Small Business Saturday was started by American Express in 2010 with the hopes of grabbing consumer attention between the shopping blowout days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The Saturday effort has been a success; in 2015, Small Business Saturday brought in $16.2 billion. That’s a lot of local dollars.
There’s no question that small businesses should want a piece of that pie, but how do you prepare for Small Business Saturday so that it’s as big a success as it can be?
1. Take Away Customer Stress
Shopping at the holidays can be a notoriously stressful time for most people. Pressure to get the right gift and stay on budget is all mixed in with a busy calendar of work and school parties and social events.
How can you make it easier for your customers?
- Set up online or in-store wish lists for people to use. Think of it much like a wedding registry, but is for anyone who is a fan of your business. They simply choose the items they want, and when friends and family come in, you have a list of things they can choose from that they know will be well-received. This is something you can build and promote all year. Perhaps you could set up an email or postcard mailing service that alerts friends and family that someone has registered a wishlist with you, and offer a discount if they purchase from the list.
- Provide free wrapping and reasonable shipping. Slogging through piles of gifts to wrap and then standing in long lines at the post office make for a level of dread in most people. Offer to wrap gifts for customers, and if the gift is going to be mailed, consider offering shipping services. You’ll need to calculate shipping costs, but using standard shipping boxes that are based on size and not weight will make that easier.
- Have a stress relief dog present. Airports around the country are making stress relief animals available to harried travelers who can be seen stopping to pet and talk to the dogs, but sometimes shopping is just as stressful as traveling! If you have a organization in your area that provides this service, have a special area set up for the stress relief animal and handler.
- Offer concierge services. At its most basic, a concierge is someone who assists guests. Find ways to make shopping easier for your customers. For example, if you’re partnering with other businesses or events in your community for the day, make it easier for customers to fully participate. You might hold their purchases in store for them to take home later if there is a street fair going on. You might make an in-town delivery of their packages later that night, to their home. That way they can enjoy the fair without their hands full. If they want to find a companion item, offer to locate it at another participating shop. Find ways to make shopping easier on your customer by providing surprising services they might not expect.
2. Reduce The Number Of Choices
That sounds like bad advice, but too many options can be overwhelming for people. When faced with many choices, some customers have decision paralysis, and would rather leave than make a decision. Or, they grab something they may not really want just to be done with it, which doesn’t make for satisfied customers. Decision overload works against you, the business owner, even though you think you’re providing customers with lots of great options.
- Use categories to make decisions easier. Categorize your products in a way that helps customers make decisions, but be creative about how you do it. For example, you might set up a display based on what certain personality traits might like. The customer finds the personality of the recipient, and knows what to get. You might arrange a product display, or provide a list of products, based on preferences, interests, price, color, season, generation, use, accesory, or some other unifying factor that customers might not think of. Color code tags or labels, arrange them in a display, or provide a list people can use in your store to find the products that fit the categories. This is ideal for the customer who comes in and all they can say is “I’m looking for a gift for someone who likes cats. That’s all I know.” Online shopping already does this with their recommended product sections. There’s no reason you can’t do your own in-store version.
- Train your staff on related interests. This is similar to the first point, but instead of making it a public-facing approach for the customer to use, you train your staff on what products you sell that fit customer interest categories. This should be a logical extension of a successful upsell program in which someone who is purchasing one product would likely be interested in a different but somehow related product. Upselling a standard and generic option (“sign up for our rewards/credit card” or “would you like a larger version for a few more dollars”) is not at all personal and makes a customer feel like you don’t care to take the time to consider what they want.
- Tie in with other known interests. Sometimes products can be considered related, but you have to simply show the customer why this is so. For example, you might have a product that people who loved watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix would love. Make a sign, and let customers know that if they have someone on their list who’s a big fan of the show, these items would make great gifts. It might be a display of Eggo waffles, holiday lights, banana seat bikes, 80’s hair products — whatever kind of products you sell, just find the connection and help people see its connection to a particular area of popular interest. Obviously you do not want to infringe on copyrights or trademarks, but you can assemble products that are simply associated with the show.
3. Understand What You’re Selling
Small Business Saturday is sandwiched between big box store sales and online shopping. There’s a message in that sandwich: small businesses are selling more than just the same things you can buy at a big box store or online.
Small businesses are selling an experience, a product wrapped in service. That experience may be trustworthy sales help that make a customer confident that they’ve made the right purchase, or the promise to back up the sale through warranty or easy returns or exchanges. It’s personal, friendly, and hyperlocal.
As a business owner, it’s easy to get focused on the product, which puts you in a competition you can’t win with larger stores and online competitors. Once you realize the full spectrum of what you’re selling, it’s less about price and more about the in-store experience and other personal service that larger stores and online competitors can’t match.
Remember: it’s also about experience, not just product.
4. Make Sure Your Staff Is Prepared
No offense, but the thought of lots of customers crowding into your store and mucking about in your inventory might not bring tears of joy to your employee’s faces. There’s a lot of work behind those sales. Your staff has to be prepared for Small Business Saturday in every way possible, both mentally and in preparation.
- Encourage a right attitude. Your staff’s attitude must be one of excitement, not drudgery. On the floor, the day of the event, make sure each employee has enough break time, even letting them alternate their duties so they don’t get bored.
- Have enough staff to do the job. All hands on deck, even if that means hiring temporary help. Plan ahead and watch for vacation or day-off requests.
- Review customer service best practices. Service is part of what you’re selling, so you have to excel in this area. Go further than simply reminding employees what you expect of them. Be sure they’re well-versed in the promotions, specials, and go so far as to give them the power to make on-the-spot decisions regarding customer situations that might arise.
- Incentivize the day. Find a way to reward or treat your employees during the hectic day. Whether you offer increased commissions or treat the whole crew to a meal or some other reward after, help them see the day as positive for them, too.
For some customers, this may be the first time they experience your store. Make sure they have a great experience with your staff.
5. Make Sure Your Store Is Prepared
Your actual store is a key part of Small Business Saturday. It’s what makes it stand out from Cyber Monday (where there’s no store) and Black Friday (where the stores are huge). How do you prepare your store for an influx of customers?
- Clean up your website. Before you publicize any Small Business Saturday events, be sure your online presence is ready. Your contact information, hours, location, and any specials should be accurate. If you’re running any online promotions, be sure they are working correctly with your system. It might be worthwhile to have someone not on staff use your site to make sure that it’s user-friendly. Remember, 78% of people do online research before making shopping decisions. If your website is ready for these researches, it helps bring them to your shop.
- Optimize for local search. Whether your a search engine optimization novice or pro, you need to pay attention to local search. You can start with a couple of easy things to make sure that you show up in local search results. Start by using MozLocal to set up a business listing and they will make sure that it populates correctly in any listing site making it more like Google and your customers will find you.
- Clean up your store. If the products or decor in your shop don’t have anything to do with Small Business Saturday, get rid of them. First impressions matter, and just as you don’t want a confusing and cluttered website, you want to avoid the same in your actual store.
- Consider extending hours and services at your store. Making your store hours a bit longer, into the evening, gives customers more of a chance to shop. Check your neighborhood or events happening where you’re located. Consider keeping your store open in conjunction with events that your target customers might be sticking around for anyway.
For Small Business Saturday, your store is your ace in the hole. Give it its rightful attention.
6. Plan Your Promotions And Marketing Materials
There are so many promotional approaches you could take for Small Business Saturday. For starters, you’ll definitely want to check out what American Express, who started Small Business Saturday, makes freely available for anyone to use. But then what?
- Contact customers personally and directly. Items such as “Save The Date” cards can be mailed to customers, or texts/emails to let customers know ahead of time about the event.
- Update any online advertising you’re currently using. It’s easy to forget about your targeted settings on adwords or social media ads. For any special event, including this one, you want to make sure you are getting the word out.
- Use promotional materials and services. You’ll probably want your own promotional materials depending on what specials, themes, or approaches you are taking to the day.
- Use social media hashtags advantageously. Small Business Saturday has its own hashtags, and you may even have additional hashtags that your local business organizations have agreed on using. Be sure to prime the pump with social posts in the weeks leading up to the day. Find ways to get customers to creatively spread the word through social media (e.g. selfie photo booths). Talk about the special in-store events or enticements to get people excited for the day.
Consistency with your brand and your theme is important. You’re not trying to look like a gaudy sales flyer from a big box store, but are tying together a complete event narrative.
7. Get People In The Door
An event where no people come isn’t much of an event. So how do you get people in the door?
- Choose a select promotion or two. Build a theme and a marketing campaign around a cornerstone promotion. Too many promotions or gimmicks can make for confusion for customers both in how they experience your marketing materials and your store.
- Get community leaders on board. Politicians and community leaders have proven to be supportive of Small Business Saturday. Be in contact with them, and other organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce, to see how they can help you promote the day.
- Encourage staff, friends, and family to spread the word. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising.
- Find warm bodies. Consider a restaurant that looks empty versus one that is full. Which one will people choose to eat at? Customers take the presence of other customers as a signal to come in. The presence of a crowd encourages a crowd. Having events that keep people in the store (but not too crowded) is a way to avoid a painful empty showroom.
8. Partner With Other Small Business
When it comes to Small Business Saturday, other local businesses are your friend. Partner with them through:
- Promotions that reward customers who visit each store.
- Marketing ads and materials, helping to save cost and get greater publicity.
- In-store events and themes that are related.
- Walking guides to help customers find the “next store” on the shopping route.
- Rewards punch cards that can be used in different stores.
This creates an atmosphere of community and that’s a huge selling point for this kind of event.
9. Create In-Store Excitement
Make the day about more than shopping. Get a local musician, serve hors d’oeuvres, have wine sampling—make the day special. Or, think of the day as a timeline, starting it off with a kickoff event and having mini-events periodically through the day.
10. Write Your Own Narrative
There’s a narrative naturally at work on Small Business Saturday. It’s one of mom and pop stores, of supporting locally owned businesses, of connecting with community. Your customers are well aware of this and it’s one of the reasons many make the effort to participate.
Tell your story. What makes your small business story unique? How have you participated in Small Business Saturday in the past?
The story around you and what you do is no doubt unique. Make sure you share your business’s personal story to make a genuine connection and impact with your customers.
2 Bonus Ideas!
Pay It Forward
Part of the push for Small Business Saturday is to encourage people to shop locally. In today’s culture, consumers like to see that their dollars also go to help others or do good in the world. Why not connect with a local charity so that customers know that day’s sales are doing good?
You can do this in so many ways—a percentage of net profits, customers bringing in a canned good for a food shelf get a discount—think creatively and don’t be shy about telling customers all the good their dollars are doing when they spend them in your store.
Sharing the love can be the most rewarding part of the event.
And Finally…What About Monday?
Saturday is the big day, but why waste all the energy you spent to get customers in your store on just one day? You have the whole holiday season ahead of you. Capitalize on it. Promote additional events and sales to each customer who comes in your door. Gather email addresses, contact information, or make rewards cards available.
Small Business Saturday is less about a single day than it is a mindset that you’re trying to encourage in regular and potential customers. You want to show personal and caring service that can’t be matched online or in large stores. Use Small Business Saturday as a way to reach new people and build regular customers for the upcoming year.