It’s garnered quite the following. Small Business Saturday, American Express’ charge to “Shop Small”, has occurred every Saturday following Thanksgiving since 2010. With a focus on community and a call to support the mom and pop shops that line our neighboring streets, it’s not just a trend, it’s becoming a holiday! We know that shoppers love it, but how easy is it for businesses to jump on board?
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Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of this retail celebration, which occurs on Nov. 25th this year, including how you can maximize the event to jump-start your holiday sales.
Who Can Participate in Small Business Saturday?
Any small business can consider themselves part of the nationwide movement. American Express has made a selection of free marketing materials available to anyone who wants to use them, regardless of whether you accept American Express in your store or use the card issuer in your business. These freebies include social media graphics, printable signs, and educational resources to help inspire and inform.
They also offer a “Shop Small Kit” to qualifying businesses, limit one per business. These have traditionally included a tote bag, stickers, and other token marketing materials, at no cost to businesses. They are limited in quantity, so it is recommended you get your request in as soon as possible each year, and no later than November 10th, 2017. Note that these “free for all” resources are limited, but you can still promote that you are participating via social media, ads, and in customer communications with no commitment or relationship to American Express.
What do American Express Merchants Get?
Those who accept American Express can order from a wide selection of pre-printed signs, window decals, and other business supplies, some with the Shop Small branding. These materials are available year-round, and shops are encouraged to order well in advance of any Small Business Saturday to be sure they arrive on time.
If you are considered a qualifying American Express Card-accepting small merchant, you can also register to get access to the Shop Small Map. This tool alerts customers in your area to the businesses that are participating in Small Business Saturday, which can send more business to your store. In 2016, American Express reported that over 7.5 million people searched the Shop Small map, and $15.4 billion dollars were spent just on in-store purchases during Small Business Saturday.
Perhaps the biggest perk of participating in the event, however, is the free online ad buy. In 2016, this group of ads (purchased by American Express) was displayed 300 million times to potential online customers. To be considered for this ad campaign, businesses need to sign up, confirm their business info, and answer a few brief questions about their business. Stores that want to be considered for inclusion in this year’s campaign window (November 20 through December 31, 2017) must have their information submitted prior to November 13, 11:59 AM EST.
Benefits to Shoppers
For any marketing promotion to work, the customer must feel important and rewarded. That is one of the driving forces behind the Small Business Saturday promotion. Not only is it a celebration of small business, but it’s a way for shoppers to identify with the “shop small” brand and feel like part of something bigger than themselves.
It’s not all good feelings and economic principles that bring out the customers, however. In past years, American Express had awarded a statement credit to cardholders who shopped a participating Small Business Saturday store. The bounty, which started out at $25 for a $25 purchase, dwindled to just $10 in the last participating year. 2016 had no statement credit and rewarded cardholders with 2x rewards for shopping small, although the window to earn was expanded through the end of the year for maximum impact.
This year, American Express hasn’t announced any universal savings opportunities, such as statement credits or reward points offers. Instead, they have moved toward creating a culture of “small”. Upcoming partner events include pop-up Etsy stores, adventures at the Museum of Ice Cream, and collaborations with Indie bookstores. Participants hope the feel-good buzz created will provide momentum to continue sales through the holiday season and into the new year.
Small Business Saturday Best Practices
Will it be enough? Some stores aren’t taking chances, choosing to promote their own Small Business Saturday offers. Many local stores have already created Facebook page events, inviting their page fans, and reminding them via Facebook Messenger to attend – and save. Perks being promoted include everything from discounts on select merchandise to free gifts with purchase. Plenty of stores are also offering complimentary eats, live entertainment, and a multitude of contests and sweepstakes promotions.
Smart businesses have also discovered that it’s often better to band together. After all, Small Business Saturday is about community. Cross-promotion has become popular on this day, with retailers offering marketing for other businesses in the area so that everyone can benefit. Buy a spa session, get an extra service at the local nail salon, for example. With everyone working together, the event can help out even the newest and least-promoted businesses in an area.
Early Bird Gets the Business
No matter what your store chooses to do, however, it’s best you do it early. Pick a plan, promote it well in advance of the day, and continue sharing up to (and even during) the big event. It doesn’t have to be the flashiest deal or come with a five-piece band ensemble. It just needs to make sense to your customer base and get out there in plenty of time for them to plan.
Many Small Business Saturday shoppers are already creating a strategy for savings that includes Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. For the local small business to fit into their design, it needs to share the message early. (Right now would be best.)
Have you participated in Small Business Saturday in the past? What strategies are you most happy with?