Small business retailers have watched the shopping spectacle known as Black Friday soak up ever-more attention from the media and precious disposable income from shoppers -- to the tune of $10.7 billion in 2010 according to some estimates. The vast majority of that revenue goes to a relatively small pool of big-box retailers, which entice shoppers to get up at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving with loss-leader deals on big-screen TVs and must-have toys. The arrival of Cyber Monday, where the Amazonian online retailers do the full-court press for holiday dollars, just adds insult to injury.
But thanks to American Express and its partners, local retailers now have an opportunity to fight back with Small Business Saturday. Launched last year by American Express -- which has been joined this year by Federal Express, Facebook, Google and Twitter -- Small Business Saturday is a national initiative that encourages people to visit locally owned merchants in lieu of the chain stores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
The goal is to drive more traffic to small businesses, of course, while also recognizing the importance of small business and their contributions to the economy, job creation and local communities.
To help turn the happening into a full-fledged movement, this year American Express has also partnered with the non-partisan Women Impacting Public Policy to build the Small Business Saturday Coalition to expand the reach and impact of the effort. More than 200 advocacy organizations across the country have signed up to participate in the second annual initiative.
Also new this year, American Express will sponsor live events that day in 15 U.S. cities -- Boston, Chicago, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, San Diego and Scottsdale -- to drive participation. The events will include holiday celebrations, block parties, giveaways and raffles.
In addition to online, print, radio and TV marketing, AmEx and FedEx are enticing consumers to participate with the ultimate motivator: cash. FedEx distributed 40,000 $25 "Shop Small" gift cards through a Facebook site. The gift cards were snapped up in less than an hour. American Express, meanwhile, offers a one-time $25 statement credit to the first 200,000 cardholders who register their card at www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday. To automatically receive the credit, registrants need only use their AmEx card to spend $25 or more at a small business on November 26.
Free Business Tools at Facebook
To make the most of the event, small business owners will want to employ a range of tools and services to drive the most traffic to their doors. Where to begin? How about right at the sponsors' main site: facebook.com/shopsmall. Here you'll find a toolkit that includes a host of free offerings to ramp up your online and social-media campaigns.
Again this year, American Express is giving $100 in free Facebook advertising to the first 10,000 business owners who sign up at the site. The ads can help even social-media debutantes build online buzz and drive customer engagement, because they can be targeted to potential customer's real likes and interests. And if you don't yet have a Facebook presence, don't worry. American Express offers a tool that takes you step-by-step through the free Facebook Page-creation process.
Another partner in the effort, Google, is offering My Business Story, a tool to create and post free online videos about your businesses. If you don't think you need a video, think again: Google's research has shown that online video boosts brand recall by 50 percent and likeability by 26 percent, and that companies who effectively leverage video can expect better customer engagement and retention. With the free My Business Story tool, you can create personalized, professional-quality videos for YouTube, social networks, business websites and more.
The SmallBusiness Saturday toolkit also helps you take advantage of Twitter's Follow button to expand your reach and keep your business top-of-mind as the big day approaches. The kit walks you through the process of placing a "Follow" button on your websites, so with a simple click, customers will be able to follow you on Twitter. As Small Business Saturday approaches, you'll have a direct line to customers to let them know about your sales and specials.
The toolkit also helps you get started with Go Social, a one-stop shop for American Express merchants to create coupon-less offers for card members. Go Social simplifies the creation of customized deals for small merchants to further incent AmEx card members to shop with them. Card members will find these offers on Foursquare, Facebook and the American Express Mobile App.
To drive even more social media engagement, the kit includes YourBuzz, a tool from American Express Open that enables you to view and respond to customer reviews and online mentions all from one place. YourBuzz aggregates conversations across highly influential review sites such as Yelp and CitySearch, as well as social services such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, to ensure that listings are accurate, to build customer relationships, and to mitigate the damage that can be caused by bad reviews.