The benefits of patronizing local retailers were first shown to me as a young girl when I went to the grocery store to shop for my mother. The shopping list included a pound of sliced ham, but when I asked the shopkeeper for the cold cuts, he simply pointed to a display of different hams and asked me: "Which one?"
I didn't know the answer and was already preparing to go back later when the shopkeeper came to my rescue. "This is what your mother usually buys," he said, selecting a familiar-looking piece of ham and packing some for me.
He was right. That's exactly what my mother wanted. By knowing his customer, the store owner secured a sale. Perhaps unknowingly, he also highlighted the benefits of shopping from small stores.
Two decades later American Express is making the same emphasis, urging customers to shop small during the holiday season, and dedicating the Saturday after Thanksgiving to small businesses. During the second annual Small Business Saturday, the credit card company urged customers to pledge their support for small businesses. "We're asking millions of people to shop small at their favorite local stores to help fuel the economy. When we all shop small, it will be huge," American Express emphasized in its communications. More than 2.4 million people have "liked" the event's Facebook page, which allows customers to search for small businesses in their locality.
According to an Amex survey, small stores are also giving back and this year will be increasing their budget for customer gifts to an average of $827, up from last year's $740, and $455 in 2009. Moreover, nearly a quarter of small business owners plan to discount products or services to boost demand during the holiday season.
SparkBase CEO Doug Hardman says small businesses are in a good position because many consumers don't want to wait in long lines. "Small businesses need to pass on the message that they have the same items as big stores but better service," he says. He also highlights the importance of giving something back to customers. "Small businesses need to reward their customers or else someone else will," he says.
Small Business Saturday shopping expert Patricia Norins offers the following four suggestions for small businesses on how to attract new customers and remind existing customers to visit their store:
- Target new customers through online marketing: There are fantastic online marketing options that independent retailers can utilize to increase store traffic. Using social media, blogging, banner advertising, Google and Facebook advertising programs, and posting on forums and blogs allows retailers to reach potential new customers and remaining top of mind with their existing clients.
- Consider hosting regular store events to give customers a reason to visit: In-store events create a specific timeframe during which customers must visit the store to participate. Events should have a unique theme and target a specific shopper demographic--for example, Men's Night Out, VIP Event, or Teacher Appreciation Day. Stores can also give their events and educational slant, for example through decorating or cooking classes. Such events give customers a reason to visit the store; retailers may even want to offer specific discounts or free gifts during the events to encourage attendance.
- Consistent email marketing to highlight the unique gifts that are sold regularly: Customers are inundated with retail marketing messages on a daily basis. The best way to keep the store top of mind is to create a regular email marketing campaign. Retailers should consider spotlighting the various products in their store that differentiates them from their competition.
- Provide regular messaging about the importance of shopping locally: Independent retailers should consider providing statistics and information about the importance of shopping locally through in-store signage, an e-newsletter, direct mail, or even via a print advertising campaign.