Why Small Business Saturday Is One of the Most Important Shopping Days of the Year

Updated: Sep. 01, 2023

From the local barista who always has your order ready to the shop owner who calls you the second anything fabulous comes in, small business owners have your back. Show your gratitude on Small Business Saturday—and all year long.

Nothing is more depressing than walking through a neighborhood and seeing shuttered, closed-down stores. For every store that doesn’t make it in today’s tough-times economy, there are multiple dashed dreams. There’s the merchant who hoped to make a difference to her family’s bottom line by selling the pottery that won her praise for years. There’s the restaurateur who wanted to share his mom’s recipe and send his kids to college by doing so. There’s the school principal who was hoping that a thriving commercial district would equal the type of real-estate uptick guaranteed to bolster her operating budget.

And then, of course, there’s you, the consumer. You want an amazing, local area where you can enjoy unique shopping opportunities—like buying from the best bookstores and the best ice cream shops in your state—while supporting the small businesses that this country was built on. It’s not a cliché. It’s the motivation behind Small Business Saturday.

What is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday and the Shop Small Movement were launched by American Express ten years ago. The purpose behind this day was to help ensure the survival of small, brick-and-mortar and online businesses across America by driving customers into independently-owned stores, restaurants, spas, and other facilities during the holiday shopping crush.

When is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday always takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year, Small Business Saturday will be held on Saturday, November 30th.

When did it start?

The first Small Business Saturday took place in 2010 when the country was still reeling from the Great Recession. One year later, the Senate held hands across the aisle and unanimously passed a resolution of support, garnering the participation of small merchants and civic leaders in all 50 states. Noting that small businesses generate two out of every three new jobs in the United States, then-President Barack Obama came out in support of the initiative. He urged Americans to shop at all types of local businesses, from mom-and-pop stores to high-tech, locally-based start-ups.

Does it really make a difference?

As the holidays approach, there is little doubt that you’ll be spending money. Where and how you spend it has more of an impact than you know. Whether your budget is large, small, or somewhere in between, Small Business Saturday provides you with an opportunity to support your local merchants. These are the folks who hire people in your community, providing them with the wages that keep families and neighborhoods healthy.

The momentum behind Small Business Saturday has provided a lifeline not only to the businesses you shop at but also to the businesses behind them. These include printers, painters, cabinet installers, roofers, marketing firms, advertising agencies, and more.

“It’s important to shop small because you’re not only helping that small business—you’re helping the community the business is in,” says Joanna Alberti, the owner and artist behind philoSophie’s, a local New York business with an online presence. “When more people shop their local coffee shop, stationery store, jeweler, and gift shop, we all see the benefits. It creates excitement and hometown pride.” Plus, you just might be happier with your purchase if you buy it the old-fashioned way. Here are 19 things you should think twice about before buying online.

small business saturday balloonJean-Marc Giboux/AP/ShutterstockShow them the money

Just as Black Friday shifts big stores from the red to the black for the year, Small Business Saturday can make or break a small business’s bottom line. In 2018, 104 million shoppers spent an all-time, one-day record high for Small Business Saturday, shelling out $17.8 billion to local merchants. That’s a lot of books, kale soufflé, and artisanal soap. That figure also represents the martini you reach for at the end of a long shopping day and the cup of coffee you grab between stores.

Since its inception, Small Business Saturday spending has been estimated to reach $103 billion, over the course of just nine short days. This year’s event promises to boost that figure significantly, with an ever-increasing groundswell of support from a united coalition of volunteers, consumers, shop owners, corporations, municipalities, public officials, and non-profit trade groups.

How can small businesses get involved?

If you run a small business on the street or on the screen, you are welcome to participate. No registration process is required. And it’s one of the simple ways that you can help improve your business in just one day.

American Express provides templates for custom posters, social posts, and marketing materials that you can access for free, to help you create buzz. Everything can be customized with your own business branding, so you’ll be sure to stand out in a crowd. Promote your business on social media to get an even greater turnout.

Also, make sure to rally the local businesses on your surrounding blocks. “Make a list of businesses near you that have similar clients or customers. It’s likely you share an interest in growing your businesses, so why not leverage them as your natural allies?” says Brian Cairns of ProStrategix Consulting. “Small Business Saturday is a great time to bundle promotions. For example, it could be as easy as offering discounts to each other’s customers, good only on Small Business Saturday. It’s old school, but it can help grow your business without spending much. You all get to share in the benefit of the additional traffic that the day will bring.”

The more of a party atmosphere you create, the more likely you will be to attract customers. “American Express has really done a great job to blanket social media and mainstream media with ads and information about Small Business Saturday so people take note and really make an effort to shop small on this day,” adds Alberti. “For my business, it means loyal and new customers visiting my studio to support a small business.” Here’s a video to help you get started.

How can organizations help?

In addition to shopping small, organizations can get involved by becoming Neighborhood Champions. Currently, there are more than 7,500 individuals and allied organizations who have participated in Small Business Saturday by manning welcome stations, starting pop-up shops, and organizing community events. You can apply here.

How can consumers help?

Get out there and start shopping! And remember that Small Business Saturday is just one day a year. To have maximum impact, make shopping small a habit. Your community—and the country—can only benefit. Next, make sure to check out these shopping tips for a stress-free holiday season.