Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.
With Thanksgiving approaching, our minds are focused on two things: How am I going to cook the turkey this year, and where am I going to go shopping over the weekend?
For decades, Black Friday has signaled the start of the Christmas shopping season. Some consumers even get more excited about shopping the day after Thanksgiving than about the holiday itself!
The thought of scrambling through crowds at a giant department store at 5 a.m. to wrestle over the last Tickle-Me-Elmo gives me anxiety. At this time of year, I’d much rather focus on family, friends and community — and I’m not the only one.
In 2010, American Express created Small Business Saturday to encourage consumers to not just flock to the big box stores for their Christmas shopping needs, but to also visit local small businesses and support their hometown.
Buying local isn’t just a passing fad. The small business community is the backbone of America. It employs half of the workforce in our country and makes up 99% of all U.S. businesses, according to the Small Business Administration.
Now in its fifth year, Small Business Saturday has already become a holiday tradition. Consumers spent $5.7 billion on Small Business Saturday last year, according to American Express and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Make sure your business is on shoppers’ lists this year. The following suggestions can help you stand out on Small Business Saturday, taking place on Nov. 29, 2014.
1. Have an online presence
Consumers are searching the Internet for local businesses, so now is the time to spruce up your website and social media pages. Make sure your site is search-friendly and clearly displays your location and hours.
Capture potential customers and have fun by engaging in conversations and posting about your best merchandise, especially what will be on sale. Create a photo album with images of your products so people can have a preview before coming to your shop. Be sure to use the hashtag #SmallBizSat on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
2. Promote yourself
American Express is offering free, personalized marketing materials that can help get more shoppers to stop by your business. Create online ads, utilize in-store promotional materials and even get listed on the Shop Small Map. Go to ShopSmall.com to get started.
3. Promote your neighbors
On your social media pages, highlight other great businesses in your neighborhood. They may return the favor, sending even more visitors your way, and making this a true community event.
Collaborate with other small business owners in your area to hold a mass “sidewalk sale.” Also put flyers or coupons for nearby businesses’ products or services into your customers’ shopping bags, and have them do the same for you.
4. Start a relationship
You may not be able to compete with giant retailers when it comes to price, but you can offer more value to customers with your knowledge, service and small touches.
Make an extra effort to deliver outstanding customer service this holiday season. One of the main reasons a customer will shop at an independent retailer rather than a big box store is because they’re seeking friendly, personalized service. A good impression will have a lasting effect, practically guaranteeing a return customer.
Offer free extras such as cookies or snacks, stocking stuffers, gift-wrapping service or home delivery.
Make your store kid-friendly by holding a holiday coloring contest or ornament-decorating station. This will help keep tired or fussy children occupied while their parents shop.
At the point of purchase, invite customers to sign up for your newsletter, visit your website or find your social media pages. Track their purchase history and keep in touch throughout the year, providing customized shopping recommendations and alerting them to sales they may be interested in. A personal relationship goes a long way toward gaining someone’s loyal business.
5. Get involved with a charity
Choose a charity that you and your customers care about, and donate a percentage of your profit to it. The value of a purchase then becomes even bigger than the product or service itself. You will not only inspire others to give to a greater good, but your generosity will ensure your shoppers do not forget about you once the holiday season is over.