The ninth annual Small Business Saturday, a shopping event developed by American Express in 2010 to boost smaller retailers, took in a record $17.8 billion in sales this year, according to the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.
About 104 million consumers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico said they shopped or dined at independently owned local businesses on Nov. 24 this year, according to American Express’s report. That’s down from the estimated 108 million last year.
Both shoppers and businesses — 70% of American adults — have become well aware of the event, according to the report. About 42% said they shop at a local retailer that day, with another 41% saying they shopped local online. Even more — 83% —say they encourage others to shop or dine local.
The consumer confidence and healthy economy that has fueled retail sales and stoked hopes for the holiday spilled over to local businesses on Saturday. But while shoppers spent a record amount this year, fewer of them turned out for their local establishments.
That's been a trend for small business event recently, as larger retailers like Walmart, Target and department stores have amplified their deals, improved their merchandising and cleaned up their stores to mitigate Amazon’s emergence as a holiday go-to. It's hard for shoppers to ignore the blare of ads or the bright heavy catalogs that arrive at their doorstep, courtesy of the giant chains, and hard to for the diverse collection of local businesses to compete.
Throughout November, American Express and National Federation of Independent Business turned to social media using the hashtags #ShopSmall and/or #SmallBizSat and enlisting influencers like Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, and Venus Williams, leading to an 18% boost in engagement from last year.
And the stores themselves chimed in with old-fashioned attractions: 66% of small business owners said they were planning promotions for Thanksgiving weekend, according to another survey American Express took ahead of the day. Most of those (92%) said that the red-letter day dedicated to local businesses does help garner some attention during the holidays, citing benefits like bringing in more and new customers (74%), improving sales (70%), raising awareness of community-based businesses (69%) and helping the local neighborhood and community prosper (66%).
At the dawn of the age of Amazon, many local businesses were overwhelmed by the discounts their customers could find online, but several, including booksellers and others, have fought back with differentiated customer experiences and merchandising. But many are also meeting or beating online prices, even on Amazon, according to a report from "Name Your Own Price" platform PriceWaiter emailed to Retail Dive.
The holidays are at least as important to local retailers as it is for chains, and (83%) are sanguine about their performance this year, according to the American Express business survey, with more than two-thirds (69%) expecting their holiday sales to be stronger than last year. To meet demand, half (51%) of local shop and restaurant owners said they'll extend their hours and more than a third (36%) will hire more staff for the season.