Community And Commerce Are At The Heart Of The American Express Shop Small Initiative

With the launch of Shop Small in New Zealand, we spoke to local businesses about how their communities have helped them through 2020

Ali McIntosh, Director, Tessuti. Photo / Supplied

Small Business Recovery Research conducted earlier this year by American Express showed that close to half of New Zealand’s small business operators said their customers played a critical role in supporting them during the pandemic.

A number of small local businesses recently sat down with Viva to talk planning, pivoting and the pandemic.


How has 2020 affected
It’s been a year of proceeding with caution, and seeking help to navigate the new trading environment, keeping costs in check and doing a few extra hours!

Could you trade during Level 3 and 4?
As we are not an ‘essential service’ we could not trade at all during level 4. During level 3 we were able to send online orders which was a huge help, and level 2 was reasonably easy to manage in store. We were also fortunate to have landlord support during levels 4 and 3.

What changes or initiatives did you launch during the Covid period to keep your customers engaged?
We increased our level of communication during this period, as much to stay in touch with our customers as to sell them anything. It was important to me to have that sense of community and caring, we all certainly needed it! We also had the enormous advantage as a small business of having a well-established online store so we could showcase our products even though we weren’t able to open our doors. None of what we did were changes as such, just a natural progression as we found ourselves in challenging circumstances.

Have you noticed a shift in customer spending?
People have definitely been wanting to ‘feather their nest’ as we have all been spending so much time at home. Lovely items making the home special — like vases for flowers, candles and incense, throws and cushions, new towels for the bathroom — and there has been a renewed focus in these areas.

What are some of the struggles that come with being a small business?
Keeping accountable, which is where having a business coach is invaluable. It also helps having someone not so close to the business to discuss and plan things with.

Why is community so important to the survival of small businesses?
One of the most difficult things to build and one of the most stable once built is a community-based business; that’s because it delivers something hard to find just about anywhere — genuine connection built around remarkable products and service. It’s about creating something worth talking about — and being in the market in a way that people would miss us if we were gone. Community is everything at the end of the day.

Elle Pugh, Co-Founder, Elle + Riley. Photo / Supplied



How has 2020 affected Elle + Riley?
We have had to learn a lot in a short space of time. This was a massive growth year for us, doubling our store numbers and therefore our team, whilst trying to navigate the effects of a global pandemic! We have had to learn how to slow down and think outside the box.

What changes or initiatives did you launch during the Covid period to keep your customers engaged?
During the first lockdown we offered a daily special to our online community. This was a different item for 50 per cent off every day of lockdown for 24 hours only. It built a level of hype around what was going to be on special the next day, and we had customers purchasing from us daily. While this meant our margin took a hit, we were able to keep some of our cashflow going for that period and our customers were thrilled to be buying pieces they normally wouldn’t be able to at a reduced price.

What do you love about being a small business?
I love how hands on we are with every aspect of our company. We not only know our customers really well and get the opportunity to meet them on a daily basis, we know the ins and outs of our products, our suppliers, and more. New Zealand’s economy is built on small businesses and it’s amazing to be a part of that.

Why is community so important to the survival of small businesses?
They are your true brand advocates. We started Elle + Riley Cashmere with no marketing or advertising budget. The first customers were friends and family, now our customers are people who know those people and so on. Having clients who love your product and advocate for it organically is the best advertising you can wish for, and we will be forever grateful for our loyal fans!

Do many customers use American Express?
I think American Express has become more accessible to customers here in New Zealand, which is brilliant. It’s definitely a brand people are more aware of now, and any time you can give customers different payment options so they can receive rewards it’s a win-win.

How can New Zealanders support small businesses and ensure their survival?
If you are in a position to do so, spend locally. Next time you go to purchase a sweater online from the other side of the world, see what is available in your own backyard. Eat out when you can, use local suppliers when you can, and ask how people are doing. The smallest things can have the biggest impact.

American Express has brought their global Shop Small movement to New Zealand for the first time this year. Shop Small celebrates small businesses, highlights their importance within our communities, and rallies consumers to support them. Plus, if you’re an eligible American Express Card Member you can get up to $50 back when you support your local small businesses. Save the Shop Small offer to your eligible American Express Card first and you’ll receive $5 back* for every $10 or more spent in one transaction, in-store only at participating small businesses until 31 December 2020 — up to 10 times.

Visit for offer terms, conditions, exclusions and to see the Shop Small participating businesses.

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