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Merchants begin preparations for Small Business Saturday

11/7/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

BERLIN—“On November 30, let's get out and Shop Small,” is the tag line that American Express is using this year to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize small independently owned retailers, in the third year of a nationwide campaign it created and marketed for the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Steve Frene, co-owner of Main Street mainstay Victorian Charm, said he would prefer the event begin on a different day, because holding it on the busiest Saturday of the year made it difficult to discern a difference in the amount of shoppers who would normally come into the store that day. “It almost gets lost,” he said.

However, he was quick to note the concept conveyed was a good message to get across at any time.

He suggested holding it on the weekend before Thanksgiving would be even more helpful because it would encourage people to start shopping earlier. “But I love that somebody is reminding people to shop local,” Frene said. “I do like that message,” he said, adding “It’s more important this year than ever before.”

Frene is a retailer that accepts American Express credit cards and has participated in the campaign during prior years. He noted there is an online registration where businesses must sign up to participate. Once they do, he said, American Express will post ads on their website and send online links that the businesses can use to create customized signage they print out and display.

Since the campaign was founded in 2010, American Express reported it received 1.2 million “likes” on its Facebook page during the first month of the campaign’s launch; it was officially recognized by the U.S. Senate in 2011; and it generated an estimated $5.5 billion in sales nationwide in 2012.

Apparently the organizers at American Express are hoping to capitalize on Small Business Saturday becoming for small retailers what Black Friday has become for larger national chains, by helping to drive customers to establishments where they might not otherwise have shopped. Cardholders are directed to participating businesses in their zip code areas where they can earn incentives like a $25 credit on their monthly statements when they shop at local participating stores. As a result, businesses can rack up small to large purchases like meals or gifts of $25 or more on that day, while diners or shoppers receive essentially a rebate $25 for what they purchase on SBS.

However, the credit card company’s motives have also been criticized by some in the blogosphere as a cynical marketing ploy. Some posters have pointed out that the rebate does not apply to shoppers who do not use AmEx, and have dismissed it as “just marketing fluff.”

Heather Layton, owner of Bungalow Love, admitted she was an early skeptic of the campaign. “A few years ago, when I first received a brochure about small business Saturday, I thought wow, how cool.  As a small business owner, I cannot compete with Target on Black Friday, or Amazon on Cyber Monday, so I was excited about a day for independently owned shops,” she said in an e-mail in response to an inquiry about her experience with the event. 

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