Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday — historically the biggest and busiest days of the year for retail — there’s another standout shopping event: Small Business Saturday. Founded by American Express in 2010 and co-sponsored by the United States Small Business Administration since 2011, Small Business Saturday aims to create awareness about the impact shoppers have when they buy from these companies year round, whether they physically visit stores or shop online.
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This year, shoppers are especially eager to support small businesses. Many recognize the challenges they’ve faced throughout the pandemic, like supply chain issues and inflation. According to QuickBooks’ recent holiday shopping survey, consumers plan to spend 40% of their total holiday budget at small businesses, representing an $88 billion opportunity. And since two-thirds of every dollar spent at small businesses stays within the local area, “making that decision to shop small has a huge return for your entire community,” said Marianne Rausch, vice president of Small Business Saturday and Shop Small at American Express.
If you’re wondering how to support small businesses year round, we talked to experts about resources shoppers can use and the impact their purchases have. We also rounded up some Select staff favorite products from small businesses we love.
Small Business Saturday happens the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s positioned between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a period that’s dominated by large retailers offering steep discounts in-stores and online. Small businesses can’t compete with the doorbuster deals large retailers offer around Thanksgiving, and among the heavy advertising about huge sales, “their visibility gets squashed,” said Cara Oppenheimer, co-founder of goodbuy, an online shopping tool that helps connect consumers with small businesses.
But the holiday season and related surge in shopping activity is crucial to small businesses’ ability to meet revenue goals each year. This is even more so the case during periods of economic instability in the United States, like the pandemic and the current high rates of inflation. Small Business Saturday puts the spotlight on small businesses during a time when they’re otherwise overshadowed by big-box stores.
Overall, there are no simple, cut-and-dry parameters used to define a small business. But they’re usually evaluated based on two factors, said Shilpa Reddy, vice president and general manager of the QuickBooks Commerce Segment at Intuit: Monetary figures, like revenue and total sales, and size, meaning the number of employees that supports a company.
The SBA offers size standards to help companies determine if their business qualifies as “small” — these size requirements vary by industry and are generally based on the number of employees or the amount of annual receipts the business has, the SBA says. To make identifying small businesses a bit more simple, some large retailers and other organizations work off their own different guidelines. For example, Amazon has a centralized small business storefront on its site and says it uses Gartner’s definition of small business, which includes businesses that employ fewer than 100 people and have less than $50 million in annual revenues. But if a small business wants to be included on American Express’ Shop Small Map, it must adhere to a few requirements like being an American Express Card accepting merchant, not having more that $5 million in annual American Express charge volume and more.
For shoppers, however, defining a small business is often less about facts and figures and more about a feeling, said Cary Telander Fortin, co-founder of goodbuy. “Shoppers care about what these businesses aim to do and who their dollars are going to,” she said. “They want to connect with businesses and know the humans behind the URLs.”
To recommend a variety of small businesses to shop from, we rounded up products from a few of our favorites around the country. This is by no means an exhaustive list — read more about ways to find small businesses to shop from below.
Recommended by Shari Uyehara, Select’s manager of editorial operations, Alcohowics recycles used beer, hard seltzer and soda cans and turns them into candles. Candles are made with organic soy wax and fragrance oils, and they burn for up to 60 hours, according to the brand. “I particularly like the seasonal fall and winter scents like Apple Cider Donuts and Balsam Fir,” says Uyehara.
I discovered Mimosa Handcrafted at a little boutique years ago, and I’ve followed the company — which is based in Southern Louisiana — online ever since. It’s the first site I turn to whenever I need to buy gifts, like this dainty, stackable Bonbon Ring that I gifted myself and wear daily. You can purchase necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings, as well as cufflinks and belt buckles.
Lauren Swanson, Select editorial director, said Java Girl was her go-to coffee shop when she lived around the corner. Now, she orders the company’s beans online. Java Girl offers a variety of roasts to choose from, and you can choose if you want the coffee to arrive as whole beans or ground. You can also get coffee in unique flavors like vanilla almond, oatmeal cookie, chocolate raspberry and more.
Leah Ginsberg, Select managing editor, swears by Neero & Ana’s silk pillowcases, which she’s used for years. They’re made from cellulose acetate, a plant-based material, instead of polyester or silk made by silkworms. Ginsberg says the material is softer and stronger than other satin and silk pillow cases she’s tried. “Whenever I get compliments on my skin and people ask what I do, I tell them it’s SPF every day since I was 25 and this pillowcase every night (and some genetics — thanks mom!).”
Gabriella DePinho, Select production coordinator, bought her boyfriend hot sauce from Small Axe Peppers after he first tried their products at a local street fair. The brand works with community gardens and urban farms across the United States, who grow and harvest peppers before they’re turned into hot sauce. Small Axe Peppers’ Southern Hot Sauce Three Pack comes with its Atlanta Hot Sauce, Baltimore Hot Sauce and Texas Hot Sauce.
Vivian Le, junior designer, said one of her favorite small businesses is Big Night, a store in Brooklyn that sells home goods, pantry items and other gifts. This cocktail napkin set is exclusive to Big Night – the company created them in collaboration with Atelier Saucier, which makes table linens. The napkins are designed from reclaimed denim, according to the brand, and each one is hand-embroidered with a martini glass.
Associate reporter Mili Godio discovered Two Peas Paper Co. while looking for stationary for her upcoming wedding. In addition to cards and prints that feature watercolor and calligraphy designs, the brand offers mugs, totes, stickers and more. And during the holidays, Two Peas Paper Co. sells ornaments like this wooden option.
Kara Birnbaum, photo editor and photographer, recommended Cute Camera Co. if you’re in need of cameras, film, accessories and more. The small business also offers camera-related decor, like this desk lamp made out of a vintage camera. Lamps come in multiple styles and each is sold with a dimmable LED vintage bulb and a tripod stand.
On the surface, people have always recognized the importance of shopping small. But Oppenheimer says there wasn’t a deep, universal understanding of just how crucial doing so is until the pandemic hit in 2020. Stay-at-home orders forced many small businesses across the country to shutter for months, and some had to permanently shut down due to ongoing economic hardships.
“All of a sudden, we bought a sandwich from a local shop and it really mattered to us in a way we didnt think about much before,” Oppenheimer said. “Shopping from small businesses became kind of heroic for shoppers. They felt like ‘I have to save these shops.’”
Since 2020, small businesses have faced numerous challenges and many are still struggling to survive. In addition to issues hiring staff, QuickBooks’ survey found that 70% of small businesses predict inventory or product shortfalls this season, and 90% are experiencing shipping and fulfillment woes. Inflation is also “plaguing small businesses” and causing operating costs to skyrocket, said Reddy.
Despite these challenges, small businesses demonstrate what Reddy calls “tremendous resilience.” They’re adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and some of these changes have allowed them to reach more customers in the long run.
Tapping into digital growth opportunities has been a major focus for small businesses since 2020, experts told us. They’re working to meet their customers where they are, which is largely online. Some small businesses are putting more effort into developing their social media presence — eight-in-ten small businesses (82%) have increased their presence on social media channels over the past year, according to American Express’ 2022 Shop Small Impact Study. Others strive to capitalize on shoppers’ desire to buy online — almost all of the small businesses Quickbooks surveyed (up to 99%) generate revenue online, and on average, online sales account for up to two-thirds of their total annual revenue.
Now in the thick of the holiday season, consumer sentiment towards small businesses is largely positive — more than eight out of 10 consumers plan to maintain or increase their spending at small businesses this holiday season, according to QuickBooks’ survey. But this high level of support for small businesses needs to extend through the whole year in order for them to continue growing, experts told us.
Overall, “purchasing products, gift cards or subscription services from small businesses is the No. 1 way to support their business on Small Business Saturday and year-round,” Reddy said. But you can also lift up small businesses in other ways. For example, Reddy suggested recommending them to family and friends via word of mouth, as well as posting about them or something you bought from them on social media. She also said that leaving positive reviews makes a difference.
“Reviews help businesses get found more easily in online searches, boost business credibility and impact future customer purchasing decisions,” she said. “A small comment can go a long way.”
If you’re looking for small businesses to shop from and support, here are a few ways experts recommend learning about ones in your area and across the country.
Social media helps small businesses share news about their company and its offerings, and connect with customers. They can also sell and advertise their products directly through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest.
American Express’ survey found that nearly all small business owners on social media — 96% — believe that it has had a positive impact on their business’ revenue over the past year. That’s one reason why American Express partnered with TikTok during Small Business Saturday 2022 to launch the #ShopSmall Accelerator, a video toolkit that provides small businesses with best practices and resources to specifically reach Gen Z and Millennial shoppers on the platform. Rausch said Gen Z shoppers place value on connecting with brands when making purchasing decisions, and TikTok is one space they’re searching for companies to buy from. In fact, American Express’ survey found that 67% of Gen Z TikTok users have shopped from a small business that was displayed on their For You Page.” The #ShopSmall Accelerator helps small businesses act on this finding, and learn how to attract a younger generation of shoppers.
In addition to shoppers making more of an effort to shop small, “we’re seeing large sales platforms support the underdogs, too,” Reddy said. Amazon, for example, now adds badges to product pages on its site if items are sold by small businesses. And retailers like Target and Walmart are beginning to carry more products from minority-owned brands, most of which are small businesses. Reddy said as consumers’ intent to shop small continues to strengthen, corporations are forced to respond.
If you’re looking to find small businesses to shop from directly online or in stores, you may be able to find guides and maps available through your city or town to point you in the right direction. Additionally, the American Express small-business map allows you to input your zip code so it can recommend local shops in your area and beyond.
Companies like goodbuy are also helping shoppers find small businesses to shop from. Oppenheimer and Telander Fortin created the goodbuy Chrome browser extension, which has expanded into an iOS app as well. After you install it, goodbuy pops up on large retailers’ sites with recommendations that match the products you’re shopping for from small businesses. You can also choose to see businesses that are minority-owned — like Latino-owned, Indiginous-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned and more — or align with certain business values, like American made, cruelty free or vegan, for example. “Customers are used to seeing tags like free, fast shipping, and now Good Buy is giving you tags that say sustainable or women-owned, for example, so you can find small businesses that align with your values,” Telander Fortin said.
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
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Zoe Malin is the associate updates editor for Select on NBC News.
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