AmEx Boosts Small Business Saturday

For the third year now, American Express -- and a plethora of “supporters” -- is trying to add Small Business Saturday to the vocabulary and shopping habits of consumers who presumably devote Friday (and, controversially, Thursday night) to battling crowds at the malls and Monday to clicking on deals in cyberspace. It’s been hard to avoid commercials for the promotion in recent weeks, on screens of all sizes. And the Facebook page for Small Business Saturday has 3.1 million “likes.”

Twitter, meanwhile, announced yesterday that it is supporting Small Business Saturday by giving away $100 in free credits to 10,000 businesses to promote their brands on the social network, according to Mashable’s Seth Fiegerman.

“Last year, over one hundred million people came together to Shop Small® in their communities on Small Business Saturday®, American Express tells us in a website devoted to the promotion and flush with ® marks. The site offers customizable marketing materials to the businesses, including online banners and logos, signage, and social media and email templates. It also offered free online advertising but that option has expired. 

For customers, it’s giving a $25 statement credit to AmEx members who enroll their cards and spend $25 or more in a single, in-store transaction at a qualified merchant on Saturday. There’s also a map on the site showing qualifying small businesses near their Web-browsing device.  

What constitutes a small business, as per AmEx? “Small, locally-owned storefront and online businesses with $10 million in annual revenue or less, excluding entities such as government agencies and non-profits, as well as franchises with more than 100 stores -– not to mention outfits that promote goods such as ‘… drugs, politics, pornography or sexual aids … or any sensitive topic with respect to current events.'”

In a story about small business’ strategies to battle big boxes and online merchants in Southern California, the manager of a Silver Lake gift shop tells the Los Angeles Times’ Shan Li that sales jumped 20% to 30% last year, which she evidently attributes to the effort.  

“The neighborhood and locals were out supporting small businesses," says Sheila Chu. "They didn't want to drive to the mall and hit traffic. It was almost like a street fair festival." 

It’s going to be a big day in Ripley, W.Va., we can tell you, based on a story last week in the Mineral Daily News-Tribune out of Keyser, W.Va. The town is also sponsoring its own “All-American Christmas” event on Saturday, Dec. 1. “Small businesses represent more than 96% of all employers in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration,” the newspaper reports.

According to an AmEx infographic, small businesses pay 44% of the total U.S. private payroll, 89% of consumers say they believe that small businesses contribute positively to their communities and 78% believe there’s a growing appreciation of shopping locally at small business in the U.S., among other facts and figures. One that’s perplexing: “46% of small businesses that are aware of Small Business Saturday plan to participate this year.” What’s to lose?

"Call it a multiplier effect, or just call it smart shopping, the best purchase you can make is one from a local, small business," says Tommy Battle, mayor of Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s becoming more important to observe for people in Sidney [Mont.], because we have fierce competition from the internet,” Wade VanEvery of the Sidney Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture tells the Sidney Herald’s Bill Vander Weele.

“Big businesses reaching out to help smaller businesses has come into vogue since the recession,” Robb Mandelbaum points out in a recent New York Times article titled “Making Small Business a Cause.” 

Besides Amex’s Small Business Saturday, Mandelbaum cites Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses campaign, Starbucks raising money from customer donations to finance small-business loans, the New York Stock Exchange linking small vendors with large corporations and financing loans through Accion, and contests run by the likes of Wal-Mart, Chase Bank and Staples that provide winning small companies with opportunities for retail distribution, capital and office equipment.

“From the neighborhood barber shop to the IT companies that keep our nation on the cutting edge, small businesses are the anchors for our communities and the cornerstones of our Nation’s potential, writes Marie Johns, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, in a Washington Post op-ed this morning. 

What’s next, a cynic might wonder? Pop Up Sunday (from noon – 2 p.m.)? Tell you what, offer us $25 for spending $25 and we’ll be there every time.

Meanwhile, I am very grateful to all “Top of the News” readers and wish you and your families a fulfilling Thanksgiving weekend.

Tags: holiday, retail
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