Exterior of a shop where you can see holiday lights and decor set up inside.
Five retail experts offer their best tips when it comes to popular shopping days like Small Business Saturday—and some of them might surprise you. — Getty Images/EasyBuy4u

CO— talked to four experts who have worked with thousands of local business owners since the first Small Business Saturday in 2010.

The experts — Meghan Cruz, the National Retail Federation’s director of grassroots advocacy; Bob Phibbs, the retail consultant known as the Retail Doctor; Marianne Rausch, vice president, Small Business Saturday and Shop Small at American Express; and Erin Shea, director and head of North American marketing at Vistaprint, the custom printing company that specializes in serving small business customers – shared their top tips for how to win on Small Business Saturday.

Realize that your customers aren’t looking for discounts, they’re looking to feel good

One of the biggest mistakes retailers can make on Small Business Saturday is thinking they have to offer deals, retail consultant Bob Phibbs said.

Shoppers on Small Business Saturday usually are there because they want to support local businesses, and feel good about doing that.

The NRF’s Cruz agreed. “It’s a day that consumers are really aware of and want to support,” she said.

“The shoppers are out there and they want to go back to brick-and-mortar stores, so make it something that feels jolly and happy,” Phibbs said.

“What they want is service, what they want is a happy smile, and to feel they can create a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah or whatever their holiday celebration is,” Phibbs said.

And this year, Phibbs noted, with the supply chain crisis, if you discount on Small Business Saturday, you could find yourself out of stock and unable to reorder before Christmas.

Spread the word about what you are doing on Small Business Saturday

“It’s important to let your community know you are participating in Small Business Saturday and would love for them to shop with you on the day,” American Express expert Marianne Rausch said. Stores can do that by listing their business on the American Express Shop Small map, and by using print and digital assets offered through the Shop Small studio.

Erin Shea of Vistaprint says it is crucial to remind customers to “save the date” weeks in advance and keep reminding them often about Small Business Saturday, through social media, in-store signage and other marketing materials. Consumers make their holiday shopping and entertaining schedules weeks in advance, and it helps them to have early notice of store events.

“I’d recommend posting reminders and invites for your Small Business Saturday plans early in November,” Shea said.

“Brick and mortar can do something online can’t, which is give people a feeling,” Phibbs said. If you create a fun, feel good experience on Small Business Saturday, the customers will return during the holiday season and the rest of the year, the experts said.

Partner with other retailers and businesses in the community

When merchants on the same block or in an entire downtown area work together to promote the day, everyone wins.

“One of our small retailers partners with other small businesses on her main street in Astoria, New York, to do what they call a 'small business crawl.' They all band together and have flyers and promotional items that map out all of their stores,” said Cruz.

“There are fun things to do up and down the street, and it’s a great thing for families to do.”

In Alexandria, Virginia, she said, merchants turn the day into a mini street festival with outdoor tents, activities and holiday music.

Rausch said American Express has seen businesses join together to host Small Business scavenger hunts and other events that bring communities together.

Be sure you are well staffed to handle extra shoppers

Stores should expect an influx of customers and be ready for them with enough workers, Cruz said.

“You want to make sure you’re providing a high level of service for folks that visit your store,” she said. Many of them could be first-time customers, “and the last thing you’d want is for them to not feel they were paid the proper amount of attention,” Cruz said.

Phibbs also advises training your staff in how to make customers feel welcome and appreciated, especially after a pandemic that kept many shoppers out of stores. Owners and employees need to convey the message, “How awesome is it that you’re here in my store?” he said.

Give shoppers an experience and make it fun

“Brick and mortar can do something online can’t, which is give people a feeling,” Phibbs said. If you create a fun, feel good experience on Small Business Saturday, the customers will return during the holiday season and the rest of the year, the experts said.

Don’t just offer hot chocolate to shoppers, Phibbs said. Set up a hot chocolate bar with fixings and wow them.

Create holiday scenes in your store that would look great on Instagram, said Cruz. Not only will that draw shoppers inside, but it will help promote your store on social media.

And keep the experiences coming after Small Business Saturday, Shea said. “Creating unique VIP offers or holding limited-capacity shopping appointments can make shoppers feel valued and keep the holiday season fresh,” she said.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published October 29, 2021