Why don't more of us support small shops?
THEY are among our biggest employers. They provide competition. Diversity. And many of us had parents who set them up.
But it seems more and more Australians are turning to the big boys for their buying needs instead of small businesses.
So is it just price? Or better customer service?
Or do we thinking small business is doomed in the global, online age and nothing we do will stop it?
According to new research out today, our pessimism about smaller firms may be overstating the case.
The Economy of Shopping Small: Customer Counts Report shows that a majority of respondents believe more small businesses are shutting than opening, despite national data and owner feedback suggesting otherwise.
The study was commissioned by American Express in support of this year's Shop Small campaign, which is urging people to look at boutique firms in the lead-up to Christmas -whether the bricks and mortar variety or online outlets.
The report reveals a two-year declining trend, with larger businesses making net gains among consumers who traditionally prefer to shop small.
While 78 per cent of respondents say small businesses have had a positive impact on their lives, only 37 per cent increased the number of times they shopped-small in the last 12 months.
A staggering 61 per cent expanded their custom with large businesses over the same period.
The Shop Small campaign is being supported by Federal Small Business Minister Michael McCormack.
"With more than 2.1 million small businesses employing more than five million Australians, the sector accounts for 97 per cent of all Australian businesses.'' the Minister said.
"It just makes good sense to have a thriving small business scene in our country and to ensure Governments, consumers and Australians support it as best we can.''
"Each day every Australian should ask ourselves what we can get from our local stores or the latest online boutique.
"There's no better time than Shop Small month to start that movement, making our intentions and support crystal clear, particularly as the retail sector picks up in the lead-in to Christmas."
Small businesses struggle with a perception problem
Compared to 10 years ago, 83 per cent of consumers believe small businesses are not lasting as long, while 71 per cent said there appear to be fewer small businesses.
Similarly, just under a third (30 per cent) said the number of small businesses in their area had declined - rising to 44 per cent of respondents in country and rural areas.
These beliefs are in stark contrast to the small business sector's actual performance, with the report revealing 85 per cent of its organisations are in a better or similar financial position as they were last year.
One in five Australians are actively planning to set up a small business to further their career ambitions.
Katrina Konstas, vice president small merchant, global merchant services at American Express, said Australians must convert affection into action.
"We acknowledge that we'll miss small businesses when they're gone, but we don't always see them when they're there.
"Small businesses are no longer just bricks and mortar stores on the high street, but new digital start-ups, online boutique stores, and internet based services.
"We all have a stake in their success, whether it's preserving a sense of community or providing a family member or friend with employment,'' she said.
"Investing in their future is investing in your own and Australia's, whether you want to run your own small business, work in one, or shop at many," concluded Ms Konstas.
Protecting Australia's national spirit
To celebrate Australia's small businesses community, American Express commissioned cultural archivist and photographer, Eamon Donnelly, to embark on a road trip across the country to capture the faces and stories of some of the great Australian small businesses.
The images will be showcased on the American Express Australia Facebook page during Shop Small.
To encourage its own Card Members to shop in small businesses throughout November, American Express will provide a $10 statement credit to those Card Members who have registered their cards and purchase from a small business in the Shop Small promotion.
Card Members will receive the credit each time they spend $20 or more in participating businesses - up to 10 times.