If you are a business owner in the U.S. or the UK (or one of 15 other nations that celebrates Black Friday), chances are that you are too busy to stop and read this article. After all, the challenges posed by Black Friday are well known, especially as the significant cost of hiring additional staff, increasing inventory and reinforcing IT infrastructure does always drive a healthy return. Last years’ Black Friday figures from the U.S. support this, revealing that there were an estimated 5.1 million fewer shoppers than during the same period in 2013. Across the entire, four-day long weekend, the overall decline was a depressing 5%.
This translates into a huge decline in turnover; while it also suggests that prolonged periods of Internet downtime and the frenzied attentions of fellow (and occasionally out-of-control) consumers has ruined the allure of Black Friday for shoppers. Instead, many are turning their attention to the relatively unheralded spectacle that is Small Business Saturday, which follows on the 28th November in the U.S. and a week later on 5th December in the UK. Initially launched by American Express in 2010, it has been designed to celebrate independent, local businesses across the Atlantic while imploring consumers to support them too.
How You Can Capitalise From Small Business Saturday
Despite a noticeable lack of fanfare and the fact that Small Business Saturday continues to expand in the shadows of Black Friday, it has enjoyed exponential growth since its 2010 launch. It saw an estimated spend of $14.3 billion in 2014, for example, while the number of shoppers typically exceeds 100 million on an annual basis. In fact, Small Business Saturday is now so popular that it even has its own app (Independent We Stand by Local) for connecting independent firms with the bargain-hunting masses.
In addition to helping small businesses educate customers and reinforce their importance in the local community, this unique celebration of independent firms also offers a huge money-making opportunity to entrepreneurs. Even though the clock continues to tick down on this years’ event, there is still time to capitalise and make hay while others drown in a sea of Black Friday excess:
1. Get Social And Interact With Online Customers
Worryingly, the attention span of the average consumer was clocked at just eight seconds in 2013. This is only one second longer than a goldfish, so it is easy to see the issues that small business owners have when attempting to engage new customers. Fortunately, social media is ideally placed to help marketers effectively interact with consumers in real-time, from emotive micro-blogging platforms like Twitter to the video mecca that is YouTube.
Additionally, social media has also emerged as a tool that customers rely on in 2015. According to IWS, an estimated 97% of Internet users now reference, search for and purchase products online, while a further 75% contact companies they have located through social media. These factors have combined to create a unique opportunity for small businesses, especially during small and exclusive consumer windows such as Small Business Saturday.
The key is to focus on creating an integrated social media campaign, and one that includes multiple and relevant sites. Alongside staples such as Facebook and Twitter, for example, those selling bespoke or colourful products may also want to utilise image-led resources such as Pinterest. It is also important to engage customers and incentivize their participation with your brand throughout the day, initially by publishing regular Twitter updates and sharing discounts through the popular Facebook check-in tool.
Do not be afraid to jump onboard the hashtag train, either, even if the very idea makes you cringe like a guest at a David Brent motivational talk. #smallbizsat is likely to trend well, for example, while #shopsmall should also prove popular.
2. Look After Your Existing Customers
Large businesses are often viewed as faceless, corporate entities without roots or moral fibre, whose sole purpose is to destroy honest and community-based ventures. As in any good fable, the battle between small and large companies is usually portrayed as good vs. evil, and despite being largely untrue it is this exaggerated perception that has helped drive the inaugural success of Small Business Saturday.
While the analogy with good and evil may represent a step too far, however, there are fundamental differences between small and large ventures that can help the former to profit over the next two weekends (depending on which side of the Atlantic your business sits). As an example, small, local firms usually have a carefully cultivated relationship with their customers, who in turn will be keeping their eyes peeled for promotions, discounts and offers from their favourite outlets on Small Business Saturday.
This means that your priority should be reaching out to existing consumer demographics, rather than attempting to appeal to new an untapped customers. You should start by segmenting your customer list and identifying those who are loyal and offer the most value to the brand, before creating tailored offers that incentivize this demographic. It may even be wise to tie these offers into surrounding consumer holidays, so reward returning, online customers with a lucrative Cyber Monday offer that underlines their value to the company.
3. The Customer is Always Right
On a similar note, there is another factor that tends to differentiate small and large businesses. This is the thorny and sigh-inducing issue of customer service, which for generations has been treated like a costly inconvenience by entrepreneurs from across the globe. Building on the foundation of observations by American author Seth Godin, however, it is SME’s that have recognised the marketing value of proactive customer service and its potential as a ‘scalable way to delight’.
Recent studies of last years’ shopping trends have also supported the growing importance of customer service to brands, with the vast majority of consumers prioritising their online and in-store experience over value and quality. This, when coupled with the unique opportunity that small businesses have to connect with shoppers on an emotive and personal level, makes a compelling case for entrepreneurs to prioritise customer service in time for Small Business Saturday.
How you achieve this will vary, but increasing your focus and investment in social media a good place to start. Having just a small team of dedicated professionals can help you to deliver outstanding customer service in real-time, whether you take the proactive approach of publishing troubleshooting product videos or hosting regular Q&A sessions on Twitter throughout the day. Personalised responses to customers (both on and offline) also help you to craft an individual consumer experience for each shopper while creating an energised brand that people want to be a part of.
Growing up, I was told that a dog was not just for Christmas and represented a lifelong commitment. In the same respect, good customer service should not be upheld for the duration of consumer holidays only, at least if you want your firm to survive beyond a year. It is never too late to recognise the value of customer service, however, so why not make Small Business Saturday the start of a new era for your firm?
Whether you intend to celebrate Small Business Saturday on 28th November (in the U.S.) or on 5th December (in the UK), these tips should enable you to optimise consumer engagement and drive higher turnovers. If nothing else, you will hopefully provide a sanctuary for deal-hungry consumers who are keen to avoid the carnage of Black Friday!
Have you ever taken advantage of Small Business Saturday? What was your experience like?