Shopping local during the holidays: Small Business Saturday and beyond
The holiday shopping season is touched off by so called "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving.
The big chains offer lots of deal busters to get shoppers in stores, and over the past few years stores have been opening earlier and earlier, including no longer waiting til Friday and opening on Thanksgiving.
This year, while REI announced they would be closing on Black Friday ("Will REI's Closure on Thanksgiving, Black Friday Pay Dividends?," NBC News), some national chains opened as early as 3 pm on Thanksgiving.
Promotion of independent commercial districts and stores can be a hit or miss phenomenon. Some retailers are good marketers, many are not. The "Main Street commercial district revitalization approach" was developed to bring new resources to commercial districts, beyond that which are normally possessed by the typical business owner.
Small Business Saturday.
The event was created a few years ago by the American Independent Business Alliance, the group that actively promotes the "Shop Local" movement,.to promote holiday shopping at local and independently owned businesses, as opposed to how most holiday shopping is focused on big box stores and national chains,
(Other "interest groups" have jumped on the bandwagon and have developed companion days riffing off Black Friday. E-commerce retail aims to make the Monday after Thanksgiving their biggest shopping day of the season and year, calling it Cyber Monday, while nonprofit organizations promote receiving fundraising donations on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday.)
For the past few years, the event has been sponsored by American Express, which offers inducements to card members as an incentive to shop local on that day. They also put a lot of money into marketing, advertising, and promotional support.
(That affiliation with American Express was too corporate for Takoma Park's Old Takoma Business Association, which created its own parallel event but without signing on to the American Express effort.)
This year, American Express stopped providing to its members a $10 to $30 shopping credit ("American Express cuts back on perk for Small Business Saturday," Chicago Tribune) for the day. Some argue this will cut participation, but I don't think an economic inducement is absolutely necessary.
The economic value of shopping locally. Research results are piling up demonstrating the thesis that spending money in stores based locally has greater economic benefit than shopping in chain stores, which buy few services locally (excepting labor) and don't spend profits locally.
Economic impact of locally owned hardware stores vs. big box stores," which discusses an economic impact study done by the North American Retail Hardware Association, which also produced "shop local" holiday promotional materials for this holiday season.
Reminders to shop local are necessary. A big campaign promoting shopping at independently owned stores and in traditional, usually town-city based shopping districts as opposed to shopping malls, reminds people that spending money at locally-owned stores is important.
The reality is, with so many other marketing messages, people need to be educated and reminded. Hopefully, the kind of inducement previously offered by American Express to their cardholders isn't required.
I think this is likely to be the case, because so many other retailers and independent shopping districts are now participating in the program, and marketing to consumer base that goes beyond the segment comprised of American Express credit card holders.
One example of how a county business promotion division is using "Small Business Saturday" as a way to promote its businesses and business districts is Macomb County, Michigan. See "Macomb County Shops Make Big Deal of Small Business Saturday," C&G Newspapers.
Holiday marketing beyond Small Business Saturday. Many community business districts have figured out the holiday season, providing a large number of events and activities in a coordinated fashion. In the DC region, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Frederick, Maryland, and Takoma Park, Maryland do a particularly good job.
In the Petworth neighborhood of DC, this year marks the 10th edition of the Upshur Street Arts & Crafts Fair on r on Saturday December 12th. Artisans sell items from booths on the street, and retail stores and restaurants participate as well. For the last couple years, the Friends of the Petworth Library have held a book sale at the library in conjunction with the event too.
Holiday Markets. More cities are sponsoring holiday markets, modeled after the famous Christmas markets in Germany. DC has its Downtown Holiday Market, on F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW, next to the Smithsonian Museums there. Baltimore has created a similar event. Although I will say that a city needs to have a reasonably large population to make such an event work.
More communities are recognizing that religious traditions other than Christian need to be better acknowledged when planning such activities.
NYC lights a menorah each year in Manhattan, billed as the "World's Largest Menorah," during the week long "Festival of Lights" in early December.