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Small Business Saturday: How to Prepare for a Much Awaited Spike in Sales

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It’s safe to say that 100+-year-old Lammes Candies is already a household name in Austin, Texas.

After opening in 1885, this local small business became an Austin staple famous for their pecan pralines — a southern favorite — tapping into customers’ Texas pride by using only Texas-grown pecans.

And now, Lammes is going global. After expanding into five brick-and-mortar locations across the city, Lammes also created an online store that ships worldwide to confection-lovers across country lines.

The Lammes Candies Website Homepage

Small business is the backbone of local economies.

They create jobs, spark regional innovation and keep the communities around them happy and prospering. More than that, small businesses create an atmosphere — the vibrant, unique elements of a community. They give community members a point of local connection and common experience. In this way, they collectively become woven into the fabric of a community’s image — just like Lammes has over the past 130 years.

But 2020 mixed some cards to many small businesses. Due to forced lockdowns, many are rolling into the new year cash-strapped and customer-confused. In fact, 1 in 5 of smaller retailers now depend on 2020 holiday season success for the future of their business.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday/Cyber Week can bring in some good sales, there’s equally as important holiday, worth adding to the calendar — Small Business Saturday.

In this article, we’ll talk about how you can take full advantage of that opportunity — even if you have a small staff or limited resources.

What is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday (SBS) is an annual US shopping holiday started as a rally for supporting small businesses in local communities.

It sits conveniently between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to capitalize on one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. This has boosted its popularity and helped produce a long-term upward trend.

According to Business Wire, U.S. consumers spent over $19.6 billion with independent retailers and local restaurants on Small Business Saturday last year.

Small Business Saturday is primarily an inspirational holiday, prompting consumers to Shop Small — prioritize holiday shopping with local small businesses over big-box retailers or Amazon. And this yearly props leaves both the consumers empowered to “browse in their backyard” year-round. 95% of shoppers say that Small Business Saturday makes them want to support small business owners and other members of the local community all the time.

How Small Business Saturday Got Started

Small Business Saturday was launched by American Express in 2010 as a way to support and celebrate local retailers and small ecommerce shops.

The first Small Business Saturday logo from American Express

Small business is the backbone of local economies.

They create jobs, spark regional innovation and keep the communities around them happy and prospering. More than that, small businesses create an atmosphere — the vibrant, unique elements of a community. They give community members a point of local connection and common experience. In this way, they collectively become woven into the fabric of a community’s image — just like Lammes has over the past 130 years.

But 2020 mixed some cards to many small businesses. Due to forced lockdowns, many are rolling into the new year cash-strapped and customer-confused. In fact, 1 in 5 of smaller retailers now depend on 2020 holiday season success for the future of their business.

While Black Friday and Cyber Monday/Cyber Week can bring in some good sales, there’s equally as important holiday, worth adding to the calendar — Small Business Saturday.

In this article, we’ll talk about how you can take full advantage of that opportunity — even if you have a small staff or limited resources.

Why Small Business Saturday Matters

Small businesses are integral to the U.S. economy as they employ over 47.1% of the country’s workforce. And otherwise positively contribute to the local communities where they operate.

However, 2020 has been tough for the small guys. As much as 62% of US-based SMBs say that they need consumer spending to go back to pre-COVID levels by the end of the year to stay operational.

This makes Small Business Saturday utterly important. By choosing to do holiday shopping with local folks, instead of big-box stores or online marketplaces such as Amazon, you put money back into the community institutions.

Granted, Small Business Saturday’s efforts to draw attention to the benefits of shopping locally are working. This year 50% of households plan to buy more from local businesses during the holiday season. Also, 57% want to leave their money with retailers, who supported their employees and customers during the crisis — small businesses from New York to Honolulu often were those community heroes.

Despite the rough start, the end of 2020 can end up being a huge revenue-boosting opportunity for participating businesses — and not just for brick-and-mortars. This year 66% of consumers will increase their online spending online.

3 Predictions for Small Business Saturday in 2020

2020 brought a mixed bag of results for retailers — foot traffic went down, but ecommerce sales went up. Spending across certain product categories declined, but others are seeing double-digit growth. We expect this years’ Small Business Saturday to be anything but ordinary too. Yet, in a positive way.

1. Increase in website traffic.

Main streets will be emptier than usual this year due to lingering shelter in place orders. But ecommerce sales are seeing a record growth of 40% in Nov and December combined. Due to personal safety concerns, many holiday shoppers plan to prioritize digital browsing over in-store visits.

Source: Criteo

Boomers and Gen X, in particular, have a growing appetite for online sales: 80% plan to Christmas-shop online at least to some extent.  

Adobe also predicts that search engines such as Google will drive 46.5% of this year’s online shopping revenues. So you should level up your holiday SEO game and invest in seasonal content.

2. More sales.

As much as 70% of shoppers don’t plan to reduce their spending during the big day discounts this season. With extra government stimulus landing in consumers’ accounts, most feel eager to splurge on some gifts and pamper themselves.

Compound this with a strong consumer intention to support local and independent businesses, and a lot of the saved funds can stay within the community.

3. New customers.

This year two factors are playing to small business owner’s advantage:

  • Disrupted global supply chains, making first-choice products unavailable.

  • Increased social responsibility among consumers.

Each one prompts consumers to consider alternative brands, especially ones that align with their personal values. Black-owned businesses have seen major support this year. While big-name brands, caught in dubious practices, get vocally boycotted. 

At the same time, the holiday season per se is the time when most consumers are open to sales pitches and new deals. Facebook data suggests that 64% of Christmas shoppers are more curious to explore new products and brands than the rest of the year.

All of the above means that your small business has a good chance of landing new customers during Small Business Saturday. As long as you come prepared!

12 Ways to Get the Most Out of Small Business Saturday

Preparing for the holiday shopping season is double-challenging this year — new safety regulations in place, the rise of omnichannel commerce and lower marketing budgets. You need to start preparing early. Even more so if your online presence is still in the nascent stage. 

While the holiday itself can lend you some visibility, you’d be competing for customers’ attention online with retailers of all sizes. Despite a strong commitment to shopping locally, most consumers will be still driven by prices, deals and discounts. 

So you’d have to get on their radar too. While you may not have the big-box retailer marketing budgets, there are plenty of impactful marketing strategies small businesses can pull off to reap big rewards. 

Here are a few ideas for promoting your small business on Small Business Saturday, including how to utilize marketing, advertising and social media to build excitement around your shop’s participation:

1. Prepare and get your website ready.

As we mentioned before search will be a priority battlefield during this holiday season. So make sure that your online store is ready to cater to more consumers.

  • Ensure that your ecommerce platform is optimized for speed and scaling.

  • Schedule website maintenance round to avoid break-downs.

  • Launch seasonal marketing campaigns.

  • Reposition your product listings, around seasonal preferences.

  • Brainstorm a discount strategy and prepare all the promo materials.

  • Add better product photos/videos and descriptions.

  • Provide real-time inventory availability information. 

On the ground, make sure you have enough customer support and retail workers to keep operations running smoothly. Consider hiring extra people to help with online order fulfillment.

Also, check-in with your shipping provider regarding delivery timeframes and add a quick customer update on your website if you anticipate delays.

2. Remind people about Small Business Saturday — and its benefits.

First things first. You need to make sure your local community doesn’t forget about Small Business Saturday! Don’t let the holiday get overshadowed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, both of which are more heavily marketed and have been around longer.

Start marketing early and fiercely:

  • Create website banners, promoting special deals and rebates.

  • Set up in-store banners too, reminding that you sell online.

  • Try a new delivery strategy — BOPIS — to reduce logistics overheads.

  • Setup online retargeting campaigns on social media.

  • Experiment with local inventory ads of Google.

  • Connect with your Neighborhood Champions for support.

3. Implement a targeted email marketing strategy.

Email is one of the most valuable marketing channels you can use to build anticipation in advance of any promotion, sale, or holiday. Start a few weeks in advance of the big day and follow this important best practice:

“Make sure you’re sending a plain-text/accessible version of each email (and not just one that links to the web version of the campaign). This is especially important if you’re sending image-only emails.”— Lianna Patch, Founder, Punchline Conversion Copywriting.

But don’t shy away from using vibrant visuals showcasing your products and any special offers or promotions. Don’t forget about the subject line, either — after all, it’s the first thing recipients will see.

“Holidays are times when people actively seek out offers and deals for their holiday shopping. So, highlighting your offer in the subject line is a good strategy to follow during the holiday season.” — Shane Barker, Founder of Shane Baker.

Segment your lists and focus on reactivating past customers. Consider running an email win-back campaign to rekindle the stalled relationships. For that, create a 3-email sequence:

  • Add a special holiday offer in your first email to win back their attention.

  • Instill urgency in the second follow-up with a countdown timer, reminding that deal will soon be gone.

  • Recap why they loved shopping with you the last time around in your final email.

Also, if you have enough customer data, create a series of personalized email campaigns for different buyer personas. You can: 

  • Curate relevant product recommendations.

  • highlight unique rewards, based on their loyalty status.

  • Pitch personalized gift edits and holiday shopping guides. 

Get even more actionable ideas from this holiday email marketing guide.

4. Get on social media to encourage engagement.

Make sure your social media followers know you’re planning to participate in Small Business Saturday by highlighting any special offers or incentives. Find ways to build excitement among your loyal customers. Post-behind-the-scenes content as you set up for holiday markets or other in-person events or showcase some of your most giftable products.

Don’t forget to join existing conversations, as well. Increase your visibility among holiday shoppers by tapping into existing conversations on social platforms.

When you post about your Small Business Saturday plans, make sure to use some of the following hashtags as appropriate: 

  • #SmallBizSat

  • #ShopSmall

  • #SmallBusinessSaturday

Depending on your niche, consider reaching out to local influencers. A simple Instagram post or Story could create big awareness — and some influencers will work with their local businesses for a discounted rate to support the local community.

Lastly, experiment with new channels. TikTok — the trending social media platform among Gen Z and Millenials — just launched a new self-service advertising platform. It includes tools for audience research, content creation, precision-targeting and retargeting. The company also offers up to $100M in advertising credits to small businesses as a token of support.

5. Make the community part of your strategy.

Just like the holiday season itself, Small Business Saturday is about community. Tap into these connected values and remind your shoppers of that connection. Make sure your patrons know that you’re involved in and care about the community.

This holiday season more than ever, shoppers want to buy from ethical, authentic, and purpose-driven brands. Accenture suggests that 41% plan to boycott retailers who laid off staff or reduced benefits due to the pandemic. Also, 60% of Americans mention that the brand’s response to racial justice protests influences their purchase decisions.

So be vocal about where you stand and how you are vested in the life of your community. Is there a particular cause to support? Do you take extra steps to improve employee wellbeing? What about volunteering at a non-profit?

Your business is personal — and you can make it personal to the shoppers in your community, too by sharing more about the causes, both of you care about.

Use Small Business Saturday as an opportunity to give part of the profits to a local charity organization. Pledge to support the local underserved individuals with gifts or donations. Or ask your shoppers to vote for a local initiative and commit to making it happen together.

6. Use personalization as an advantage over large competitors.

One of the biggest advantages that a small ecommerce shop or local business can offer is a personalized connection. 

“‘Why should I buy from you and not the other guys?’ You have to resonate with consumers in more ways than just discounted prices.” — Julie Causseaux, ecommerce Strategist, Revenue River.

Small businesses can rarely afford rock-bottom prices. What they can do though is add a unique ‘human touch’ to their shopping experience. When most of our lives have gone digital, small personalized gestures can feel extra special. 

Here’s how you can make it happen: 

  • Upgrade your packaging with a personal touch — a custom illustration, craft on-brand paper, or unique labels.

  • Add a hand-written thank you note or holiday greetings card into the package.

  • Purchase a signature scent and spray your products.

  • Offer simple product customizations such as engravings or slight product modifications.

  • Add a list of personalized product recommendations for follow-up purchases. 

If you are interested in more advanced strategies, check this comprehensive guide to ecommerce personalization.

7. Tweak your SEO strategy.

If shoppers are searching online for the best stores to visit during their Small Business Saturday outing (or browsing), you’ll want to make sure your website has the best opportunity of showing up in their search results.

  • Promotional content: Clearly advertise — on your homepage, a specialized landing page, or both — any special promotions or events you’ll offer on Small Business Saturday. If you have a blog, make sure you have associated content there, too. Use keywords related to small, local business and Small Business Saturday, but remember that if Google perceives your keyword usage as spammy, that will only hurt your rankings — not help them.

  • Local content elements: Make sure Google knows where you are! Having local content elements on every page of your website — your business name, address, and phone number — will help ensure you show up when your local shoppers are searching. Include location-relevant content on your blog, too, if you have one.

  • Google My Business profile: Make sure that your Google My Business features correct and up-to-date information, especially regarding opening hours. Also, add extra photos to your account as listings with attractive photos.

8. Use American Express’ resources for easy-to-create marketing materials.

One of American Express’s goals behind the Small Business Saturday event is to help businesses increase visibility — but they also know that, especially for very small shops, the time it takes to create specialized marketing materials can be prohibitive.

That’s why they created a merchant content hub, featuring helpful marketing materials such as pre-made posters, social media posts graphics, and in-store banners, along with educational content and guides. In addition, you get promo offers from participating companies such as Yelp, FedEx and BigCommerce among others. Lastly, you can list your business in their market directory for extra online visibility.

9. Host online events.

Since holiday markets and in-person events won’t be that popular this year, focus on driving awareness around your brand online.

Host a virtual Small Business shopping event. During the pandemic, shoppable live streams gained traction among larger retailers and entrepreneurial celebrities alike. Kim Kardashian live-streamed a launch of her new perfume and sold out 15,000 bottles in minutes. L’Oreal hosted a series of live-streaming events during the lockdown months. 

Go solo or team up with other independent creators in your space and start a virtual shopping marathon. Showcase your current stock, tout seasonal offerings, share some cool DIY tips for wrapping gifts or assembling gift baskets, featuring your products. Don’t forget to interact with your audience while you are at it. Answer their product and delivery questions. Point them towards other participating businesses, and bring some holiday spirit into their homes.

10. Increase foot traffic to your store.

If your brick-and-mortar shop is on the main street — or any other high-visibility area — you can capitalize on the early holiday browsing excitement. Small Business Saturday can encourage foot traffic in locations with multiple shops. Draw in passers-by with a festive storefront and signage indicating any special promotions.

On top of that, use the power of digital to divert some casual online browsers to your storefront.

“Omnichannel retailers benefit by encouraging customers to physically visit the store and increase the chances of impulse purchases—in fact, almost 50% of customers will inevitably buy something else while in-store.” — Sarah Toth; VP, Marketing; Guidance.

You can do so by offering in-store deliveries for online purchases. (This way you can also minimize the risks of late deliveries due to logistics bottlenecks).

If you have some marketing budgets left, you can also experiment with Local Inventory Ads — an ad type, showing local product availability to consumers. By using this type of ads, you can drive extra foot traffic to your store or check out customers online and prompt them to pick up in-store.

11. Prioritize customer service.

First things first — your ability to provide a positive and personal experience is a great way to set yourself apart from your bigger competitors. Make sure you have plenty of customer support on-hand, whether it’s representatives to answer phones or participate in live chat to answer questions quickly, or personal, in-store attention. 

If you have recently created an ecommerce website, rigorously test it a few weeks in advance. Make sure that the checkout works properly, there are no broken pages, and that all your integrations with other business apps and partners are working properly. 

Also, set up a quick self-help page that would address all popular customer questions regarding products, shipping policies, returns, and other common mishaps. It’s a win-win for all. Since 50% of shoppers are eager to solve their issues without reaching customer support, you give them the tools to do so. At the same time, your agents can focus on more complex issues and customer care.

12. Think of special incentives and promotions.

At the end of the day, most shoppers will be hunting for special deals, especially on the high of Black Friday. If your budgets permit, sweeten the holidays for them with a special promo campaign.

  • Offer a Small Business Saturday-exclusive deal: A deal doesn’t have to be some crazy-high discount. Consider product bundles, reduced ‘free shipping’ threshold, free personalization or small-value gift cards. All of these small gestures also street a “feel good” attitude without undermining your brand value.

  • Try a community-oriented promotion. As ‘local support’ is the key narrative of this holiday, win over consumers with a hyper-local promotion strategy. For example, you can team up with another business to offer cross-discounts e.g. “buy from us and get a freebie from them”. Or tie in your marketing campaign to some local initiative, organization or event. For example, you can team up with a local foster care and promise to match certain products with a donation.

  • Reward social media engagement. Lastly, keep the ball rolling high on social media to keep driving awareness about your ongoing deals and promos. You can offer everyone who shares your post to enter a draw, pledge to donate extra $100 to some cause if the post gets X likes or shares.

Find Ways to Send Your Instore Customers to Your Online Store

With social distancing measures still in place, the last thing you’d want is to alienate some consumers with a store, packed beyond reasonable capacity. Or worse — put your employers under higher risk.

On the other hand, you’d still need to keep the momentum going. As customers who discovered a new business during SBS are more willing to shop with them all year round, you’d want to retain those first-time buyers. The best way to do so is to prompt them to visit your online store.

1. Capture emails.

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to reach your customers, keep them up to date on special offers and new product launches, and drive traffic to your online store. 

If they visit you in person, encourage them to provide an email address during checkout, so you can make a year-round connection. You can “bribe” them with a small incentive such as a special raffle, sample products or other giveaways. Alternatively, offer them to join your customer loyalty program and count-in their first purchase towards their loyalty status.

“Our business is primarily brick-and-mortar, and we don’t do a whole lot of online advertising. Instead, we use receipt emails through Square to send out discounts and coupon codes to people who have already purchased them. Once we gather their email and their phone number, we can edit their digital receipt to include a coupon code. Those work really well, and for a while were how we got most of our online sales.” — Brent Densford, CEO of BeachRC

2. Advertise your willingness to ship.

Make sure your customers know that they can visit your ecommerce site to browse and purchase products to be delivered right to their door. Include prominent signage in your shop, explaining different shipping options, average delivery timeline and costs.

Set a reasonable free shipping threshold. It should be similar to your average customer order value, but also make sense for your operations financially. As a more affordable alternative, advertise in-store pickups and curbside deliveries.

Lastly, you can create a series of QR codes for bulkier products, print them and set around the store premises. So that casual shoppers could easily scan the code, go to your website to read the product details, save the product for later or place an order online.

3. Connect your social, shop, and in-person presence.

Strive to create a seamless omnichannel experience among all your customer touchpoints, from your brick-and-mortar shop to your ecommerce site and any social channels. 

Think of your business holistically, with one multi-pronged strategy to reach your shoppers. When you build your brand with a robust and connected experience across channels, you can reach customers where they are and shop in a way that is most convenient and desirable for them. 

You don’t need to spend big bucks to blend physical and digital experiences. Start with small tricks such as strategically placed QR codes for products. Place signs with your social media handle around the store and branded hashtags. Prompt customers to hop online to see how others are using your products and read-up the reviews.

Also, set up data exchanges between your in-store POS systems and ecommerce platform. Consolidate customer data and purchase history in your CRM up. So that when a returning customer comes to shop with you once again, you’d have an instant view into all their details and loyalty status.

Small Business Saturday: Thriving in the New Normal

Small Business Saturday encourages people to explore their community heritage and make local discoveries.

Though 2020 has been uncertain in so many ways, small retailers should take on a positive attitude towards the upcoming holiday season. Consumers are eager to support independent retailers and local artisans. Spending is climbing up, while ecommerce sales promise to off-set the decline in foot traffic.

So it’s time to gather around and get bullish about getting your business in front of the local audiences, both online and offline!

Tomas Laurinavicius avatar

Tomas Laurinavicius is a co-founder of Content Writing Jobs, lifestyle blogger, content marketing consultant, and BigCommerce researcher from Lithuania. He writes about lifestyle design, productivity, and entrepreneurship on his blog and lifestyle design newsletter.