8 Ways To Use Small Business Saturday To Grow Holiday Retail Sales

Man holding sign Think Big Shop Small

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Looking for a strong way to promote your business and how to attract customers using Small Business Saturday? 

Now in its thirteenth year,  Small Business Saturday originally started by American Express has become a marketing powerhouse for retailers and restaurants of all sizes.   American Express notes that since the initiative began, consumers in the U.S. have reported spending an estimated $85 billion at local, independent retailers and restaurants.

Held the day after Black Friday, Small Business Saturday is one of the most trafficked shopping weekends of the year.

Last year, #Shopsmall, its hashtag, was the highest trending topic across social media that day.

And yet, I continue to discover many indie retailers who do nothing to connect to Small Business Saturday.

For your potential customers who try to support local businesses yet find little enthusiasm or reward for their efforts...

It’s like going out on Halloween to trick or treat in your neighborhood and finding most of the front porch lights turned off.


For those independent retailers either proudly not participating, or oblivious to what it is, this is how you can use the event to attract and drive more customers to your store.

And if you’re already sold on the shopping day, read on for some kick-ass ideas.

What does participation cost?

It costs you zip. Nada. Zero cash.

How does it work for small businesses?

You can order Shop Small Merchandise, download social and digital materials to drive awareness, and even get a free Event Guide to make the most of your efforts. Go here and get your marketing materials. Note, you do not have to be currently accepting the American Express Card to get started. More on that in a bit.

8 Ways To Use Small Business Saturday To Grow Holiday Retail Sales

1. Bundle. It’s as easy to offer 20% off your entire store as it is to swipe your customer’s credit card. Resist the urge. Shoppers will be out spending their money, and you want to attract those who are looking for something other than just a cheap price. There’s always someone cheaper, whether online or down the street. Instead, what could you bundle with a purchase? Even if it is a gift card to your business, it is a much better promotion than a generous discount because it gets customers back into your store to spend it.

2. Give back. Find a local charity. Collect donations. Have your Main Street fund new uniforms for the high school choir; plant a park, trim the trees – you name it.  Customers feel good when they see businesses looking making their local world a better place.  

3. Band together. Hold a meeting with your other local businesses to create a fun plan. Here are three kick-ass ideas from previous years. You can download how to do a scavenger hunt based on the successful promotion Belair-Edison neighborhoods did in Maryland one year. You can find the details of how to do a selfie event that lets people show their support with more than just a purchase as the Douglas Main Street Merchant Association did in Georgia. You can create a Small Business Passport like they did in Detroit or discover how Orleans, MA hosted a kick-off breakfast. 

4. Get their names. Use this opportunity to get those who visit you to join your Facebook page. Have them take a snap in your store and post it with your hashtag and #shopsmall. Have them signup for your newsletter on a dedicated iPad by the register. Getting their names and follows is critical as you need to stay in contact with these shoppers long after the Thanksgiving leftovers have all been eaten.

5. Lose your cynicism. Don’t bemoan the weather, the foot traffic, or politics. It’s called the holiday season, not the headache season.

6. Create and share positive energy. Share stories of someone being kind, of something a customer is doing for someone else, of a positive interaction you had with a shopper the day prior. This helps create an environment that looks for the good in everyone. That is essential when dealing with harried shoppers.

7. Train your employees how to sell your merchandise, not just clerk it. Click the button at the bottom of this post to watch the video.

8. Get shoppers to give you user-generated content. Choose Facebook or Instagram and create a short hashtag you can track like #shopsmallAce for an Ace Hardware store.  Post a couple times now and throughout the days leading up to Small Business Saturday to prepare your followers to be engaged. Encourage them over the weekend to share stories about their shopping in your store or community using your custom hashtag. Afterwards you’ll easily be able to find them by searching for your hashtag. Bonus - you'll have a lot more pictures of how exciting your store is to shop which will help your marketing in 2019.

And one more in case you missed this post....

Decorate your store with lights and displays that enchant, and you’ll see your customers respond by opening their hearts to you … and their wallets.

What are the naysayers saying at this point?

Oh, I don’t take American Express; their discount rate is so high...

I don’t want a separate statement for my merchant services…

When I tell them we don’t take AMEX, all of my customers can give me another credit card…

Take a look at this infographic of comparing AMEX to other credit cards when it comes to restaurant customers.

american express cardmember spending patterns

American Express cardmembers are much more likely to spend more and visit more...I’d say that would be a great demographic to court... not avoid, wouldn’t you?

Shop Local

Let’s be very clear… while I’m all for supporting local businesses...

Shop Local has to be more than a sign you put on your Facebook post, a placard taped to your front door, or a poster by your POS counter that tries to guilt customers into avoiding the big boxes.

I get it... educating shoppers to Shop Local will show your customers how their money stays in the community, supports local charities, and gives kids jobs.

But at its heart, it is designed to make customers feel guilty if they buy anywhere else.

Is that enough to make it work?


Look at your own credit card statement. How many times did you shop Amazon? Best Buy? Wal-Mart? Lowe’s?

Exactly. We all make choices all the time for where to share our money.

Starting with the day after Thanksgiving, you need to have your best game on each and every time any shopper enters your brick and mortar store or sits down at your restaurant.

In Sum

It’s the season of joy, and it kicks off for many shoppers with this important weekend.

Use this event to appear bigger, attract more customers, and deliver an exceptional customer service experience for everyone who gives you a chance at their business.

Use Small Business Saturday as a fun event to connect with shoppers in a positive manner.