When we think of retail, it’s usually the big brands that spring to mind: Macy’s, Sears, Amazon. Yet big-box retailers are actually in the minority. According to the Small Business Administration, ‘small businesses’ account for a whopping 99.9% of all U.S. businesses, and 35% of all retail jobs!

But small businesses really have their work cut out for them during the holiday season. That small handful of retail giants monopolize holiday sales, making it tough for independent stores to compete.

This is where Small Business Saturday enters the mix. Although less well-known than its Thanksgiving cousins Black Friday and Cyber Monday, stats show that the ‘shop local’ philosophy has gained some serious currency with consumers - something all small businesses can tap into!

Our guide gives you the full rundown on this unique day of the year, so you can ensure that Small Business Saturday 2019 is your most successful yet!

What is Small Business Saturday?

Traditionally, it has been major department stores and multi-store retailers who have benefitted the most from Thanksgiving holiday shopping. So, the idea behind Small Business Saturday, or shop small Saturday, is to encourage consumers to instead ‘shop local’ and support retailers in their community.

According to Elizabeth Rutledge, the Chief Marketing Officer at American Express “The Shop Small movement has become a national celebration – people all around the country are turning out to back the small businesses that make our neighborhoods and communities thrive.”

In short, Small Business Saturday allows independent retailers to shine at what they do best -providing personalized and unique retail experiences that encourage people to shop local year-round.

When is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday is the Saturday after Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It’s a ‘floating’ holiday whose date differs depending on the year, though it typically falls in the final week of November. Small Business Saturday 2019 falls on November 30, so it’s time to get organized!

For those who are mega planners, why not pencil Small Business Saturday 2020 into your planner as well? It’s on November 28!

The History of Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday a relatively new shopping trend, having been masterminded in 2010 by American Express. At the time, the US was still deep in recession following the 2008 financial crisis. Unsurprisingly, it was small businesses that suffered the most from lower consumer spending.

Seeing the economic damage this was creating, American Express masterminded Small Business Saturday. The 'shop small' campaign encouraged consumers to benefit their local economy by supporting independent retailers, who often lose out to more established brands during the holiday season.

American Express also incentivized local businesses to take part by giving them free web advertising. They also started the ‘Neighborhood Champions’ initiative to help communities coordinate their activities. In 2018, over 7500 neighborhood champions signed up across the U.S. to promote the 'shop local' message.

The campaign quickly gained traction, and Small Business Saturday 2019 marks its ninth consecutive year. Alongside Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s now a mainstay of the Thanksgiving retail holiday.

Small Business Saturday: In numbers

According to American Express’s own data, Small Business Saturday has made $103 billion in revenue since 2010. Small Business Saturday 2018 alone saw $17.8 billion generated by independent retailers - up from just $5.5 billion in 2012.

The National Federation of Independent Business found that 'shop local' now has a very positive perception amongst U.S. consumers. In 2018, a record 70% of consumers said that they were aware of Small Business Saturday, and 90% reported that it “inspires them to explore new independently-owned retailers and restaurants.”

Why Should Small Business Saturday Matter to Small Businesses?

The 'Shop Local' Message Gives Your Brand a Massive Edge During the Holiday Season

As we've mentioned, it isn't easy for small businesses to stand out in the busy holiday shopping season. So, participating in a tailor-made retail event is the best possible way to spread the word about what you offer!

Just take a look at the results from the 2018 Small Business Owner Insights Survey:

59% reported that Small Business Saturday made a large contribution to their annual holiday revenue.
70% saw improved sales
92% felt that the day helps their business to stand out during the holidays
74% saw an increase in first-time customers

With this in mind, why wouldn't you want to take part in the shop local phenomenon?

Small Business Saturday is a Retail Holiday Fit For Omnichannel

Small Business Saturday has changed in one crucial way since 2010. The growth of eCommerce has expanded the event’s focus from brick and mortar retailers to include online-only brands.

Why? In 2019, few brands restrict themselves to one channel. A brick and mortar store will likely have an online counterpart. Likewise, an eCommerce brand might well be stocking their goods at participating in-store retailers.

In recognition of this, Etsy took part in Small Business Saturday 2018 to coordinate pop-up events across the U.S. for small business owners. This allowed independent retailers to put their wares before fresh audiences in a new channel, increasing their exposure.

As a result of these omnichannel experiences, ‘shopping local’ has become a very flexible idea in the eyes of consumers. It can mean the coffee shop or clothing boutique down the street, or that hip online store that only stocks products made in the USA. In short, every small business has the chance to participate in a variety of ways.

You Have a Valuable Opportunity to Establish Lasting Brand Loyalty

A lot of us shop at big retailers out of habit. We're not always sure how to shop local, and don't always realize that there are some fantastic local options right on our doorstep. More often than not, the biggest challenge for small businesses is making consumers aware of their presence.

Small Business Saturday provides the perfect marketing opportunity for independent retailers. Why? You can hook in consumers when they are actively looking for small businesses to support!

Small Business Saturday isn't just about celebrating local business owners one day of the year; you have the chance to establish new retail habits in your customers. A whopping 96% of consumers who participated last year said that it’s made them want to shop at independent retailers all year round!

In sum, Small Business Saturday will open the door to some fantastic repeat business opportunities - if you play your cards right.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some fun marketing ideas for Small Business Saturday 2019!

1. Prep Your Website and Online Marketing Channels

Before you start announcing your promotions for Small Business Saturday, you want to make sure that your followers are aware of it. This is especially important if it’s your first time participating as a business.

There are a few easy steps you can take to make sure your physical or online store can spread the word effectively:

Set up a banner on your website publicizing your participation. This is a simple way to grab the attention of visitors to your site and publicize any relevant promotions. If you are a brick and mortar store, consider getting some in-store signage and encouraging your staff to mention your involvement to customers in the lead-up.

Use dedicated hashtags. Nine years in, retailers are very effectively leveraging the power of social media. Hashtags are an easy way to gain attention for your Small Business Saturday participation because they give you access to the most captive audiences. Try including the following in your posts:


Utilize your mailing list. Email marketing is one of the best tools at your disposal as a small business. You could include a ‘Small Biz Saturday countdown’ in all of your correspondence, or drip-feed the amazing deals you will be offering!

2. Offer Some Exclusive Deals

There’s nothing like a one-time sale to create some urgency in consumers! We all know that an exclusive deal is a fantastic way to celebrate a retail holiday. But any business can create a generic ‘20% storewide’ discount - tailoring your promotions specifically to Small Business Saturday will make them much more engaging.

To celebrate 'shop local' you could apply discounts only to goods which are made locally, or put together a fun Small Biz Saturday guide which ‘spotlights’ your personal favorite products. If you run any kind of loyalty program, holding a one-off double or even triple-point reward is a sure way to bring customers in!

Selah Skin Studio has chosen to launch a week-long sales promotion for Small Business Saturday 2019.

Pro tip: It’s a great idea to offer our audience a few teasers so that they are more likely to tune in for announcements!

3. Take Advantage of American Express’s Small Business Saturday Assets

If this is your first time participating in Small Business Saturday as a retailer, or you just want a bit of extra help, American Express has a great online resource center. Their Shop Small Studio allows businesses to create their very own custom social media posts and signage to promote the event, as well as offering plenty of other tips and tricks for success.

4. Maximize Value-added Extras in Your Customer Experience

To make your Small Business Saturday efforts worth it, you need to show consumers what they stand to gain by choosing to shop local. This means offering an experience that they won’t be able to find at larger retailers.

Small businesses can leverage a much closer connection to their local communities. So, they already have a headstart in inspiring trust and familiarity in consumers. Offering a few value-added incentives makes it far easier to build brand loyalty - and attract repeat business in the future!

Consider bringing the following elements into your brick and mortar or eCommerce store:

Premium packaging - How you choose to package your goods has a massive influence on brand perception. The more appealing your products look, the more likely you are to inspire a purchase. 40 percent of customers would consider making a repeat purchase from a brand that uses ‘gift-like’ packaging!

Whether you are packaging goods for the point of sale or delivery, there is a range of low-maintenance options available. Wrapping your products in custom-branded tissue paper, or putting custom stickers on gift bags, makes your brand identity far more cohesive and recognizable.

Pro tip: Consider putting business cards in your packages or shopping bags that list important information, such as social media handles and web addresses. This makes a world of difference to brand recall!

Gifts with purchase - Everyone loves some extra goodies! Offering a free sample or two with each purchase/order is an easy way to introduce your customers to other products that you stock. If your products are tricky to sample this way, you can always consider having some confectionary on hand. As Lacklustre Embroidery shows above, free candy can be just as effective during the holiday season!

A handwritten note - Writing out thank-you cards is hard to scale when you are a large retailer, which is why it’s such a novelty for consumers. Thanking customers for supporting you on Small Business Saturday is a lovely personal touch. It makes them much more aware of the person/people behind your brand, and of the benefits of shopping local!

5. Let People Know How They Are Helping Local Communities

Did you know that for every $100 spent at an independent retailer $68 will stay in the local economy, as opposed to only $43 at larger businesses? Or that small businesses donate an average of 250% more than larger businesses to charity and community causes? If not, it’s pretty likely that your potential customers won’t either!

Big brands can easily undercut small businesses during the holiday season by relying on a greater number of transactions. But they can’t boast of directly benefitting local communities.

That’s why stats like those above are very empowering to consumers. According to Cone Communications, 70% of consumers will spend more at businesses that support a cause they care about.

So, as well as offering financial rewards, it’s important to draw attention to the positive social impact that comes from the 'shop local' movement.

Above is a great example from Willow Farm LLC, a family-owned farm in Michigan. Drawing attention to the tangible benefits of supporting the local economy, you are giving consumers a powerful incentive to shop with you!

Want to prep some more for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend? See our Cyber Monday guide!