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How to Think Big on Small Business Saturday

Bill Brunelle
Bill Brunelle
Co-founder/Managing Partner at Independent We Stand

Small Business Saturday takes on new meaning this year as businesses across the country continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The holiday season is just around the corner and it is nearly time to tie up the end of one of the most difficult years in recent history for small business owners. With the COVID-19 pandemic jeopardizing the futures of small businesses all over the country, Americans know it is important, now more than ever, to support independently-owned businesses. On November 28, Small Business Saturday will give consumers the opportunity to rally together and show this support.

Last year, consumers spent a record-high $19.6 billion shopping small on the 10th annual Small Business Saturday, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. With the economy lurching back to life, we have the opportunity to finish this year strong. Still, this holiday shopping season will be unlike any other and will bring even more unique challenges for small independent retailers. With social distancing guidelines, it is increasingly important to stand out against online-only retailers who offer quick contactless shopping with the click of a mouse. As small business owners, we must think big and learn to adapt to changing consumer behavior by offering new shopping experiences. Here’s a look at four ways to get started:

Encourage the consumer

Small businesses have suffered tremendously during the pandemic, from shuttering storefronts to altering operations, all while still paying overhead and operating costs. It is important to remind consumers of these hardships and the importance of shopping small this holiday season.

The simplest way is to utilize free branded resources offered by American Express. Because American Express created Small Business Saturday, its recognizable branded materials make it easy for consumers to identify your participation in Small Business Saturday. Whether you are modifying your hours, updating your safety regulations, or directing consumers to your website, American Express has created ready-to-use social media posts, in-store signage, and toolkits to help keep your customers informed about your business operations and encourage them to take the pledge to shop small.

In the past, small business owners have found ways to engage customers and get them talking about Small Business Saturday. A. Dodson’s in Norfolk, Va., lets employees shout out their favorite small businesses in short videos on social media ahead of Small Business Saturday. On the day itself, the retailer kicked off a new social media campaign called Saturdays are for Small Business. The #SAFSB campaign extended A. Dodson’s celebration beyond its store and beyond the holiday shopping season.

Another way to encourage consumers to shop local is to remind them why they love your business. We have been reminded of what's important, and for most, it is family. A majority of small, locally owned businesses are family-owned businesses. Telling the story of your store passed down through generations, or of how individual family members contribute to your success, will help remind consumers of the importance to shop local and support families in their community.

Go online

With quick, free delivery and contactless shopping from the comfort and safety of your home, online shopping is more tempting now than ever. Last year, e-commerce sales grew 14.9% and consumers spent over $600 billion with online merchants in the U.S, according to the U.S. Commerce Department year-end retail data. Each year, these numbers continue to rise as consumers' retail expectations shift with the new age. With social distancing measures in place across the country, small businesses have yet another reason to invest in online retail.

American Express has reported that roughly 50% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have revamped their e-commerce offerings and reported a 40% jump in the number of baby boomers who have turned to e-commerce during the pandemic. Failure to invest in and maintain an e-commerce platform means abandoning those customers who will opt out of in-person shopping this holiday season.

For many small businesses, converting sales online can seem like a daunting task, but there are several e-commerce tools that make using and managing technology easy and seamless. Shopify is the number one e-commerce platform in the U.S. with more than a million businesses worldwide and unlimited 24-hour support to help you with your online business. Additionally, it is important to promote your online platform so customers know they can shop from home on Small Business Saturday and throughout the holiday season.

Adapt to change

Whether they own a restaurant on Main Street or a fifth-generation hardware store around the corner, small business owners have the ability to tap into the ever-growing retail market by adapting to the changing environment. This can mean offering not only online sales but curbside service and delivery, designated shopping times for customers at high risk, contactless transactions using mobile wallet technology to reduce physical contact, or virtual shopping experiences to help customers find exactly what they need.

American Express has reported an increase in the adoption of contactless payment methods with 17% of SMBs adding mobile wallet support, and over 30% already having these capabilities in place. These methods have been well-received by customers, with half of U.S. consumers reporting they've made at least four contactless transactions as of April. The number of merchants offering curbside pickup has also jumped, from 1.6% in January to 34% in June. Consider this, 64% of consumers recently surveyed expected more brands to offer curbside pickup because of COVID-19. Those who do not tailor their operations to fit the new retail climate risk losing business and customers.

Small businesses tend to have a leg up on big box stores and online retailers when it comes to offering unparalleled service and personal shopping experiences. The pandemic has made it difficult for businesses to offer these in-person services, but by adapting to the change, you can and should continue to show your dedication to your customers from a safe distance.

Shop small together

It is imperative that as small business owners, we cater to our customers' demands. This year, that means protecting their safety and offering new shopping experiences. Working together as business owners in a community can make this easier to achieve. Collaborating on giveaways, prizes, sales, and incentives are all good ways to not only reach customers but also get them involved.

Small business owners across the country have found success in joining together as a community to offer consumers a special shopping experience during Small Business Saturday. Back in April, a group of small business owners in the Washington, D.C. area came together to host a virtual Small Business Saturday to help support independent retailers affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Participating retailers collaborated to offer discounts and $10 gift card prizes for each $100 spent at the event.

Last year, the small businesses that make up the Vibe Creative District in Virginia Beach, Va. joined together to form an outdoor pop-up vendor marketplace. They hosted a Small Business Saturday Welcome Table with #shopsmall clothing and organized a scavenger hunt with a prize drawing. They also coordinated a community mural painting project and hosted two live bands.

In 2018, some 200 independent retailers joined forces for the Shop Little Boxes campaign in Portland, Oregon. The stores offered discounts and raffle tickets for each visit and purchase made by customers. They also created a smartphone app shoppers could use to find participating stores and register their raffle tickets.

Consumers have expanded their Small Business Saturday celebrations to new platforms and in new ways. Small businesses are working together to do the same. Offering a virtual Small Business Saturday or a community outdoor pop-up market is a good way to give consumers who are unable or unwilling to venture out and shop in-person, the ability to still participate in Small Business Saturday.

Image Credit: Rawpixel/Getty Images
Bill Brunelle
Bill Brunelle
business.com Member
See Bill Brunelle's Profile
I am the co-founder of Independent We Stand, a nationwide movement of independent small business owners whose mission is to inspire other small business owners to better understand and celebrate their locally owned status while educating consumers about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting them.