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The numbers don't add up for Small Biz Saturday, but does it matter?

Posted by Jason Keith  December 5, 2012 04:18 PM

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Depending on who you believe, Small Business Saturday was a booming success or fell flat of expectations. As I mentioned last week regardless of how much money was spent, how many mentions were made in social media or how many politicians decided to trumpet the day as some kind of American holiday, awareness for small businesses as a group is never a bad thing. It is important to keep in mind however, that this was first and foremost and without question a marketing campaign for American Express. Friend Gene Marks makes a very compelling and well thought out case for this in his Huffington Post story this week.

Knowing that however, can we realistically look at the numbers provided and suggest that it actually drove money (ultimately the most important thing) into small business owners' pockets?

Let's take a look at some of the data that was released last week by Amex, in partnership with the National Federation of Independent Businesses:

  • Consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday jumped to 67 percent from 34 percent just two weeks ago. Of those aware, nearly half (47%) shopped on Small Business Saturday.

  • Those U.S. consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent a total of $5.5 billion with independent merchants. Pre-holiday surveys estimated that U.S. consumers would spend $5.3 billion.

  • American Express said Cardmember transactions at small business merchants rose approximately 21 percent compared to last year’s Small Business Saturday.

  • More than 3.2 million Facebook users “liked” the Small Business Saturday Facebook page. (they had 2.7 million after SBS last year)

  • More than 213,000 tweets were sent in support of Small Business Saturday in November, many leveraging the hashtags #smallbizsat and #shopsmall.

  • 40,000 people received $25 Shop Small American Express gift cards courtesy of FedEx for use at small merchants on November 24th. (the company was prepared to give away 100k)

Impressive numbers, but the first number that jumps out is the $5.5 billion spent. The obvious question is (and will always be) how much of that spend would have happened anyway? It's always going to be difficult to quantify how much additional spending Small Business Saturday generated? Did you as a consumer go to the local sub shop to get lunch because it was Small Business Saturday, or because you always go on Saturday to get lunch?

If you look at all the other metrics that were released, few point to helping small businesses directly. Facebook fans and and American Express card transactions are great, for American Express. That doesn't mean it was great for small business owners. Or does it?

The anecdotal evidence (even locally here in Massachusetts), coupled with some of the social media and search data, points to heightened awareness of the day (as does the Twitter data), which likely led to many who were considering purchasing anyway being pushed over the fence, so to speak. How much or how many we'll probably never know for sure. Eric Markowitz of did some digging and found that there were a number of cities (Boston included) for which searches of SBS were bigger. According to him, "the user search volume for Small Business Saturday is growing at a steady pace. The day was especially popular (at least from a search perspective) in New York, Phoenix, and Boston."

So while the numbers that Amex and the NFIB produced don't necessarily point to a success, the "vibe" certainly did. There were many, many stories in local publications that had overwhelmingly positive quotes and examples from local business owners. Reading them, you get a sense that many in the community took it seriously and came out because they knew what day it was. Shop owners talking about massive crowds and increases in sales in local media alone is positive.

So much like before, the takeaway for me is that ANY day that promotes small business growth or shopping small can't hurt, data or no data.  So all in all small businesses hopefully walked away happy (or happier) after Small Business Saturday, regardless of whether or not they participated.

What do you think, was Small Business Saturday a success? Did you "shop small" because you knew it was Small Business Saturday? Weigh in below.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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