The big opportunity for Small Business Saturday

For one-third of small businesses, the event is their biggest sales day of the year.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

Black Friday has become the kick-off event for the Cyber 5 pre-holiday sales stretch.

While the discount day’s name dates back to the 60s, Cyber Monday didn’t pop up until around 2005 with the emergence of e-comm. It wouldn’t be until five years later that the sales period expanded to include Small Business Saturday.

Now, 44% of small and medium businesses say they generate over a fifth of total annual sales from this holiday promo period, per research done by UPS Capital. Meanwhile, 65% of consumers spend $100 or more with SMBs during the festive season.

History lesson: Small Business Saturday was first widely celebrated in 2010 as a way to encourage consumers to include local brick-and-mortar stores in their holiday shopping. American Express introduced the “official” event and now owns it as a registered trademark.

  • That inaugural year, Amex offered ad space on Facebook to as many as 10,000 small businesses, NY1 reported.
  • Local politicians and small business groups supported the campaign online, turning it into a social media–driven sensation.

For one-third of small businesses, Small Business Saturday has since become their biggest sales day of the year, per Amex’s Shop Small Impact Survey.

  • American consumers spent an estimated $19.8 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Biz Sat in 2020, up from $19.6 billion in 2019.

“Online having a larger incremental share of the total retail pie has been lifting up spend for these particular days. That, and the nature of discounts spreading across the Cyber 5, has been helping Small Business Saturday see good growth momentum,” Adobe’s senior digital insights manager, Vivek Pandya, told Retail Brew.

Small biz, big opportunities: The rise of e-comm over the years has also made the retail landscape more competitive. But people, particularly during the pandemic, have become more cognizant of shopping small.

  • One in five consumers was focused on purchasing from small businesses last winter, according to a survey of 1,500 Americans.
  • 42% of shoppers plan to participate in Small Business Saturday this year, while 80% said they will likely buy from small businesses over the holidays, the Amex survey found.
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“Consumers definitely want to make an effort to support smaller retailers...and [SMBs] have become pretty direct, in terms of visibility to consumers,” Pandya said. “Small retailers leverage social media to speak directly to [shoppers]. A more personal element has been introduced to consumers who want to understand the retailers that they’re buying from.”

With this direct engagement comes more opportunities. Pandya mentioned even older marketing channels like email “continue to have a lot of impact and drive a lot of conversion on websites” for small businesses. “You’re able to really tap into your base and capitalize on that loyalty.”

Act now: To level up alongside larger retailers during the deal days and beyond, Kiel Harkness, head of global marketing and business intelligence at UPS Capital, believes customer service is key. “Post-purchase customer experience is super, super critical [to] compete better against big retail...We have a lot of businesses competing for the same-sized pie,” he told us.

“Every one of those customers that comes to [a SMB] during Small Business Saturday [has] got to be retained. [SMBs] have to get more from a customer-lifetime perspective.”

Some volatility is to be expected this holiday season, taking into account supply-chain issues, inflation, and other pandemic-era concerns. With that in mind, SMBs can implement customer conveniences like curbside pickup and buy now, pay later to drive higher conversion and satisfaction, Pandya suggested.

  • According to a Salesforce survey in September, 75% of 2,500+ SMBs polled said their customers now expect convenient e-comm options.

In fact, SMBs can use larger retailers’ potential supply issues to their advantage this holiday season. “That’s a real opportunity for smaller retailers, if they have [products] in their inventory and some other larger outlets don’t,” he added. “The consumer is in a position where they have to research and maybe buy from somewhere they haven’t shopped before.”—JG

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.