Is Small Business Saturday For Real or Just a Feel-Good Symbol?

Small business saturday

Situated awkwardly between Black Friday and Cyber Monday is the more recent shopping day devoted to SMBs: Small Business Saturday. I’ve been skeptical for some time about whether Small Business Saturday is a real thing and whether it actually helps deliver additional revenue beyond what consumers would already be spending.

Started in 2010 by American Express (as a mostly cynical marketing ploy for the banking giant itself), Small Business Saturday has taken on something of a life of its own, with new sponsors and more widely distributed signage. There are also claims by Amex and others that it has boosted revenues for SMBs across the US over Cyber-Weekend.

I remain skeptical.

There are various promotional tools provided by Amex in the run up to Small Business Saturday. However most consumers don’t consult or the Amex site to look for products or deals. Accordingly it’s somewhat naive to think that these once-a-year tools can make much more than a very marginal impact.

Small Business Saturday still seems like a mostly symbolic “feel good” effort by all those involved. The big beneficiary continues to be Amex, which positions itself as the champion of American small business. (If it really wanted to help SMBs it would cut card-processing fees.)

Small business Saturday

One very strange aspect of the day is the way it has the tone of charitable giving: “support small businesses.” Most US consumers aren’t going to make charitable contributions to SMBs. And while everyone likes the idea of supporting SMBs (like buy American) consumers want to buy specific products and services. They need to be presented with specific offers or information about those products or services in a very concrete way.

In a majority of cases simple awareness doesn’t translate into behavioral change. For their part, SMBs need practical ways to rise above the noise and capture consumer attention in a market dominated by Target, Best-Buy, Walmart, Kohl’s and so on. (This of course leads immediately to a longer discussion about the challenges of digital marketing for SMBs generally.)

All weekend I was deluged by Black Friday emails from online retailers, department stores and big box stores. There’s almost no way for individual SMBs to break through in that environment unless they band together and/or piggyback on a larger entity’s promotion (e.g., Groupon).

Generally speaking consumers shop at local stores for many reasons:

  • better quality
  • better service
  • personal relationships
  • immediacy and convenience
  • yes, to support the community

One day a year, which is still mostly a promotion for Amex, doesn’t really build the “infrastructure” necessary to make a difference to SMBs. If Amex and its partners were truly champions of small business they would make a sustained effort to turn every Saturday into Small Business Saturday.

I could envision how that might work. But it would mean a true (not just symbolic) commitment to SMB success.

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4 Responses to “Is Small Business Saturday For Real or Just a Feel-Good Symbol?”

  1. Scott Barnett says at


    While I’m not as cynical as you about the value of the day, I have wondered myself why this has to be limited to 1 day/yr. You’ve given us a great idea to think about!


  2. Street Fight Daily: Stores Slide on Black Friday, Jack Dorsey’s New Legacy | Street Fight says at

    […] Small Business Saturday For Real or Just a Feel-Good Symbol? (Screenwerk) Greg Sterling: There are various promotional tools provided by Amex in the run up to Small […]

  3. Margaret Ann Scrooby says at

    I wish big businesses here in South Africa would do the same. We have a saying that says “Local is Lekker” meaning local is nice. But it is more of a saying and not much is done.

  4. Duke Snyder says at

    You nailed it!

    As founder and CEO of an alliance of independently owned retail and professional businesses I have spearheaded efforts to promote Small Business Saturday in a nine county area serving a population of nearly two million. Your article, taken point by point, spells out the issues fairly and concisely. I thank Amex for the supportive materials made available and credit them with a self-marketing gem and any publicity surrounding smb’s is advantageous the fact remains this is a “pep rally” and not a game plan.
    Building local alliances and constantly EDUCATING our owners, the public and governmental leaders of the cultural and economical benefits provided by independently owned smb entities compared to chain stores is our best and only real avenue to long term success.. Our national groups, AMIBA and BALLE provide excellent roadmaps but LOCAL ALLIANCES are needed in every community regardless of size and larger industries need to realize the indirect benefits to them and their employees by supporting us beyond membership dues. Education as to how dollars are regenerated when spent with locally owned businesses could be just as important, and necessary, as job training.

  5. #GivingTuesday Is Nice, #ThankingThursday Would Be Better says at

    […] This year has also seen the most amount of backlash, from fundraisers and consultants alike, who claim that it’s nothing more than a make-work job. Many of their points are completely valid. (see also: Small Business Saturday) […]

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    Would be interested in talking to you on the phone.

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