Do we treat small businesses fairly?


Do we treat small businesses differently from big businesses? 

I think we do treat small businesses differently.  I think we set our expectations much higher.  Maybe even unrealistically high. 

It got me thinking about why.

Let me back up and tell you a story… 

I went grocery shopping for myself and my husband’s grandmother.  I was rushing. 

On this particular day, I bought a package of 18 tissue boxes.  I just picked it off the shelf, not looking at the price.  When I checked out, I was shocked at the total bill but didn’t question it.  I figured two households had added up faster than expected.  

The next day, I split the receipt between the two households and noticed that the tissue cost us $141.  WHAT?!   Clearly, there was an error. 

That evening I went back to the store, intending to get a refund for the difference between the actual and wrong prices. That’s it.  Easy, right?  Wrong. 

It turned out that the shelf price was $141.  Clearly wrong, but the staff didn’t know how or didn’t have the authority to solve the problem during my visit. 

They had to send a pricing request to head office, and that could take a few days.  Only once they had the correct price could they offer me a refund. 

I was willing for them to “estimate the price” and give me a refund for the difference.  This would have satisfied me.  Friends even suggested I should have gotten the product for free.  

I accept that the error started with me.  I did not look at the price before putting the product in my cart.  I did not question the bill when it seemed high.  I didn’t bring the product with me the next day when I returned for the refund.  At many points, I could have taken different steps to prevent or reduce my frustration.   

The good news is that I did get my refund a few days later when I went back.  The tissue cost me $18 (plus time and effort). 

This is the event that got me thinking about small businesses and fairness.  

On social media, I posted my experience.  I expressed frustration that big box stores have no customer service.  One of my friends suggested that we will shrug this type of customer service off for a big box.  Yes, for a small business, an event like this would earn a lousy google review and a lost customer. 

I agreed with him.  We do react louder to a small business mistake than to a big box error.   

We get a wrong order through a drive-through, we likely take our frustration out on someone else yet, return tomorrow, and order again.  

Yet, we get a wrong order at a small independent coffee shop, and we express our frustration and will likely never return. 

Why do we expect more, judge harder, forgive slower for a small business?  

I reflected on my experiences as a small business and as a consumer.  I realize that my expectations for small businesses are higher.  I expect them to have better customer service, better response time, better everything.  Often, the prices are higher (A small business doesn’t have the same buying power), and I want a better experience in exchange. 

Makes sense.  Yet, this experience has me wondering if I’m setting these expectations TOO high and giving them no room to be human.  What concerns me more is that I am a small business.    I know the pain and the struggles we face.  I know that we start from where we are and do our best with our money and time.  We don’t open our doors with all the best equipment or all the right processes in place.  We don’t have an army of staff or a known brand. 

Instead, we open our businesses with our hearts in the right place, our intentions set, and a willingness to figure it out as we go.

That means we will make mistakes.  We will learn from them; we will fix them.  However, each time we learn, we risk customers and our reputation.    An unhappy customer is felt.  Felt in our bottom line and felt in our hearts. 

For the big box, the company’s heart is so far up the chain or even no longer a part of the company that our frustration is no longer felt, and our dollars can’t speak loud enough. 

I wonder if we feel so powerless against a big box that we try to regain our power with a small business.  This is not fair to small businesses. 

I’m not suggesting we move all our shopping to a small business.  However, I wonder what would happen to our small businesses if we shopped with more understanding and compassion.  What if we gave them more than one chance?  What if we provided feedback and helped them get better?

What if we started to hold the big box accountable?  Maybe try a different company when your drive-through is wrong?  Or your service is bad?

My husband complained about service with a home renovation big box.  I suggested he try a more community store the next time.  I don’t know if he will.  I don’t know if he will vote with his dollars. 

I believe that change starts with awareness.  Maybe next time you leave a bad google review, you can ask yourself if you are treating the small business fairly.  Remember that when you buy from a small business, an actual person does a happy dance.  When you support local, the money helps those living in your community. 

Maybe we need to remember that small business is made up of people who do genuinely care. 

It’s far more difficult being a small business owner starting a business than it is for me with thousands of people working for us and 400 companies. Building a business from scratch is 24 hours, 7 days a week, divorces, it’s difficult to hold your family life together, it’s bloody hard work and only word really matters – and that’s surviving.

Richard Branson