Want to support a small sustainable business? This ultra-quick step will make the world of a difference
With the pandemic, a lot of people’s attention has been brought to the fact that small businesses really need our help. They’re the heartbeat of our communities and will contribute to the cultural vibrancy of our neighbourhoods much more than giants like Amazon ever will. But did you know that not all purchases you make from them are created equal?
The problem with giants like Facebook and Amazon
We’ve all seen Instagram roll out its shopping channel where the notification menu used to be (to get you to click on it out of habit whether you wanted to or not). But did you know that as of January 1st, 2021, Facebook (who owns Instagram) will be charging 5% on every sale made through its platforms? Yep, even small businesses struggling through a global pandemic. What a lot of people don’t know is that companies like Etsy, Amazon and soon Facebook and Instagram take a cut of every sale made through their platforms, and the impact on small businesses can be huge.
To give a real-life example: I’ve been eyeing this Montreal artist on Etsy who does custom-made portraits and art (I want a sassy fashion painting for my bedroom). A custom painting starts at $65 CAD. Etsy charges 5% for every sale (among other things), in this case $3.25 CAD. Once, twice, won’t make a huge difference. But imagine that over the course of one year she gets 200 customers. If they all buy through Etsy and not her website – that’s a difference of $650 CAD! Huge, especially for a small business in the middle of a global pandemic. That’s 10 extra paintings that she has to make, and give the revenue (not even profit!) directly to Etsy. And this is not counting all of the other fees that Etsy charges. Don’t know about you, but if I’m paying the same amount anyway, I will take the extra step of Googling her, finding her website, and making my purchase on there.
Don’t forget the privacy issues
And of course, we’re all too aware of Facebook being shady with the information it collects on us to sell us things we may or may not need and that may or may not be good for us or the planet. Now imagine Facebook having information on what and when you buy, and what you do on the platform before you buy. This is a huge and personalized window into how you make purchasing decisions and it’s coming in 2021. In other words, once again Facebook may end up knowing more about you than you know about yourself, and using it to its advantage.
What’s more is that apparently they’re being shady about rolling out the feature – harassing merchants with emails and making it sound like there’s a problem with their website when it’s not synchronized with their shopping feature, and wanting access to the information stored on their Shopify or other e-commerce platform (source: this Instagram post by a small business in Texas). And, they apparently plan on using subtly fear-mongering language as you’re leaving Instagram to go buy the product on the company’s website, to discourage you from cutting them out of the commission.
It can feel more secure, but in most cases it’s exactly the same
Yes, there are scams out there. It’s always good to check a business’ social media, read reviews, and use your judgement (anyone else get a flurry of “looking for ambassadors” messages, offering free “luxury” (lol) products in exchange for photos, as long as you pay $14.99 USD shipping? A company that sells luxury products will not ask you to pay anything in exchange for promotion. These people take your shipping money, send you cheap sh*t that costs $1-$2 to make in Asia, upload photos that you excitedly and painstakingly created and happily pocket the difference).
Anyway. The vast majority of small businesses out there are not scammers but regular people who have a dream and want to serve their communities. It’s up to you to judge if the company and product is what you’re looking for, and of course reviews and social media help with that, but generally speaking if you place an order with a small local business from their website, you will get an excited owner packing an order as quickly as they can, the order arriving as quickly as it can, and possibly a hand-written thank you note because they’re that happy you made an order. And you will get the same if the order is made on Instagram or Etsy or Amazon, but with less money going into the community and more money going into the hands of already-too-powerful e-commerce giants.
So, if you find a small sustainable business on Amazon, Etsy, Facebook or Instagram that you really want to support, please take the ultra-quick extra step of Googling them and buying directly from their website. It will make the world of a difference.