Pandemic-related holiday shopping season puts spotlight on small and Black-owned businesses

ATLANTA — The pandemic is changing how we shop, and how retailers reach out to consumers during this holiday season. This year has changed store logistics, and set a focus on small and black-owned businesses.

Dr. Dionne Mahaffey launched Culture Greetings in November 2018. A software developer by trade, the tech-savvy Atlanta woman developed a platform for users to customize cards online, each one featuring unique images of African-Americans. Some of them feature the work of renowned Atlanta-based artist Steve Allen, whose art is cemented at the Smithsonian. It’s the kind of thing that’s not so easy to find in store aisles.

“The pandemic has given us a reason now to connect more, and we’re being more thoughtful,” said Mahaffey.

“What we did not expect, and what’s also evolved on the platform is the social justice section,” she added.

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Heading into the pandemic, Mahaffey’s business was tapped by organizer to create more than 18,000 postcards to send to Colorado officials, demanding an arrest in the Elijah McClain case. The same goes for the case of Matthew Rushin, a young, Black and autistic Virginia man who was pardoned this week, but not expected to be released until next spring. Rushin was serving 10-years on a 50-year sentence for seriously injuring two people during 2019 car crashes. Advocates argued against an over-the-top sentence, and were critical about how authorities communicated with the autistic 22-year-old.

“For Breonna Taylor’s birthday, we were one of the platforms used to send cards to Kentucky reminding them ‘hey, she’s not here and demanding justice,” Mahaffey added.


Black-owned and online-based businesses like Mahaffey’s are in high-demand this holiday season, and experts noted that early and ongoing digital sales are helping retailers stay on top of pandemic demand.

“I think consumers are way underestimating the impact of the logistics of getting at-home delivery,” said Dr. Doug Bowman, a professor of marketing in Emory University’s Goizueta Business School.

Bowman points out procrastinators may find themselves checking out to shipping waits of 10-14 days if they wait until mid-December to shop. That could drive more last-minute shoppers into stores where the retail experience continues to change dramatically.

“The interesting part is going to be store operations‚” said Bowman. “’How do I control the number of people in the stores?’ So expect lines, (and) expect lines outside the stores.”

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Bowman also pointed towards the example of Walmart, where the retail giant plans to dedicate staffers to quickly moving shoppers out of the store once they’ve checked out. He also highlighted Target, which plans to be able to check out shoppers in several locations throughout the store in an effort to avoid long lines that could make social distancing a challenge.