A 'Buy Local' Canadian Effort Fights Amazon on its own turf
To drive sales to more than 4,000 independent stores in four cities, a website called Not Amazon was developed. The program intends to continue to grow.
When the idea came to her, the snow was falling outside Ali Haberstroh's apartment in late November.
Canada was nearing a second lockdown at the time to curb growing cases of coronavirus. In anticipation, Ms. Haberstroh's mate, the owner of a vintage clothing store in Toronto, had compiled a list of other nearby vintage stores offering curbside pickups and deliveries instead of being able to open their doors.
It was a wake-up call," said Ms. Haberstroh, 27, of the list, which reminded her that during the pandemic, huge retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Amazon had flourished while many smaller, local businesses were shut down." "I was thinking that if there was one small thing that I could do to help, then I should get on with it."
Ms. Haberstroh immediately created an Instagram post, tagging independent companies and shopkeepers around Toronto, motivated to develop a more detailed list. A new domain, Not-Amazon.ca, a URL she had purchased for $2.99, was included.
"Not Amazon was created as a local list to help keep small companies alive "so this year you don't have to give Amazon any money! "Lesen the message.
What started as a Google spreadsheet of more than 160 companies originally compiled from the memory and study of Ms. Haberstroh became a directory of hundreds that have a website and a high-quality photo and provide shipping, curbside pickup or delivery nationwide.
The website has so far received over half a million page views and has expanded to include 4,000 companies in Toronto, Calgary, Halifax and Vancouver. The platform is now submission-based, and thousands of companies are awaiting approval from Ms. Haberstroh.
Ms. Haberstroh, who works as a social media manager at a marketing agency and plans to extend Not Amazon to many more locations, said: "In a big city like Toronto, where it feels like most businesses are local, I think it's so easy to think these things will be here forever." "You do not think they will go anywhere."
Small and medium-sized businesses contribute to Canada's gross domestic product by more than 50 percent. But 40 percent of small companies have announced layoffs after the pandemic lockdowns, while 20 percent have postponed rent payments, according to government statistics.
At the same time, small rivals have been far outpaced by Amazon and big-box stores with more expansive e-commerce sites, turning online shopping from a pleasure into a requirement for customers worldwide.
Small-business owners like Tannis and Mara Bundi, twin sisters who opened the Green Jar last December in Toronto, welcomed Ms. Haberstroh's attempt to even play the field. The store specializes in bulk products that clients buy to refill their own containers, eliminating single-use plastics and household waste, such as soap and honey.
The sisters soon concentrated on their online operations and provided pickup and delivery when the pandemic took hold in March, but even as restrictions relaxed, business remained touch and go. The Green Jar has seen online orders grow 500 percent since being on the Not Amazon platform and has been "incredibly busy," Tannis Bundi said.
"This kind of initiative has really given small businesses the opportunity to be seen and appreciated," she said. Big companies, including Amazon, make millions and millions of dollars, and there is disconnection and detachment. I have a much smaller carbon footprint as a small company, I have a vested interest in my community, and I'm more inclined to invest in my community through charity and local hiring.
For this post, Amazon declined to comment.
In the United States, local movements by independent retailers have also sprung up, with bookstores in particular worrying that they would not survive the pandemic. In France, when "nonessential" companies closed in November, there was a national backlash against Amazon and other major retailers. Canada's competition watchdog began an investigation into the commercial practices of the firm in August.
While there have been some improvements in consumer behaviour, Daniel Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the Independent Business Federation of Canada, predicted that because of the pandemic, one in seven Canadian companies, or 225,000, will close.
"While the movement is there, I'm thrilled, it's competing against a pretty important crosswind, and that's the business constraints pushing new customers into big-box and Amazon," said Mr. Kelly. "I think coming out of this, some of the losses will have been stemmed by the 'buy local' initiatives, but it will unfortunately not be enough to help most small retailers survive."
All is not bleak. The threefold increase in pottery sales after being featured on Not Amazon astonished one Toronto company, Stainsby Studios. Another, selling a range of L.G.B.T.Q. titles, Glad Day Bookshop, said the program had boosted holiday sales by 30 percent.
As several other store owners, when the country's first lockdown took place in March, Mary Oliveira was terrified. But Mary's Brigadeiro, her five-year-old Toronto chocolate shop, was lucky to have an established online presence that brought steady sales during the pandemic, she said.
Several new customers told Ms. Oliveira in recent weeks that they had discovered her shop via Not Amazon, to which she had been added but never heard of.
Ms. Oliveira, 30, who was shocked to find that 27 percent of her online shoppers had come via Not Amazon, said, "We noticed more people had the impetus to shop local." "With that, we sold out a week ago for the whole season. Never before has that happened.
She added four more workers in November and is now considering opening more Toronto locations. Ms. Oliveira, a native of Brazil, said a renewed sense of belonging had been brought by the "buy local" campaign, especially as she saw the multiple Amazon deliveries happening while local businesses struggled.
Ms. Oliveira said it was difficult to contend with delivery delays as a small-business owner when having clients say Amazon is much quicker.
The popularity of her store also coincided with greater public visibility and support for black and indigenous enterprises, she said, following this summer's Black Lives Matter demonstrations to counter racism and police violence in Canada. One of the aims of Not Amazon is also to offer a boost to companies with black, indigenous or queer owners.
"Ms. Oliveira said, "Being Black and being an immigrant in Canada," "I think people have realized that we are here as well, and we are dealing with a lot of problems that people don't see.