Secret Santa is that a.) you don’t have to break the bank, and b.) it forces you to think creatively. Both of which make local produce a runaway winner for the formula. By shopping locally, you can root out something that’s truly personal and original for your present of choice, whether that’s a special kind of regional wine or those handcrafted earrings that your neighbour has a talent for making.

Leave positive reviews

It’s not enough to shop from amazing small businesses: you need to tell the world about their outstanding service and unique products, too. Share your photos and thoughts on social media, leave a review, tell your friends about your new discovery, share your thoughts with them via email, and help others find this small business. 

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Images: Getty/Mohamed Zaheri/Unsplash

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