American Express created idea in 2009
NEW YORK – After the crowds have shopped at large stores and sprawling malls on Black Friday, many smaller businesses are hoping Saturday will be their day.
Thousands of small stores, restaurants, spas – and even dry cleaners – across the U.S. will offer their own discounts and promotions to draw holiday shoppers on what’s known as Small Business Saturday.
American Express created the signature day three years ago, it says, to help small businesses struggling during the recession. The credit and charge card company encourages cardholders who have registered in advance online to make purchases with their cards in exchange for a $25 rebate paid for by American Express, if they buy something at a participating business. American Express won’t say how much the promotion costs, but Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN, the company’s small business division, says it is a considerable amount.
But even small merchants who aren’t officially part of the event hope to get a bump in revenue during a weekend when they used to be all but forgotten in an avalanche of deep discounts offered by big stores and online retailers. Perhaps more importantly, the day has become an opportunity for small businesses to build a corps of customers who will keep coming back year-round.
In Dixon, Ill., 51 small businesses have banded together to recruit local artists and performers to create a partylike atmosphere Saturday, and they’re also planning other events for the holiday season. A year ago, the combination of the American Express rebate and the events helped give the participating businesses a collective revenue increase of more than 50 percent on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, says Lisa Higby, owner of Distinctive Gardens, a nursery and garden center there. But the benefit goes beyond a one-day jolt.
“It gives us a yearlong impact, much greater exposure for our business,” Higby says.
American Express may have intended to give small merchants – and card usage – a boost in a tough economy, but Small Business Saturday is also helping small merchants get a bigger share of the spotlight and spending between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a shopping holiday dreamed up to get people excited about shopping online on the Monday after Thanksgiving. For some retailers, the sales they get after people push back from the Thanksgiving dinner table represent a significant chunk of profit for the year. That hasn’t been true for most small businesses. Ninety-one percent of the 1,003 small-business owners said, in a survey commissioned by Bank of America, that the day after Thanksgiving has little, or no, effect on their profit.
“Black Friday doesn’t do anything for us,” says Leslie Leahy, owner of The Hitching Post, a gift shop in Reading, Mass. In fact, it’s pretty quiet in town because so many people are at the malls and big-box stores, she says.
To make the most of Small Business Saturday, many small-business owners offer discounts as part of a marketing strategy for the entire holiday season. She doesn’t give discounts on her merchandise, but the $25 rebate from American Express drew customers. This year, she and other retailers in town are joining for a “buy local” weekend. She’ll be serving drinks and treats for customers. American Express sends organizing kits to 50 chambers of commerce around the country to help communities create joint Small Business Saturday events, but many come up with ideas about how to promote the day on their own.
The event has helped some small-business owners turn a day that was often a disappointment into a successful one. Although the Thanksgiving weekend is shopping-focused, American Express purposely created the program so that any small businesses could take part. The company has found that restaurants are the top choice for consumers wanting to use the $25 rebate, followed by bakeries, clothing stores, gift shops and bookstores.
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