On November 28, 2020—Small Business Saturday—local businesses will contend with a general feeling of anxiety among customers: according to the 2020 Deloitte Holiday Retail Survey, which polled 4,012 consumers, 51% of holiday shoppers feel anxious about shopping in-store this year.
Despite the unease, many are hoping the momentum from last year will continue—Americans spent $19.6 billion at independent retail shops and restaurants last year according to the Small Business Administration, and the recent American Express Entrepreneurial Spirit Survey reveals that 74% of those polled feel it’s important that a business they spend money at is a local one.
“We’d like to be here in 2021, 2022 and 2023, so we want to serve everybody in the best and safest way possible,” says Eric Mihan, who, with his wife, Christine, owns the specialty shop Bangor Wine and Cheese Company in Bangor, Maine.
To help small-business owners capitalize on Small Business Saturday 2020, American Express created the Shop Small guide and the Shop Small Studio—two resources that share insights on safety, marketing, and networking as well as a host of complimentary printable materials that shop owners can use to keep customers engaged. And if you’re looking to position your businesses to capture small shoppers, consider prioritizing safety and online shopping, sharing gift ideas, and leaning into your community:
1. Prioritize safety, online shopping, and social media.
Consumers want to shop small. In fact, according to the “Local Consumer Business Sentiment Study” by Red Egg Marketing, which surveyed 1,653 Americans over the age of 18, nearly 84% of consumers said they would actually be willing to spend more money if it meant supporting a small business. To help them feel safe, businesses can require employees and customers to wear masks, offer contactless payment and pick-up, publicize their cleaning protocols, set customer limits to avoid crowds, host an outdoor sale and encourage online shopping.
Women & Children First in Chicago opted to close to in-person browsing in mid-November after Chicago officials issued a 30-day stay-at-home advisory. It wasn’t an easy decision. “Saturdays in November and December are our highest sales days,” says Sarah Hollenbeck, who co-owns the shop with Lynn Mooney. For Small Business Saturday, the store will host an outdoor pop-up shop and sell calendars, holiday cards and other seasonal items. In addition, customers can shop online and opt for contactless pick-up or have items shipped to their home.
Greenville Soy Candle Company in Greenville, North Carolina, which sells handcrafted candles, bath products and scented hand sanitizer, occupies a tiny space. Because of that, owner Tina Rodgers is sending out messages on social media to remind people that they can place orders on the company’s website. “We have a very small space and it can get very crowded very quickly,” says Rodgers. “We are of course requiring people to wear masks, but in an effort to curb mass crowds in here at one time we are encouraging people to shop online.” To encourage Small Business Saturday orders, she’s offering a gift to customers who spend $25 or more.
For more on keeping customers safe, see the American Express Safe Shopping Guide.
Small businesses may find some benefits in turning to social media to promote their safety practices. According to the American Express Shop Small Impact study, which polled 1,004 small business owners and managers in the U.S. that conduct sales at brick-and-mortar locations, 78% of business owners found that positive feedback on social media is a significant driver of business. The study also found that endorsements of small businesses on social media may be worth as much as an estimated $197 billion for the U.S. small business economy.
2. Share gift ideas.
Nine months into the pandemic, the notion of dreaming up the perfect gift for loved ones can feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why the Morning Consult survey, “How COVID-19 is Changing Holiday Shopping Season,” which polled 2,212 U.S. adults, found that American shoppers are 33% more likely to buy from companies that feature gift ideas in their ads.
Where we spend our money in 2020 determines the communities we find ourselves in come 2021.
—Sarah Hollenbeck, co-owner, Women & Children First
This will be the first year that Women & Children First will sell themed holiday bundles, which they’ll promote on social media and on their website. Each bundle will match the mission of the book store, with themes aimed at activists, feminists and kids, for sale online during Small Business Saturday and beyond. Usually, Hollenbeck says she and her team are too busy during the holiday to come up with these kinds of ideas, but this year, with the online pivot, they’ve had more time to brainstorm. “We’re incorporating our mission as a feminist bookstore and amplifying the reason why people shop at Women & Children First versus another bookstore through these bundle packages, which will include not only books but also stickers, buttons, magnets, keychains, little things like that,” she says.
3. Champion other small businesses.
By working with other small businesses, business owners can amplify their voices, connect with new customers, discuss business challenges and establish valuable relationships in their own communities. Together, they can market Small Business Saturday and other events, collaborate on products and decorate shopping corridors for the holidays. For example, American Express works with Neighborhood Champions, who are business associations, state and local chambers of commerce and other organizations that act as Shop Small ambassadors and evangelize about the importance of supporting small businesses.
In Bangor and Chicago, business owners are already busy voicing their community spirit this month. The owners of Women & Children First recently emailed newsletter subscribers and encouraged them to shop at other businesses in their neighborhood. “This year, we urge our community members to make a list of the businesses that you hope will survive this hellscape and then do your part to make sure that they do,” reads the bookstore’s email newsletter. “Beyond just our feminist bookstore, please devote SBS [Small Business Saturday] to supporting all the small businesses you cherish.” It goes on to list and link to businesses that are neighbors on a usually bustling part of Clark Street in Chicago. “We are really focused on the reality that if Clark Street doesn’t survive, we don’t survive,” says Hollenbeck.
In Bangor, Maine, The Downtown Bangor Partnership, which is a nonprofit that promotes business and cultural activities in the area, is encouraging residents to celebrate Small Business Saturday every Saturday through the holidays, in order to spark enthusiasm and avoid crowds on any single day. Mihan, who is on the board of The Downtown Bangor Partnership, and whose wine and cheese shop is in downtown Bangor, says that the goal of the campaign is to remind people that small businesses are open for business and eager to see them throughout the holiday season and beyond. “It doesn’t even have to be Saturday. It could be Tuesday,” he says. “The point is we’re still here, and we need to see you or we’ll just be bemoaning another business closing.”
Across the United States, the pandemic has upended much of the year for independent enterprises. Small Business Saturday—and holiday shopping, in general—is critical for business owners like Rodgers, who have always relied on the income to get through the slower months ahead. “It helps me survive the winter,” says Rodgers. “We are squirrels storing nuts at this point.”
For Hollenbeck, shopper support on Small Business Saturday this year isn’t just about her business. It's about so much more. “Where we spend our money in 2020 determines the communities we find ourselves in come 2021,” says Hollenbeck.
For more ideas on how to navigate Small Business Saturday, including complimentary customizable marketing materials, visit the Shop Small Studio.
Photo: Getty Images