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Small Business Saturday: Boon or Bust Locally?

Posted by Jason Keith  December 21, 2011 06:02 AM

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When examining the impact of Small Business Saturday, a "holiday" created by American Express as a way to recognize small businesses and promote the idea of "shopping small," there's no doubt that it has been a promotional success. The amount of exposure, both from a media and social media standpoint, it (and Amex) gained could only be described as overwhelming. Locally, nationally, within governments and across mainstreets, the buzz around SBS was palpable. But what did it actually mean to the small businesses who were targeted to reap the benefits?

American Express prompted consumers to shop locally by giving 100,000 credits of $25 to consumers who registered their card and used it to shop locally on November 26. Small businesses were given Facebook credits and other promotional ideas to bring customers in the door.

Regardless of the bottom line revenue that was generated for small business owners, most would argue that any effort designed to promote a shop local message was worthwhile. While that's true, it's still worth examining how the actual businesses that participated fared. In the aftermath of SBS, American Express released a number of interesting statistics. They included:

  • Hundreds of thousands of consumers registered their American Express cards to receive $25 statement credits when they shopped at a small business on Small Business Saturday.

  • More than 2.7 million Facebook users “liked” the Small Business Saturday page – more than doubling the 1.2 million “likes” in 2010.

  • Public awareness of Small Business Saturday rose to 65% from 37% in 2010.

  • 15,000 small businesses signed up and received free Facebook advertising to promote their products and services in the run up to Small Business Saturday.

  • More than 500,000 small business owners leveraged an online tool or promotional materials for Small Business Saturday.

But did all local businesses that took part actually see an uptick in customers, local awareness for their shops and most importantly, sales? For Clelland Johnson, owner of Hopkington Wine & Spirits, the results were disappointing.

"While customers used their American Express cards more than on last's SBS and more than the average Saturday Amex usage, the dollar total was lower than last year's SBS and lower than the average Saturday Amex sales," said Johnson. "Certainly, in our case, the idea of SBS is better than the actual results. And, I would find it hard to believe that anyone chose to shop at a SBS store on that day that they would not have shopped at during the holiday season anyway."

Others were thrilled with the effort and did reap the benefits in terms of real dollars. "I would say it was a HUGE success," said Tracey Harding, owner of Kidz Enterprise Toys in Tyngsboro. "The number of transactions in our store was up 103% over last year. More important for us was the fact that our sales were up 126% in actual money spent, which is quite an accomplishment. It was our best Saturday ever and I credit that to American Express. We had a line from the register to the door all day. We even had people return on Sunday to buy more after shopping in our store on Saturday, choosing to shop with a little less of a crowd."

But like anything else, there is always room for improvement. Johnson had a suggestion for Amex on how to better support local businesses in future years. "If I could make a suggestion to Amex to help the small business owner it would be to reduce or eliminate the processing fees for the day," Johnson said. "It occurs to me that the whole SBS program is a way for Amex to boost the processing fee income during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year."

Despite the lackluster results, Johnson indicated his business would participate next year because there was really, "no downside." Given this was the effort's second year, it's likely that as momentum builds and there is more and more awareness each year, businesses will continue to see positive results, both from customers using and not using Amex cards. As I mentioned, ultimately any effort to support local business owners is a worthwhile one. It's likely that many small business owners who took part has a similar story to one that stood out for Harding.

"During the day an older couple came in and said “we are here for Small Business Saturday.” I commented at one point about the Amex promotion and even though they had American Express cards, they didn’t know anything about the $25 credit," said Harding. "Instead, they had seen TV commercials about SBS and said they were just out shopping to support our small business."




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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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