From literary bestsellers to the latest gadgets, there is no denying that the internet makes it far easier to compare the price of shoping. But some retailers claim the shift is now towards the high street, and buying locally is the message behind Small Business Saturday. Clare Rayner of Retail Champion says: "Christmas sales can account for between a third and nearly two-thirds of a retailer's annual turnover. A bad Christmas can mark disaster for a small business. Sadly, it really is a case of 'use it or lose it'.''
1. Your spending will boost the local economy
Research on spending by local authorities shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business 63p stayed in the local economy, compared to 40p with a larger business.
High streets populated with thriving independent businesses boost the prices of nearby homes, according to a recent study. The research by American Express found that house prices near a prosperous town centre have risen by an average of £40,000 more over the past decade than other properties.
2. It is the ethical choice
Buying out-of-season produce, like strawberries in December, lowers your eco-credentials. As does eating turkey and carrots that have been flown halfway round the world or wrapped in layers of plastic. When you shop at local butchers, bakers, farm shops and green grocers, it is likely that a decent percentage of the produce has had a short field-to-fork journey. Along with supporting local farmers, it means the food is likely to contain more nutrients and have less packaging.
3. They sell quirky, one-off gifts
Independent shops often stock items which are made locally and aren't available elsewhere: buy a dress by a fledgling designer and there is little chance of turning up to the office Christmas party wearing the same as someone else.
When it comes to gifts, quirky one-off items are a major plus of independent shops. Give your niece or nephew a handmade toy and at least it won't be identical to everything they already have.
There's also the hyper-local gift choice: independent bookshops often stock titles by local authors that aren't yet on the shelves of the major chains, says Carol Thompson, co-founder of Chorlton Traders, a group of independent businesses based in south Manchester. "Local shops also support local artists and designers, food producers and growers, so you're buying products absolutely unique to your area."
4. You will be supporting British entrepreneurs
Artisan markets help foster the talents of the next generation of British designers and retailers. "[They] are hotbeds of innovation," says Mike Cooksedge, founder of SeeMyLocalMarket. "There is a constant turnover of new products, and sellers listen to customers' demands. If a certain pie filling is popular, for example, a pie company will respond to that and quickly supply more of them - and you can suggest things too, so you can even have a bit of influence over the products on sale."
5. You can help build communities
Bookshops, cafes and craft shops often drum up custom by hosting events, from book groups to knitting clubs and children's events. If the businesses are not supported, the local groups tend to disappear too.
Markets also often give space to community groups and social enterprises, says Ellie Gill, campaign manager at Love Your Local Market. "Markets can have a community value, as there is often a social purpose to stalls - they can be public spaces as well as retail outlets."
6. You might get a better deal or some good advice
Local bakers throw in extra bagels for regulars; grocers give informal 10% discounts; and market stall holders are prepared to negotiate on prices. Independent retailers can use their discretion to reward regular custom, and it can mean you get discounts on the items you actually want to buy, rather than being tempted by multi-buy offers in the big chains.
If you get to know your independent trader they should be able to recommend products to you, says Michelle Ovens, national campaign manager for Small Business Saturday. "For example, if you have a particular dietary requirement they can be great at telling you all about products you may wish to buy."
7. You can sometimes try before you buy
Major retailers have the advantage of economies of scale and can afford to slash prices and offer reduced costs. However, it's easy to waste money on products you end up not actually liking. You can hardly crack open a bottle of fizz in a supermarket aisle and do a quick taste test, or check if an apple is crunchy by taking a big bite. Neither can you do this online. At independent retailers, however, it's easier to ask to sample a product. Many independent off-licences throw regular wine tasting events, while farm shops, bakeries and delis hand out tasters as a matter of course.