Seizing Big Opportunities in Small Business Saturday

The weekend after Thanksgiving shopping period has evolved into distinctly branded days that are crucial to retailers’ success, not only during the holiday season but impacting their profitability for the year. Of course, Black Friday started it all, a frenzy of sales and deals that have many shoppers standing in lines for hours and rolling out of bed in the wee hours of Friday morning to begin Christmas shopping in earnest. Black Friday is creeping into Thursday as retailers battle for customers and attention. For those of us who find Black Friday shopping too crowded and stressful, we have a safe haven: Cyber Monday. Online retailers found the cure to the shopping hangover that is Black Friday- more deals that can be had conveniently via computer, tablet, or phone.

The newest branded entrant into the Thanksgiving weekend shopping fest is Small Business Saturday. American Express established this event in 2010 to support local, independent merchants upon whom shoppers relied long before the days of big box retailers. Small Business Saturday is not a publicity gimmick; it has the marketing muscle of American Express and other firms with a stake in small business success including USPS, Constant Contact, Twitter, Foursquare, and FedEx. In 2012, it was estimated that $5.5 billion in spending occurred on Small Business Saturday.

Not All Buy In
One might think that participation in Small Business Saturday would be a no-brainer for merchants. After all, there are no costs and marketing of the event is being done largely by American Express and its Small Business Saturday partners. While many small businesses have aligned their marketing with Small Business Saturday, a surprising number of local businesses have not. According to a study sponsored by Constant Contact, just over one-third of small businesses surveyed indicated they had participated in one of the three previous Small Business Saturdays. What about the other two-thirds of business that have not participated?

  • 52% of businesses that have not participated in the past do not plan to participate this year
  • 36% said they would not get new business from the event
The majority of small business have not bought into Small Business Saturday. What will it take to win some of the skeptics over?
Sales Now, Customers Later
Among the B2C small businesses planning to participate in Small Business Saturday, the benefits expected have immediate payoff:
The greatest benefit for small businesses of participating in Small Business Saturday is that it is a rare occasion in which they can ride the coattails of the marketing resources of American Express and its partners. Individual businesses will undoubtedly devise marketing efforts of their own in concert with the Small Business Saturday theme, but awareness for the event will be funded by someone else.

The short run benefits of increased awareness, new customers, and a sales boost are strong motivators to participate. But, perhaps the greatest payoff will not be felt during the busy shopping season. One of the most significant findings in the Constant Contact survey was that among businesses participating in Small Business Saturday, 52% indicated that some of their new customers acquired through the event went on to become loyal, repeat buyers. If there is a 50-50 chance that I could gain new customers by aligning with someone else’s promotion, I would be inclined to take that chance.

Let’s be realistic- Small Business Saturday will not permanently alter the shopping behavior of large numbers of consumers conditioned to “think big” and who look to chain retailers to meet their needs. However, American Express is to be commended for establishing Small Business Saturday to take a stand for the independent businesses that operate in our local communities.