Small businesses nationwide got a jumpstart on holiday season sales as millions of U.S. consumers turned out for Small Business Saturday on Nov. 24.
U.S. shoppers spent a total of $5.5 billion due in part to increased awareness, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express. Consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday jumped to 67 percent on Nov. 24 (up from 34 percent just two weeks earlier). Of those aware, nearly half (47 percent) shopped.
Conceived by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving and encourages consumers to shop independent merchants to support their local economy. Consumers are incentivized to use American Express cards, earning a $25 credit if they spend at least $25 that day.
Some bakeries offered deals to entice customers to shop small. Atwood’s Bakery, Alexandria, La., featured 40 percent off branded mugs. Eli’s Cheesecake Bakery Café offered a free slice of cheesecake to customers who shopped the café. Edgewood Bakery, Jacksonville, Fla., held a holiday open house with samples, door prizes every 15 minutes, discounts on pie by the slice and retail gifts, as well as deals on coffee, hot chocolate and mimosas throughout the day.
“This is the first year we’ve been open the Saturday after Thanksgiving in the 63 years we’ve been in business,” says Edgewood Bakery co-owner Sandy Polletta. “We had a lot of requests and thought it would be a good thing to do.” The bakery promoted the event via email blasts, which drummed up excitement in the weeks leading up to Small Business Saturday. On Nov. 24, the specials changed every few hours between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“It went well, especially having the café going at the same time,” Polletta says. “It was fun and people had a really supportive attitude. A lot of customers mentioned they know this is a tough economic time for all businesses. They were excited that we focused on that that day.”
Many bakeries also used Facebook, Twitter and their websites to encourage customers to shop local. But some, like Kelly Mathy, owner of Kelly’s Bakery & Café in Bloomington, Ill., had mixed feelings about supporting a holiday created and sponsored by a credit card company that charges retailers fees upward of 5 percent.
“I just really find it ironic that American Express (AE) is doing this promotion…albeit, we are grateful, but it costs us more money,” Mathy wrote on her blog on Nov. 24. “AE doesn’t offer the businesses a ‘pardon’ from fees for the day. They offer us advertising, as a whole clump of businesses across the country. And what we are doing is offering discounts to get you in the door.”
Mathy didn’t participate in Small Business Saturday last year with the exception of being open. This year, she did it her “own way,” by offering a 10 percent discount to customers who brought a receipt from another independent business. One customer participated in the promotion, she says, noting that American Express card usage was up sharply for the day.
“The whole campaign has really grown. They’ve definitely gotten the message out to shop small. But I almost prefer that they would just lower our fees or eliminate them that day,” she says. “Promoting it on the day when everybody uses that card, they get just as much out of it as we do. It’s not as selfless as it could be.”