Think Small: What Big Retailers can Learn From Small Business Saturday

Small Biz

As new American holiday tradition goes, after the turkey coma ends, the shopping frenzy begins.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), holiday shopping can account for nearly 30 percent of a retailer’s annual revenue. And this weekend, holiday shopping officially kicks off with three days of sales. There’s the classic discount shopping event known as Black Friday, and the online-only day of deals and steals: Cyber Monday. Each of these “events” attracts millions of people; in 2014, 87 million Black Friday shoppers and 127 million Cyber Monday shoppers.

But there is another event that doesn’t get quite as much hype. It goes beyond individualistic deal shopping to try and connect consumers with their communities and each other. That event is called Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010, Small Business Saturday aims to drive consumers to their local merchants on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. American Express is using this unique branding opportunity to help shed light on businesses that might not garner the spotlight when there are $15.00 Blu-ray players for sale at those larger retailers. And it appears to be working. Thirty-three percent of holiday shoppers shopped specifically on Small Business Saturday last year, according to the NRF. There’s a lesson in this brand campaign that other larger brands can and should take to heart.

Align your brand with your ideals to create a community

Black Friday is the standard bearer in deal shopping. It has gotten so popular (or arguably out of hand) that stores don’t even wait until Friday any more. Sale shopping starts on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. But with so many participants and ugly incidents, it seems that people are not as willing to partake in the in-person shopping event. The trend points distinctly downward. Last year, 79 percent of U.S. adult consumers said it was “not at all likely” they’d shop on Black Friday versus 75 percent in 2013.



Some brands, like REI, have even decided to distance themselves from this raucous day, choosing to opt out of the Black Friday and Thanksgiving shopping and encouraging their employees and consumers to explore the outdoors. The #OptOutside campaign has taken the internet and even potential Black Friday shoppers by storm. This mantra has successfully conveyed the importance of REI’s brand ideals and how they connect with their consumers through their outdoor-focused community. Much like the Small Business Saturday shopping experience, the campaign may highlight the brand, but it brings to light its consumer community and the company’s connection to it, outside of the in-store shopping experience

Give people the tools, and get out of the way

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime



Whether it’s providing consumers with content to share or an event to participate in, just opening the door through your platform gives consumers the ability to take it and run with it. With people creating not only their own original content through your platform, or piggybacking off of your brand event to create their own events (like scavenger hunts) based on the platform provided, this truly empowers consumers to become brand advocates. From these voices the community can not only be built, but it can continue to grow and flourish.

Some may say events or campaigns like Small Business Saturday or #OptOutside are just PR stunts. We’re naïve to think that dedicating a day to small business shopping will benefit local merchants. And it’s silly to assume that closing on the busiest shopping day of the year can translate to more consistent sales or growth for an outdoors company. As always, time (and analysis) will tell.

But smaller businesses and last year’s 88 million Small Business Saturday shoppers might disagree with that. Each one of the large conglomerates who rakes in money on Black Friday or Cyber Monday (and daily) started somewhere, and, without the participation and buy in of their loyal customers, they might not have made it to where they are today. If this opens up consumer perceptions to what’s offered nowadays within their own community, or sticks in someone’s mind the next time they need to buy snow boots, then the campaign and branding event has done its job.


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