The encouragement to support neighbourhood businesses is coming from all quarters as the economy struggles to emerge from the financial devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s provincial and municipal initiatives, chambers of commerce programs, highly publicized incentive campaigns backed by financial giants or small signs in front of individual businesses, the message is the same: Show your local entrepreneurs some extra love during these difficult times — it’s important for helping the economy recover.
While recent polls suggest most Canadians support the idea, actually getting people to prioritize shopping locally over scoring the best deal and the convenience of shopping online is a tough sell during a pandemic, some experts say. The pandemic has left many people out of work and feeling insecure about their finances, which could make finding the lowest prices more important than supporting local small businesses. The Bank of Canada’s most recent survey of consumer expectations showed that virtually all indicators have deteriorated because of the impact of the pandemic, including people’s expectations for wages, spending, labour market conditions, inflation and growth in house prices.
“Everybody is trying to find a deal because they don’t know how long their money is going to last,” said economist Armine Yalnizyan. And maintaining low prices can be a challenge for small enterprises, she said. Still, surveys done since the pandemic began suggest there is growing support for small businesses in this country. A key finding from a Leger poll conducted in April was that “Canadians say they are buying local products more often or for the first time.” But Wayne Smith, a professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management who specializes in consumer behaviour, says what people tell researchers can differ from how they actually behave in the real world.