Amid a global pandemic, it's easy for those of us who aren't frontline or essential workers to feel powerless in our inability to curb the devastation happening all around us. But those who have the privilege of staying home (and still have a disposable income) can at least help by opening their wallets — whether by donating to nonprofit organizations and crowdfunding campaigns, or by supporting the small businesses they love and that will have a harder time bouncing back, compared to the Amazons and LVMHs of the world.
Not only are small brick-and-mortar retailers expected to be hit hard by pandemic-induced closures, but their suffering will also inevitably trickle down to the brands they carry, and then to the workers who manufacture their products. That makes supporting them, as well as individual brands, all the more crucial for those who can.
That's why we're seeing the rise of platforms like Bookshop, where shoppers can buy books straight from local indie bookstores, and initiatives like UberEats offering free delivery for local restaurants. And now, some retail companies are making it easier to shop fashion from local, independent boutiques — many of which are struggling with the loss of brick-and-mortar sales — as well.
On Tuesday, Shopify — a go-to platform for direct-to-consumer brands and boutiques venturing into e-commerce — launched a new mobile app called Shop, which it describes as a personal shopping assistant. It allows you to follow your favorite shops, compile all your order tracking info (even from purchases made outside of Shopify) in one place and pay more quickly (with a feature called Shop Pay). It also has a handy "Shop Local" option that lets you to shop directly from stores in your city or neighborhood based on the zip code you provide with your shipping address.
Melissa Ho, Shop's Product Marketing Lead, tells me the app has been in the works for two years. The plan was always to launch in April, but when Covid-19 hit, she says, the Shopify team took a step back to look at 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 says — one was the Shop Local feature, which users can access right from the app's homepage, and the other was the addition of specific details on each retailer's profile, giving shoppers the most accurate up-to-date information on whether that store is open in any capacity and what services it's currently offering. "I think everyone wants to maintain the vibrancy in their communities," she adds, in regards to shoppers' desire to support local businesses right now.
How Bad Is a Pandemic for Small Retailers — and Can They Bounce Back?
Garmentory Is Now Your Online Destination for Indie Boutiques and Emerging Designers
Farfetch Acquires Off-White, Heron Preston Parent Company New Guards Group
Some of those local businesses may be using Shopify to sell products online for the first time. The platform has been seeing more businesses generating sales in their first week on it, suggesting that many established brick-and-mortar merchants are joining Shopify. Additionally, 64% more existing businesses created new online stores on Shopify in the second half of March than in the first.
Shopify is supporting its merchants behind the scenes as well. It's making its gift card feature available for all plans, plus it's working to expand its Shopify Capital small-business funding initiative. Additionally, it's offering its email marketing features for free to all users through Oct. 1; offering local delivery and pickup as shipping options; and offering 90 days free for all new merchants.
Farfetch, an online marketplace offering access to designer goods via hundreds of retail partners across the globe, is also making special efforts to support its approximately 700 small boutique partners, many of which previously relied on brick-and-mortar sales.
The company and its PR team have been hard at work on an initiative dubbed #supportboutiques, through which they're using marketing messaging to drive engagement to their small business partners. Farfetch is also lowering fees involved in using the platform, offering to move their inventory and fulfill their orders for them when they're unable to and providing assistance in the form of protective gear for boutiques' staff, as well as overall guidance.
In an open letter to shoppers, Farfetch CEO Jose Neves — who incidentally launched the company weeks before the 2008 stock market collapse — wrote: "As you know, when you shop on Farfetch, your items will arrive from either a boutique in 50 countries around the world, or from one of our many brand partners. The vast majority of these are small businesses (often family-run) many of whom cannot welcome customers into their stores right now. However, most are still able to trade online. This is a vital lifeline for them at this time. We are doing all that we can to help all of our partners, but especially the smaller ones."
Another platform worth looking at if you want to shop from small online is Garmentory, a Farfetch-esque platform focused on small, independent boutiques that sell similarly cool under-the-radar fashion brands. The company's mission has always been to support these local shops and help them compete against e-commerce giants. It's doubled down on its efforts in the face of Covid-19.
"The majority of our boutiques do less than 1% of their sales on their own web sites, so they need us," CEO Sunil Gowda told Glossy earlier this month. "Our mission has always been to help them compete with big department stores and Amazon by letting them diversify their customer base in a way they can't do on their own. And now, more than ever, that's become critical for them."
Similarly to Farfetch, Garmentory has helped by focusing marketing messaging around its smallest boutiques to make them more visible to shoppers and hosting flash sales, as well as offering guidance and advice as needed behind the scenes.
Alone, none of these initiatives are going to save the fashion industry from an inevitable contraction, but together, they could help. Whether you want to help a local fave stay in business, or discover a new small boutique to support, it's never been easier to do so without leaving your couch.