Small businesses are, as they say, “the backbone of our economy,” employing more than 47.1% of the U.S. workforce. That’s a lot of critical jobs, meaningful connections, and local prosperity! 

The holiday season is a critical time for small businesses, but over the years, important shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become dominated by big box brands and other suppliers who can afford to sell you basically anything you want and have it on your doorstep...yesterday. (Ahem...we won’t name names; they know who they are.) 

And, unlike Amazon, (whoops) small businesses have been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, 62% of U.S.-based small businesses need consumer spending to go back to pre-Covid levels just to stay operational.

That’s where Small Business Saturday can help. Whether you’re a consumer or business owner, it’s a day worth preparing for. Small businesses--both brick-and-mortar and online--can use this day to amplify their reach, while shoppers can direct their hard-earned dollars toward businesses that really need them. (And get some really cool stuff, to boot!) 

How? This guide is the answer. We’ll walk you through the meaning and origins of Small Business Saturday, along with actionable strategies for eCommerce businesses and consumers to make the most of the day. (Which, by the way, is November 27th this year.)

What the Heck is Small Business Saturday, Anyway? 

Small Business Saturday (SBS) is a yearly shopping holiday in the U.S. started by American Express in 2010. It began as a movement to support small businesses and shops in local communities, and it continues to serve that purpose today.  

Shop small initiative by American Express

The fact that it falls conveniently between Black Friday and Cyber Monday has further added to the day’s popularity. In fact, U.S. consumers spent over $19.6 billion shopping with local eateries and independent retailers on Small Business Saturday in 2019.  

Needless to say, SBS presents a huge opportunity for both local and online shops--and you should be ready to capitalize on it! But first...

What Counts As a Small Business in the U.S.? 

Small businesses make up 99.7% of all companies in the US

“How is that possible??”

Iknowright?! There has been much debate over what a small business actually is--and there’s still no clear-cut answer. We recommend consulting the Small Business Administration (SBA) directly to see where your store lands, but some deciding factors include whether the business:

  • Has a certain number of workers
  • Is headquartered in the U.S.
  • Is a minority player in a niche (versus having a big market share)
  • Is a for-profit entity
  • Is owned and operated independently or by a parent company

While big companies have certain advantages, small businesses are frequently praised for their flexibility and adaptability, personalized customer service, and creativity. Events like Small Business Saturday give you a stage to highlight all these strengths.

Isn't Small Business Saturday for, Like...Brick and Mortar Merchants? 

Great question! The eCommerce market has been on the rise for years, but the recent pandemic has added more fuel to the fire. 

A 2020 poll found that more than 70% of holiday shoppers intended to do most of their seasonal shopping online--up from 51% in 2019. 

Sure, that reporting may be skewed by necessity. Many physical stores simply were not open at the time; those that were had significant capacity limitations and masking requirements. Combine all of that with the public’s (rightful) general hesitancy to go outside, and it’s no mystery that online shopping skyrocketed. 

Still, eCommerce got real smart over the last two years and it wouldn’t surprise us at all if more people continue to do their holiday shopping online than did B.C. (before Corona).

SO, while Small Business Saturday may have been designed primarily to promote local (physical) stores, it has now evolved to include all types of small businesses, whether you own a standalone brick-and-mortar shop, an online store, or both.

Regardless of the type of business you have, there’s nothing stopping you from leveraging the strategies of other business models.

For instance, if you run a physical retail location, you can always invest in building a digital footprint and employing digital marketing strategies. 

Similarly, if you're primarily an eCommerce business, you can distribute to, or partner with, local businesses in areas that hold the largest share of your target audience. (Pop-up shops, anyone?)

If you’re an eComm merchant looking to increase visibility (while doing some good!), think about participating in local events, donating, or volunteering your time. Small Business Saturday is all about community, so what better way to get in the spirit of things than by joining forces with other companies and causes?

Alright, enough of the warm and fuzzy. Let’s talk moolah-drivers.

Small Business Saturday and You(r Revenue)

Despite Small Business Saturday’s best efforts to advocate for The Little Guys, most buyers are still driven by convenience, discounts, and other benefits. If you want Small Business Saturday to work for you, you’ll have to do your part to give the people what they want--and make sure you have a solid sales and marketing plan in place. 

Stuck on special SBS incentives? Think: product bundles, free shipping, gifts-with-purchase, BOGO deals, and more. Don’t forget to cross- and upsell wherever possible!

You’ll need to do a little more than dangle those fancy little lures into the eComm sea if you want to reel in whale-sized sales, though. Here are 5 ways to make sure you’re ship-shape going into Small Business Saturday.

Optimize Your Online Store

Consumers who prefer to support small businesses from the comfort of their homes will likely do so by using a search engine like Google to find products and services they want to buy. 

That being the case, it’s critical that:

  • You have a website (we’ll assume you’ve checked this box since you clicked on an article about SBS for eCommerce; good job!)

  • The website is optimized for Small Business Saturday (and general)

Optimize Small Business website

Image Source: Yahoo

If you haven’t covered these bases--among others--you’ll want to get on that ASAP:


Get Involved in Your Local Community

Find Small Business Saturday events in your area, such as those sponsored by local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, or other organizations. American Express’s database of Neighborhood Champions is a good starting point for your search. 

Organizations that support small businesses


Use Email Marketing

78% of marketers reported an increase in email engagement by the time 2020 was getting started.

Majority of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement

Image Source: Hubspot

The days leading up to popular holidays bring out the inner shopper in most people, meaning they'll be actively looking for opportunities to give you their money. Creating and scheduling a series of emails at the right times can make a world of difference in your revenue. 

“i DiD tHe EmAiL tHiNg aNd It DiDn’T wOrk.”

Did it right? 😬

Engage Shoppers on Social Media

Social media is another avenue that can help amplify your reach on Small Business Saturday. Here are a few ideas to build excitement and highlight your SBS offers:

  • Create a series of social media posts and schedule them to go live during times when you usually see high engagement from your audience 
  • Participate in trending threads and conversations to get on the radar of new holiday shoppers
  • Include relevant Small Business Saturday hashtags in your posts, such as #SmallBizSat, #SmallBusinessSaturday, and #ShopSmall*
  • Collaborate with local influencers** to extend your reach 

*These are very widely used tags, so while you shouldn’t disregard them altogether, there’s a lot of noise to cut through there. We suggest doing a little research on lesser-saturated tags (definitely ones popular with your target audience) and peppering those into your strategy as well.

**Influencer marketing is the actual Wild West. Check out some tips we provided over here to lasso the collaborators who are right for you.

Use Free Resources from American Express

Creating marketing collateral is tedious, time-consuming, and potentially expensive, if you have to hire someone to design and write copy for your materials. That’s where American Express’s merchant content hub can help. (Ain’t they generous!)

Marketing materials by American Express

That handy little portal can provide you with ready-made templates for posters, banners, and social media graphics. If you want something a little more custom, check out the Shop Small Studio

Choosing Small Businesses to Support 

So far we’ve talked about Small Business Saturday from a business owner’s perspective. But what if you’re a consumer who also wants to see those small businesses succeed? Small Business Saturday is an important day for you, too! 

There are a number of ways to find small businesses to shop during the busy holiday season. 

  • Consider what causes are important to you. Perhaps you’re big on holistic wellness or environmental sustainability. Where there’s a cause close to your heart, there’s definitely a small business out there ready to help you contribute to it, while getting the goods you want or need.  

  • Identify friends and acquaintances who run small businesses. Purchasing from the people in your life during the holiday season is a double-gift; a present in your bag, dollars in their till! 

  • Check for deals on your favorite small brands’ websites. Incentives from small businesses might not be as tantalizing as those of larger companies, but there’s bound to be something that will sweeten your purchase.

  • Search social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

  • Use Shop 1 in 5, a small business directory that organizes sellers by categories.

  • Use Merchant Maps from American Express.

Online business finder merchant maps

Keep Supporting Small Businesses After The Dust Settles on SBS 

Supporting small businesses on Small Business Saturday is certainly commendable, but they likely need more than an annual rush just to stay afloat, let alone get the success they deserve. 

Covid-19* hit small retailers hard. A recent survey found that over 60% of small businesses faced revenue losses during the pandemic and estimates from Yelp show that more than 97,000 companies have permanently shut down since ‘rona first showed her face.  

(*Aren’t you going to be glad when we can stop talking about this thing?)

A graph showing the effect of Covid-19 on the revenue of small businesses

Image-Source: SHRM

TL;DR, especially now--remember to keep supporting small businesses throughout the year. Little efforts over time can make a huge difference. Shop small wherever and whenever you can. 

And once you’ve purchased, take your support a step further by leaving positive reviews online. It’s been reported that 84% of shoppers trust online reviews as much as their friends. (What a weird world we’re living in, huh?) Posting positive reviews (even super simple ones) is a low-effort, very high-impact way to support the small businesses you love.

Whether you’re a merchant or a buyer, Small Business Saturday is an excellent opportunity to kick off the Season of Giving by investing in the communities you love (online and IRL)--and the people who make them what they are. Good luck!

Topics: Business