How small businesses are recreating the holiday shopping season during a global pandemic

An illustration of a hand holding a cellphone, with a speech bubble coming from the phone reading: "prepare!"
Illustration by Bren Robinson

Entrepreneurship has never been easy, and with the COVID-19 pandemic in the picture for about a year now, it doesn’t look like it’ll get easier anytime soon.

As the holidays inch closer, small businesses are shifting to survival mode and working around ways to navigate the busiest time of the year during a global pandemic.

Aille Design, a fashion company that makes clothing beaded with braille phrases, were among many small businesses that had to innovate with new products. For them, it was hand-beaded braille masks.

A woman wearing a red beaded braille mask.
Image via Aille Design’s website.

Alexa Jovanovic, the founder of Aille Design, said the company intended to launch braille denim jackets, one of their most requested products, but wanted to readjust their priorities and create something trendy during the pandemic.

“We slowed down and reprioritized. We understood that our consumers come first, and launching a denim jacket might not be the need of the hour and pivoted it into something more apt,” said Jovanovic. 

These masks serve as ideal holiday gifts as they correspond to holiday colors – burgundy red, indigo blue, and classic black – kicking off the holiday season while simultaneously incorporating inclusive design.

“We pivoted into creating masks because apart from being necessary, they are also indicative of who you are as a person, and how much you value the well-being of the person in front of you,” said Jovanovic.

Aille has also initiated collaborations with other small businesses and says it was a conscious effort to facilitate job processes and support a variety of communities while empowering consumers, and remaining positive about the situation.

Small businesses have embraced the term “pivoting”. A word that describes the changes in the product line or product strategies. A huge step for a small business to take as it requires new resources, and approaches.

Melissa Chung, CEO of Krippit, a fashion company that creates 3D printed high heel protectors, said that the company has taken the initiative to be more engaged with their customers by directing their efforts towards their social media presence.

An image of Krippit high heel protectors.
Image via Krippit’s website.

“I think now more than ever, social media should be put to good use. We at Krippit are all about empowerment and motivation and have been taking our online persona seriously over the past few months. It is how we’re staying connected with our community,” said Chung.

Krippit has taken posting very seriously, before the Pandemic, they used to post once in two weeks, but have drastically shifted their priorities and are posting about 2 times a week now.

Chung also reflected on using a social media agency from New York and says that they were able to understand the brand persona better through them, and also helped Krippit create their very own brand guide.

Furthermore, they have also resumed working on their newsletter, a latent strategy pre-pandemic.

According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the online personas of small businesses are important, reporting that “consumer intent to shop online continues to increase” in a recent article.

“More interestingly, these habits seem like they’re going to stick as U.S. consumers report an intent to shop online even after the COVID-19 crisis,” read the article.

Graphic by McKinsey & Company.

The company also reported that “even discretionary categories such as skincare, makeup, apparel, and jewelry and accessories show expected customer growth of more than 15 percent.”

Business owners like Jovanovic and Chung were obviously not expecting the pandemic to occur, like all other business owners, but they saw it as a learning opportunity as it has tested their ability to adapt and learn.

“I don’t think anyone stuck to their original plan, or rather they couldn’t stick to the original plan. The change happened so fast and was so uncalled for. It was either pivoting or terminating, there wasn’t much choice,” said Chung.

Small businesses have swiftly but steadily adapted to health and safety protocols outlined by the government, placing consumer safety as one of their top priorities.

“We take health very seriously and our products are made by hand, as opposed to being produced in a large factory, with limited quality control levels and larger surface exposure,” said Jovanovic.

“COVID isn’t going anywhere, and it is time we accept it. We must understand our end consumer and readjust our priorities now,” said Jovanovic

“We have so much planned, this is only the beginning.”