New polling data: Consumers feel safer shopping at small businesses over big box stores

93 per cent of Canadians support continuing to allow small retailers to serve a limited number of people

Toronto, December 8, 2020 – Nine in 10 consumers say that provinces should allow small, local retailers to remain open with a limited number of customers, according to new public opinion research conducted by Maru/Matchbox on behalf of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). CFIB urges the Ontario and Manitoba governments to swap current restrictions in lockdown regions with enhanced rules to allow small firms to open for in-store shopping with a strict capacity limit and recommends all provinces avoid blanket-style retail lockdowns at this critical season.

“It makes no sense at all to close small businesses that are deemed non-essential to in-store shopping while pushing crowds to big box stores who are permitted to sell the same merchandise, like Ontario has done in Toronto and Peel,” said Dan Kelly, President at CFIB. “If reducing time spent indoors in crowds is the objective, consumers understand that shopping in neighbourhood small businesses is a better choice.” 

Nearly three quarters of Canadians said they feel safer shopping at a small local business with reduced capacity than at a big box store such as Costco or Walmart.

Closing in-store shopping at small retailers, while allowing 'big box' stores to remain open for in-store shopping is unfair 87% 94% 88% 85% 87% 88% 82% 88%
If small retailers are required to be closed for in-store shopping, 'big box' stores should not be allowed to sell similar items either 78% 73% 77% 73% 85% 76% 82% 81%
The government should allow small, local retailers to remain open with a limited number of customers in the store at a time 93% 96% 88% 91% 86% 93% 95% 95%
I feel safer shopping at a small local business with reduced capacity, than at a busy 'big box' store such as Costco/Walmart 72% 69% 68% 79% 70% 72% 76% 76%

In addition, 87 per cent of Canadians agreed that closing small retailers to in-store sales while allowing big box stores to remain open is unfair.

CFIB has proposed a "Small Business First" COVID-19 Retail Policy that would:

  • Allow all non-essential small retailers to open to in-store sales, but with very limited capacity for customers and public-facing staff
  • Limit customers to three per store for a fixed time for personalized shopping
  • Limit the store to three public-facing staff to help customers shop as efficiently as possible from a safe distance
  • Encourage pre-booking appointments, to avoid long lines outside the store
  • Require all businesses to sign the POST Promise 
  • Continue to encourage customers to shop by curbside pickup or delivery

“To date, no other province has implemented Ontario’s bizarre rule to shut tight small retailers who may have a few in-store customers per day while allowing lines to grow at big box stores selling similar goods. While Manitoba’s rules are equally restrictive on small firms, they are at least fair as big box stores are also prohibited from selling non-essential goods,” Kelly noted. CFIB notes that Saskatchewan’s policy is to allow small retailers to continue to serve customers, while placing a 50 per cent capacity restriction on big box stores.

With growing reports that Ontario may expand its “grey zone” retail restrictions to other parts of the province, CFIB is calling on the province to ensure it adopts an improved approach to COVID-19 safety that would give small businesses a chance to survive into 2021.  

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

Source: From December 4-7, Maru/Matchbox fielded an online survey to 1,510 Canadian adults aged 18+ who are members of the Maru Voice Canada online panel as part of ongoing COVID-19 consumer opinion polling. Results have been weighted to represent the population by age, gender, region, language and education according to the most recent Census data. For comparison purposes, the margin of error on a probability sample of this size is +/-2.5%, nineteen times out of twenty.

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at