Why Your Small Business Saturday Was Disappointing

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Is Small Business Saturday just a bunch of hype?

According to a study done by The National Federation of Independent Business and American Express, 88 million consumers were “Shopping Small” on November 29th, up 14.9 percent from just a year ago. U.S. consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday spent $14.3 billion with independent retailers and restaurants on the day, an increase of 2.1 percent from $14 billion in 2013. That’s good. Unfortunately, the average person who shopped on Small Business Saturday spent $162, down 11.5 percent from the previous year. Though average spending was down, the study concluded “overall spending was boosted by strong awareness and the sheer volume of shoppers supporting their local businesses on the day.”

And let’s face it: awareness was strong. Politicians were everywhere showing their love of the small business voter. President Obama shopped for books at a local retailer. The U .S. Senate, 40 state governments and 450 cities passed resolutions and proclamations celebrating the merchant. Thousands of neighborhood communities championed the cause. Hundreds of larger companies were official supporters and the bigger ones, like American Express (the event’s main sponsor), FedEx and Microsoft fashioned marketing campaigns directed at their small business customers.  Everyone seemingly jumped on the train.

But not every retailer was awed. “I was very disappointed with sales during the weekend,” said Wayne (Soni) Aylsworth, owner of Empire Outdoors, a Michigan based sporting goods shop. “and I’m not holding my breath for holiday sales.” Becky McCray, owner of Allen’s Retail Liquors in Alva, Oklahoma had a similar experience. “Sales were only up a tiny bit.”

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday…are these days just hype? Marketing gimmicks? PR campaigns that benefit just the just the big names on the backs of the small merchants who are lead to believe that they can sit back and enjoy a surge in sales that day just because American Express says so? Yes. But that’s OK. American Express has done a fantastic job turning this day into a national event. But in the end, it’s up to you, the small business owner, to take advantage of it. And to really take advantage of Small Business Saturday you have to approach it with a different attitude. So here’s some advice for next year: think of Small Business Saturday not as a day of sales but instead as an opportunity to use your technology to collect data that will help you grow sales throughout the year. How? Start at the cash register.

ShopKeep, is a mobile point of sale (POS) system that works on iPads. It is one of a growing number of new and powerful technologies that are enabling the small merchant to truly take advantage of days like Small Business Saturday.(Note: ShopKeep and others mentioned in this article are clients and/or partners of my company but none have compensated me to write this piece). Great applications like ShopKeep allow your employees to get out from behind the counter and interact with customers in the store. Using an iPad you can ring up sales, suggest other items, manage your inventory, collect payments and, most importantly, better manage your customers. Anyone who walks into your store because they were made aware by Small Business Saturday is a potential long term customer. A good mobile POS system allows you to collect information from them, track what they buy and then leverage the data.

You can integrate it with customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Salesforce.com and Zoho to make sure no one ever gets forgotten. You can encourage sign-ups for gift card and loyalty programs that work with your POS data or start sending out monthly newsletters with popular e-mail services like MailChimp and Constant Contact to draw your community back to your store throughout the year. You can report from this data to track your best customers, your top selling items, transactions by hour and which customers are buying what products.

“As a former local retailer myself, I know that the goal is really strong growth throughout the year, not just on certain “local shopping” days of the year,” says Jason Richelson, Founder and CEO at ShopKeep. He’s right. ShopKeep tells me that their typical customer experiences a 12.5% increase in sales year to year after implementing their mobile POS system. It’s because these merchants use the technology to collect information and then use that information to better market to their customers and community.

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