With the Christmas season quickly approaching, many Calgarians are masking up and visiting local Christmas markets for purchases. However, in adjustment to the COVID-19 pandemic and new online shopping habits – Auburn House held a virtual Christmas marketplace earlier this month with over 70 local vendors, encouraging people to shop from home.

Online local markets may be the go-to for many this holiday season, attracting the shoppers who have opted to stay home during the pandemic and do their Christmas shopping online.

According to an article by Agility PR Solutions, 44 per cent of respondents surveyed in a study surrounding shopping during the pandemic say the coronavirus spread has impacted their purchase decisions – with millennials being the most impacted.

Along with this, 30 per cent of respondents say they are shopping less frequently in-store – with 21 per cent of respondents saying they are now shopping more online.

“In some ways it feels more efficient,” says vendor Gabby Gazdewich. “Being able to process sales in the comfort of your own living room, and not having to transport all your products and set up materials at another location isn’t too shabby either.”

Gazdewich is a horticulture student at Olds College who started her own business Wild Botanicals, which specializes in bouquets, boutonnieres, and candles. 

Calling it a “COVID business,” Gazdewich started Wild Botanicals during the peak of the spring lockdown in Calgary. 

Infographic showing who is shopping less frequently in store during the COVID-19 pandemic by generation. Millennials prove to shop less in store, while Baby Boomers are the most likely to continue in-person shopping rather than online. GRAPHIC BY MADISON FREEMAN, SOURCED FROM AGILITY PR SOLUTIONS

Being fairly new to the small business venture, Gazdewich has not had much opportunity to sell face-to-face in COVID-19 times, making it harder to sell products.

“I appreciate the value of face-to-face contact and being able to express your passion about the product you are selling. This is sometimes harder to convey virtually as it isn’t as personal.”

As people have embraced social distancing as a way to slow the spread of the virus, many people are opting to shop online rather than in person, but the Auburn House virtual market that took place on the 21st and 22nd seemed to struggle with gaining attention.

“This one hasn’t had as much traffic, but I believe that is somewhat expected with virtual markets. In general, people aren’t yet familiar with or know how to navigate them yet.”

Another vendor that attended the virtual market is Marie Landry, local small business owner of a company called Serendipity Studio, specializing in custom apparel and gifts.

Landry decided to join the virtual Christmas market after learning it had a low cost to secure a spot and saw it as a great alternative to in-person markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It works well for me since most of my offerings are made to order,” says Landry.

This is her second Christmas season selling products as a local business, and Landry says she has noticed a difference in people’s shopping habits this Christmas season in comparison to last.

“Even my own shopping habits have changed. I have been doing lots of online shopping recently. Lots of people are looking for options that allow them to shop online but still support local small businesses.”

Marie Landry, owner of Serendipity Studio, creates her own designs, including these holiday themed sweaters. PHOTO: MARIE LANDRY

With another spike of cases within Calgary and new social gathering restrictions introduced, it is possible that Calgarians may see more virtual Christmas markets popping up around the city.

Supporting small local businesses in events like these – whether in person or virtual – is exactly what these local businesses need during this critical shopping season, says Gazdewich.

“I have noticed more conversations this year about supporting small businesses for Christmas than ever before – that is exactly what small businesses need right now.”

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Madison Freeman is a journalism student at Mount Royal University with a passion for all things sports - ultimately leading her to the role of sports editor for the Calgary Journal.