Simply put, "shopping small" means to buy things from stores that are not owned by a big corporation or parent company, are not publicly traded, and typically have a small tight-knit group of employees or are just run by one person or a small group of people. Wikipedia and U.S. laws define a small business strictly by the number of employees and revenue, but the "standard" amounts they use (approx 500 and around $1M) are so huge it's kind of laughable to use that as a blanket definition of all small shops, especially in this social media driven day and age. A small business can better be described by the ambiance and business model that you see whenever you follow them on social media or buy from their store (or Instagram! Many small shops now sell completely through Instagram where you can buy an item straight from your insta-feed!). Ban.do is a great example of a small business that has a huge following on social media. Even though @ShopBando has hundreds of thousands of followers it's genuinely a small business because there are only a handful of employees (who all make cameos regularly on the Ban.do Instagram page:)), it's not owned by any parent company, and everyone who works at Ban.do is a part of the brand and engaged with their customers.
If you're ever in doubt of where you're shopping or what kind of business you're supporting ask yourself the tried and true question: where is my money going? Is it going to the hands of a multi-millionaire CEO, the hands of designers and manufacturers with the sole purpose of knocking off and stealing ideas from other brands and designers, or possibly even to the hands of developers building unsafe sweatshop factories in third world countries (as it would if you purchased from stores like Forever 21 and Zara)?
Or is it going to the hands of a mom creating jewelry while homeschooling her little girls (Love Is), the hands of a super creative team of #girlbosses who didn't fit into the mold of the corporate world and decided to leave it (Ban.do), or the hands of a perfume genius who creates hand-blended fragrances in her NYC apartment (Callio Fragrance) or the hands of any of the other thousands of small business owners who sell ridiculously amazing things on the internet?