And everyone's saying that supporting Black-owned businesses is what's needed for change, and if you were serious you'd be taking your money and buying Black!
You haven't been doing that, so you've made up your mind to find some Black-owned businesses to support. At this point it really doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's Black, you're proud!
As you surf the sites, you notice that prices are at times higher than you're used to paying. You're like, "What the...!" But... you breathe and remind yourself that what you're doing is bigger than spending a few extra dollars, it's about building and showing support, so you proceed.
So now you're checking out, and the delivery is like three weeks away! Ouch! You, an Amazon Prime top spender, are used to two or three days, not weeks. But this ain't Amazon. This is a small business and since they can't offer what you're used to, you ask yourself 'What can they offer?" And in walks opportunity...
Since most Black-owned businesses are small companies, it's understandable that prices or delivery terms may seem off-putting when compared to the tempting offers of larger companies. It's important for consumers to remember that supporting Black-owned businesses keeps choices of retailers diverse and improves visibility of the underrepresented group. The hope is that more dollars will 1) be spent to benefit the communities where business owners live and/or operate, 2) fuel those companies' ability to provide jobs and 3) promote greater self-sufficiency, which helps communities thrive without gentrification, thereby preserving the essence of the neighborhood.
One area of opportunity for a small, Black-owned business to win with patrons is through outstanding customer service.
According to the Small Business Association, the foundation of brand loyalty lies in great service – a happy customer is a loyal customer.
"The business owner's responsibility is always to make customers feel comfortable when they enter, whether you're dealing one-on-one or if it's a large business. You have to create a welcoming environment. It's good to have employees that wear bright, sincere smiles and offer to help customers locate items but it's also important to know when to give them space.
Another responsibility is to give perks, rewards and discounts to customers who frequent your establishment. There should always be an incentive to return and support your business. And last but not least, business owners should make the customer experience as accommodating as possible, from prices, to isles free from obstacles and keeping the establishment as clean as possible. All of these things help the customer and also help the business flourish."
Sister Sar'aah, a regular patron of Black-owned businesses in Richmond, VA, says that customer expectations and interactions also play a major part. "I've found that the key in supporting small, Black-owned businesses is patience and kindness. In some cases I have learned that all business owners do not have a thorough knowledge of running a successful business as far as supply and demand goes. My issue has never been the product, but the times there has been an issue, it's been about communication and service. I make it a point that when I shop and support, to show a friendly face, it encourages their customer service skills. Good interactions go a long way if you want me to continue supporting your brand or services."
The gift of communication
For online customers with questions or disputes, having a smooth process in place to reach management or business owners could prove invaluable.
Vonda Stallworth, of the San Francisco Bay Area, shares her thoughts as a consumer who shops Black businesses online. "To me, customer service is #2 on my list of important things for E-commerce shopping, second only to the quality of the product. I need to discuss an issue if something is wrong. Online businesses usually don't have a store for a customer to walk into for a return or defective item. Aside from customer service, I think companies with long wait times should offer some sort of perk. Including a small gift with the order is always nice."
So despite larger, more popular competitors having the upper-hand in areas like lower prices or shipping terms, small, Black-owned businesses can use great customer service to their advantage as a tool to gain loyal customers who value quality service.