retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

In the midst of the Black Friday hype and Cyber Monday madness, Small Business Saturday continues to make its mark on Main Street.

Now in its third year, the program is aimed at urging customers to “Shop Small” at local merchants to create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods. A preliminary survey showed that American consumers aware of the initiative did just that this past Saturday - to the tune of about $5.5 billion.

While that number represents less than 10% of the $591 billion spent online between Friday and Monday, news reports, activity on Facebook and Twitter and other barometers show a jump in awareness, revenue and the participation of some 500,000 merchants.

American Express, which launched Small Business Saturday in 2010, reported a 21% increase in member transactions on Nov. 24th and an impressive 3.2 million-plus likes on its Facebook page.

Here’s how it works: American Express offers small business tools and do-it-yourself promotional material (through its OPEN program), social media support and incentives for customers looking to shop local.

To motivate shoppers, American Express customers who register their card with the Small Business Saturday promotion and use that card in a participating store receive a $25 credit on their statement. (I did both, and received and email from AmEx confirming my participation that day. Also shopping small – President Obama and his daughters at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA).

News reports from across the country and thousands of posts on Facebook confirm what a Small Business Saturday Insight Survey found:

• The top five places that consumers plan to shop on Small Business Saturday are restaurants (52%), bakeries (35%), clothing stores (34%), gift shops (31%) and book shops (29%).

• The number one reason that consumers plan to support small businesses on is they value the contributions small businesses make to their community (76%), while the number two reason was better customer service (59%).

The business lesson here is clear. Just hanging out a promotional sign isn’t enough. The most successful merchants were those who provided a creative incentive and promoted it, particularly harnessing the power and reach of social media.

A perfect example comes from Allison Behringer, who with her husband Peter is proprietor of two Sweet Pete’s specialty candy shops in Jacksonville, FL. The post-Thanksgiving weekend is typically slow for confectionary shops, but since the store opened three years ago Small Business Saturday has been a hit.

“We quadrupled our average Saturday sales,” she told MNB, by actively promoting on social media the following Small Business Saturday specials:

• A day-long taste pairing of gourmet chocolate and wine.
• A jelly-bean buffet for kids.
• Gift wrapping classes.
• Spend $40 and get a $15 gift certificate, with when combined with the $25 American Express credit meant a customer would get $55 of merchandise for $15.

All in all, a sweet Saturday, and a template for small business success.

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