By Lexie Lu

Small Business Saturday is an annual event held the Saturday after Thanksgiving. A refreshing alternative to the typical chaos surrounding Black Friday, it encourages people to support local merchants rather than buying products from big-name brands or retailers. Shoppers in the United States first celebrated the retail holiday in 2010. Since then, other countries followed suit.

The initiative is a great start, but there are strong arguments it’s not enough. Instead, Small Business Saturdays could happen every month or two. Here are six great reasons to shop small.

1. Feel Compelled to Try Locally Sourced Products

Some people are so used to using mass-produced products, they aren’t aware that equal or better alternatives exist nearby. For example, you might love Dove body wash. However, a local business could make a comparable product that smells fantastic, moisturizes your skin and comes in a large, budget-friendly package.

When individuals buy locally instead of from huge brands, they’re also supporting the planet. For example, local merchants often use less packaging or offer reusable containers because they know the items aren’t traveling far. Plus, large trucks drive thousands of miles to transport products to consumers.

Shopping with local providers cuts down on household waste and lets merchants spend less on packaging. It also results in less traffic from commercial vehicles that contaminate our air and guzzle gas.

2. Give Direct Support to the Local Economy

While walking your dog at the park, working out at the gym or doing other activities, you probably see some of the same faces again and again. However, you might not have reasons to approach those people and find out who they are and what they do. Shopping locally makes it easy to get acquainted with the individuals who play crucial roles in keeping your community running smoothly.

By shopping at the farmers market or signing up for a community-supported agriculture subscription, you might discover the man who often goes for evening jogs on the trails near your home also spends his mornings tending crops. After talking to him, you might learn that he’s always thought about talking to you in passing because he loves your friendly Jack Russell terrier.

By becoming interested in what local merchants do, people can give those providers much-needed encouragement and let them know their livelihoods are worthwhile. In turn, the produce suppliers, tailors, jewelry makers and others could feel less isolated and more valuable to the communities they serve. After repeatedly doing business with a provider at an ongoing Small Business Saturday event, you could start seeing the same people again and again and build rapport with them. After all, 99 percent of all retail businesses employ fewer than 50 people.

Furthermore, buying from local businesses gives the respective owners and employees more money in their pockets and bank accounts. When funds stay in your neighborhood and not outside of it, the whole area thrives. The people who live in the community have a better quality of life, not to mention a greater amount of disposable income that allows them to support local arts venues, charitable organizations and other notable fixtures.

3. Become a More Informed Consumer

When you buy a chicken breast at Walmart, it’s impossible to know the conditions at the facility where the animal was raised or the kind of life it had. In most cases, you also can’t determine if the bird received medicines you might want to avoid.

However, some major brands realized people desire more information about what they eat and began selling meat labeled as hormone-free. Last year, Subway started offering a sub with antibiotic-free chicken, too.

After pledging to buy local, it’s much easier to know for sure whether you’re buying produce sprayed with pesticides, milk with growth hormones or a type of bath gel that includes a known allergen. That’s because, in many cases, you can simply contact the producer and find out the necessary specifics.

In addition to making you more aware of what you buy and where it comes from, contacting merchants in such natural ways saves you time. Imagine trying to call the corporate office of McDonald’s and find out about its meat. In addition to potentially waiting on hold for a while and getting transferred to multiple departments, it’s very unlikely you’d get enough insight to feel satisfied. You waste time seeking information and eventually find out it’s not useful anyway.

4. Enjoy Greater Diversity

Whether you walk into a chain store in Virginia or Texas, you’ll likely hear the same music on the stereo system, notice the employees wear identical uniforms and see that the store layout is unchanged. These similarities exist to promote familiarity. However, homogenous experiences are also boring because they lack diversity.

After making a plan to go to a repetitive Small Business Saturday event in your town, you get the pleasure of frequenting retail outlets that are distinctively different both in how they operate and what happens during each visit. As a result, the element of surprise returns to shopping and makes it fun again.

Plus, people who aren’t tied to the corporate policies of massive brands may feel more open to offering you advice based on personal experiences. Then, you can trust that the workers selling products in local stores truly want you to feel happy about your purchases and aren’t just focused on earning incomes.

5. Participate in Decision Making

Because small-business owners often live in the same places their customers do, they become invested in doing everything they can to keep members of the target market content and coming back. During the early stages of a Small Business Saturday event that happens every month or so, you might realize it’d be more convenient if a store opened an hour earlier or stayed open later. If enough people agree, you might get your wish.

Small-business owners are frequently more willing to hear what customers think than the people who lead big businesses. That makes sense, since 82 percent of small-business traffic comes from referrals. Even more importantly, small-business representatives have more power to make changes happen. Giving feedback to a large company is often a long process that might not generate obvious results. The person who receives input isn’t usually the one who can make positive changes occur.

Also, small businesses may reward you for feedback with more than a thank you. They often run social media contests, survey-based prize drawings and other incentives to spur people to take part.

6. Stimulate Local Tourism

Even though small businesses benefit the residents that live near them, the advantages don’t end there. Tourists love to check out shops that aren’t available where they live and many visit retailers after researching the shopping opportunities that exist.

When that happens, local authorities that invest in promoting tourism efforts might reward businesses with promotional stickers to put on their windows that designate establishments as favorites. They could give them funding for business improvements, too.

Thanks to these thought-provoking reasons, you should feel more excited than ever about making Small Business Saturday happen regularly. The merchants you pick will appreciate the gesture.

Lexie Lu is a freelance graphic designer and blogger. She keeps up with the latest design news and always has some coffee in close proximity. She writes on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.