Small Business Saturday: Our Newest Holiday Shopping Tradition?

Although the formal results have yet to be tallied and released by American Express (the driving force behind this year’s second annual Small Business Saturday), all indications are that this newest complement to the annual holiday shopping-kickoff weekend is here to stay. Not only are local merchants from coast to coast reporting increases in foot traffic of as much as 20% to 50% in some areas, with increased sales to match, but anecdotal analyses of other telltale factors such as overall consumer awareness and social media activity are also encouraging.

“Considering what we saw last year, it was about a 20 percent increase in volume of people coming through the door and purchasing,” said downtown Sacramento, Calif.-based Goodstock Boutique owner Justin Bilbao in a recent CW 31 (CBS13) television interview. “In this day and age, we’ll definitely take that.”

And while 20% is certainly nothing to sneeze at, Iowa City boutique owner Catherine Champion reported in Business 380 Magazine that her sales increased a full 50% from last year. Fortunately, profits weren’t all that obviously was up on Saturday, according to Champion. Public awareness about the event was also much greater, a sentiment that is shared by many of Champion’s peers. Numerous online articles featuring interviews with small business owners from Maryland to Iowa, Michigan to California and everywhere in between cite the noticeable increase in consumer awareness about Small Business Saturday this year as compared to last year.

Perhaps that’s not terribly surprising given that Small Business Saturday co-sponsor Facebook has reported that this year’s event page generated some 2.7 million+ likes, up from just 1.2 million last year. “American Express has had an enormous social media campaign that seems to have reached every shopper in the country. Anyone on Facebook couldn’t have missed it,” wrote Vermont bookseller Josie Leavitt in a recent blog post for Publisher’s Weekly. “(The AmEx rebate that was offered) excited shoppers to spend money and do something good at the same time,” she said. In fact, Leavitt reports that her American Express charges were up a full 100% from last year.

And while that’s just one small business owner’s encouraging report, there is more tentative good news. Signaling what all of us hope will be the beginning of the end of this latest economic downturn, the National Retail Federation has reported that total spending over the four-day-long shopping weekend after Thanksgiving this year reached a record $52.4 billion, the best returns since 2008. And while experts caution that whether or not this latest shopping explosion indicates any sort of pronounced turnaround remains to be seen, there’s little doubt that the psychological impact will give many consumers a much-needed boost.

So far, so good…this all seems very encouraging. But small business owners are hoping that the obvious advantages of doing business locally will not be lost on consumers once all the holiday hoopla is over. Echoing the sentiments of so many just like her, Leavitt asks, “Will the Small Business Saturday shoppers realize that every day should be a Shop Small Business day, even without a rebate? I sure hope so.”

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