Just What the Heck is Small Business Saturday, Anyway?

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Thanksgiving weekend’s newest themed shopping day didn’t arise from cultural trends, but from a corporate marketing stunt.

With all the fuss surrounding the country's biggest retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it might seem odd to suddenly divert your attention to small businesses. But that's exactly the point of Small Business Saturday—the day after Black Friday is devoted to small brick-and-mortar shops, many of which are overlooked on the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

I know, I know: You’re thinking, do we really need another theme to peg on the pageant of consumerism that is Thanksgiving weekend? That’s a question big retailers and small companies alike are still trying to answer, three years after the first Small Business Saturday. But the prognosis looks good.

American Express launched Small Business Saturday back in 2010, when the economy was still in shambles and small businesses were ailing perhaps more than any other sector of the economy. As one of the largest financial services corporations in the world, AmEx has a vested interest in getting its millions of customers to use their cards as often as possible, and also to keep as many businesses running as it can.

On Small Business Saturday, it does that by offering a statement credit for cardholders who make a transaction at a small shop. Last year it was $25; this year it's $10. But whatever the motivation, the attention given to small shops is well-deserved.

A Bank of America survey revealed that 91 percent of small business owners see little or no increase in business as a result of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Last year, a survey by Bank of America revealed as much as 91 percent of small business owners see little or no increase in business as a result of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Thanksgiving weekend aside, small companies haven’t exactly been optimistic in the years since the recession, anyway. One can only pity the lonely shopkeeper looking forlornly upon the mass of lost revenue congregating outside the Target across the street.

It seems fitting, then, that small retailers would get their own day of celebration. And by all measures it’s a growing success: Last year, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), consumers spent some $5.5 billion at small shops and retail outlets on Small Business Saturday. That’s somewhat paltry compared to the tens of billions of dollars usually spent on Black Friday, but small companies spend and earn money in completely different ways than their large competitors.

Awareness has also been growing steadily, with state, local, and federal government recognition, as well as participation by more than 350 million organizations nationwide in 2012.

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This Saturday, you can get paid to help out your main street shops. [Credit: Flickr user "teddybear_crafts"]

This year, the NFIB expects more than two-thirds of small retailers to offer discounts on specific items or general discounts throughout the day. To help consumers find them, they’ve put together an incomplete but thorough list of participating businesses—as has American Express.

42 cities and communities throughout the country are also expected to offer free parking on Saturday.
Furthermore, according to Small Business Trends, 42 cities and communities throughout the country are also expected to offer free parking on Saturday. That program, called "Park on Patch," is being sponsored by American Express and community news site operator Patch.

If that’s not an incentive for you to extend your Black Friday into Saturday, and to visit some of the underdog shops in your area, then consider the finicky demands of loved ones—the fussy wine snob who likes a particular type of wine, or the artist sister who only draws on Moleskine. A recent AmEx survey found 70 percent of consumers claim they are attracted to small businesses because they are able to find gifts for people who are hard to shop for.

So, this Saturday, consider shopping on Main Street rather than some commercial beltway. At the very least, it will help your conscience. Below, we've compiled a list of resources for shoppers and business owners to make the best of this year's event.

For Shoppers

For Small Businesses

Social Media

[Hero image: Flickr user "jmsmith000"]