Your Next Big Holiday Shopping Opportunity

Between Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, you may have missed the latest effort to get you to spend more, more, mawr! Tucked into that same weekend was Small Business Saturday, an effort by credit card giant American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) to get consumers to patronize local shops instead of (or at least in addition to) the mass merchandise retailers.

Considering Cyber Monday was a made up marketing gimmick by the National Retail Federation that's since taken on a life of its own and actually became the biggest online sales day of the year, you can't blame small business owners for trying to recreate that effect for themselves.

Cyber Monday -- and what's gone on to become Cyber Week -- was a huge success this year with Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) and eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY  ) scoring big as traffic jumped 44% and 32%, respectively, according to the market watchers at ChannelAdvisor. 

While the clicks beat out the bricks in terms of who garnered the most traffic, even retailers with a physical presence did well; for instance, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) said Monday was its biggest online sales day ever. Over the entire five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday -- what ChannelAdvisor is calling the "Cyber 5" -- its e-commerce website recorded more than one billion page views. Cyber Monday is becoming a week-long shopping extravaganza now, which is why Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division extended all its holiday promotions through Dec. 8.

Small Business Saturday is a newer effort that was conceived of by a blogger who asked her readers to imagine three small businesses they couldn't live without and then spend at least $50 with them. The concept was launched nationally with the help of Amex three years ago, and according to a survey released by the credit card giant and the National Federation of Independent Business, it's a concept that's starting to gain traction.

Consumer awareness of SBS jumped to 71% from 67% a year ago, according to the survey of 1,000 adults, and for those who were aware, almost half did spend money locally, dropping $5.7 billion on independent merchants, a 3.6% increase from last year. Yet it also shows the difficulties small business face when competing against national and global retail powerhouses: in 2012, 47% had shopped locally last Saturday.

Major retailers are in panic mode this year. A soft economic environment, wary consumers, and a shortened holiday shopping season are conspiring to put a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. As a result, Wal-Mart began promoting its Black Friday sales a week early, department stores from Macy's to J.C. Penney opened on Thanksgiving Day itself, and as we're seeing with Sam's Club, many extended their sale prices all week long, making it difficult to lure shoppers away from those deep discounts.

It's indicative of how the rise of big box stores is killing smaller merchants. Home Depot and Lowe's have all but driven away the local hardware store, while the corner grocery store finds it difficult to compete against the likes of Wal-Mart and Target. Still, I've come around to the notion of supporting small farmers by buying locally grown produce when possible, so extending that to help bolster the business chances of my neighborhood retailer wasn't that much of a stretch.

Small Business Saturday may get drowned out by the cacophony surrounding Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, but it's on track to soon take its rightful place beside those three as a full-on holiday shopping opportunity. Now we just need someone to come up with a catchy gimmick for Sunday.

A victim of its own success
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