Grassroots campaign by small business owners seeks to address the unfair advantage given to big retailers this year – encouraging people to #ShopEthicalInstead

A community of small businesses has banded together to encourage people to #ShopEthicalInstead and think about the positive impact their purchases could have this Christmas, at a time when many are re-evaluating their choices as a result of Covid-19, and other issues such as climate change. 

32 million people have been supporting local and small businesses online since the country first went into lockdown in March – almost half the UK’s population! 55% of the population intend to consciously spend more in local shops after lockdown as a show of support, according to Business Mole.

This consumer support couldn’t come at a better time, with many independent businesses forced to close for a second lockdown, and others remaining open online but experiencing a significant drop in sales. British Independent Retail Association (BIRA) found that 21,000 independent shops across the UK did not re-open after the first lockdown, and the country is set to lose up to 50% of independent retail by March 2021 if the sector does not receive more support.

Meanwhile, large “essential” retailers remain open, with shelves stocked high with Christmas gifts, toys and clothes alongside groceries and essentials – providing an unfair competitive advantage to these companies. Amazon have also reported a 37% increase in earnings during the pandemic and are expecting sales to soar again as Black Friday and Cyber Monday entice deal-hungry shoppers at the end of the month, despite some backlashes about their tax payments.

This month, the small business community has rallied behind the grassroots #ShopEthicalInstead campaign, to encourage shoppers to “vote with their wallets” and support small businesses with an ethical and environmental focus instead of the big retail giants.

The campaign is running across social media until Christmas Eve, and includes an online marketplace, digital advent calendar recommending ethical and sustainable products and a social media challenge to help small business owners tell their story and showcase their products.

#ShopEthicalInstead was originally launched by the small business membership organisation, #EthicalHour in 2017, as a positive alternative to Black Friday for those who don’t want to boycott it, but are keen to avoid the excessive mass consumerism at this time of year.

Since Sunday 1 November 2020, the #ShopEthicalInstead hashtag has already been used over 541,000 times across social media by small businesses and their supporters, showcasing their products, recommending businesses to support and sharing their purchases.

Hellen Stirling-Baker is the Founder of Small Stuff UK, an independent toy shop in Crookes, Sheffield, who has been campaigning for more clarity around the unfair lockdown rules and participating in #ShopEthicalInstead. Hellen’s sales have already dropped by -40% year on year due to lack of footfall and forced closures. She says campaigns like this are essential:

“In the run-up to Christmas a shop like mine would normally be incredibly busy; the hustle and bustle of the high street, late night openings for pubs and shops and the local Christmas markets encourage both locals and people from further a-field to shop with us for their toys, gifts, cards and children’s clothes.

We don’t have the same brand awareness as the big retailers, so on our own we can’t compete. Campaigns like this help us reach new audiences, drive more traffic to our website and give us a sense of connection and community at what is proving to be a worrying and uncertain time for small business owners. It’s reassuring to know you’re not alone, and there’s a whole audience of people who want to support you.”

In a poll of their 20K Twitter audience, #EthicalHour found that 74% of people are planning to support small businesses this holiday season, with 25% saying they will shop from small businesses exclusively.

Shoppers can discover an array of ethical Christmas gifts through #ShopEthicalInstead by:

  • Visiting the virtual marketplace featuring 30 independent ethical & sustainable shops, launching on Thursday 26 November. []
  • visiting the virtual advent calendar every day from Tuesday 1 December, where 24 ethical and sustainable products will be revealed day by day. []
  • following the #ShopEthicalInstead hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and @shopethicalinstead on Instagram.

Sian Conway, Founder of Ethical Hour, who started the #ShopEthicalInstead campaign in 2017, says: 

“It’s incredibly empowering to bring small businesses together through a campaign that strives to shift attention away from the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, to independent businesses offering gorgeous ethical products. I urge shoppers to buy mindfully this year and support independent businesses that rely on the Christmas period to survive.”

Ethical businesses can also get involved by following @shopethicalinstead on Instagram and using #ShopEthicalInstead in their posts. 

Useful statistics:

  • Last year #ShopEthicalInstead reached 495,000 people on social media (source: EthicalHour)
  • Eight in ten Black Friday purchases – and the plastic they are wrapped in – end up in landfill, incineration or low quality recycling (source: Green Alliance).
  • During Black Friday and Cyber Monday air pollution spikes due to more delivery vans on the road (source: The Guardian).
  • According to research 93% of people surveyed said they’re concerned about the environment (source: Forbes).
  • Further reading on the impact lockdown is having on independent businesses can be found here.


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