American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010 with a basic concept: If you build it, they will come. This year, to encourage consumers to shop locally (and, ostensibly, to improve its image in the small-business community), AmEx offered 100,000 cardmembers a $25 credit for shopping locally. That's a possible $2,500,000 in free money.
So far, it seems, that logic—along with those dollars—has paid off on Main Street.
This year, about 500,000 small businesses around the country participated in the event, which attracted some 100 million consumers; the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported that 67 percent of consumers planned to shop small. And although American Express is notoriously tight-lipped about the incremental revenue generated by the promotion, anecdotally, at least, it seems business owners around the country are enjoying a modest windfall from the event.
Store owners in Wichita, Kansas, and Athens, Alabama, for instance, saw an increase in foot traffic firsthand because of Small Business Saturday. Nancy Robinson, the owner of Best of Times, a small gift shop in Wichita, told the Wichita Eagle that Small Business Saturday "made people stop and think about supporting local stores and how their money stays in the community."
In Iowa City, Iowa, a business owner reported a 30 percent increase in sales, while independent store owners in Saratoga Springs, New York saw a sales increase of 25 percent on Saturday.
While revenue data is scant, Google Insight data offers a top-level sense of the growing interest in Small Business Saturday. According to the chart below, the user search volume for Small Business Saturday is growing at a steady pace. The day was especially popular (at least from a search perspective) in New York, Phoenix, and Boston.
Twitter also offers some valuable insight into the interest in shopping locally on Small Business Saturday. Data from Topsy, a social insight and analytics start-up based in San Francisco, shows that Small Business Saturday (or a variation of the #SmallBizSaturday hashtag) was mentioned about 200,000 times on Saturday.
Still, the day hardly compares to Black Friday, which garnered just under 1 million mentions on Twitter at its peak on November 21. Cyber Monday—as of Sunday—was generating quite a bit of buzz with about 350,000 mentions on Twitter.
In other words, Small Business Saturday may attract just a sliver of the attention received by big box retailers on Black Friday, but retailers are happy to take what they can get.
"I think it's a good cause," one Massachusetts entrepreneurs told the North Adams Transcript. "It's good for the Berkshire economy. I know I spend my money locally. ... It's a good time to be a small business. A lot of people are really conscious of supporting that."