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Is Small Business Saturday Still a Thing?

For small businesses, much of the last decade has been about revitalizing downtown areas, creating a sense of community through civic involvement, and lobbying for public support in the face of the ever-expanding power of big box stores. These stores are typically located far away from the downtown areas where small businesses can be found, making Black Friday a dark day for these businesses and necessitating a promotional day of their own.

Small Business Saturday has been a success since its introduction in 2010, growing every year and accounting for $23.3 billion in revenue in 2021. This year, however, retailers across the country are expressing frustration with their low sales numbers for the day after Black Friday.

Earlier this November, YouGov reported that 59% of shoppers planned on participating in Small Business Saturday, up from 42% last year. Only 56% reported that they would participate in Black Friday. Based on this data, one would assume that Small Business Saturday 2022 would be a roaring success. So what happened?

LendingTree found that millennials are more likely to participate in Small Business Saturday than any other demographic, and those who make less than $35,000 per year are least likely. These two facts give us clues as to why Small Business Saturday was so dismal this year.

Millennials are historically values-based shoppers. Rather than seek out the cheapest products, they are typically more willing to spend money on something created ethically. Handmade or locally made products also appeal to their sense of environmental stewardship, as these items did not have to be shipped across the country or across the world.  The idea of their money remaining within the community also appeals to them, as the profits from their purchase will mostly benefit their local community, in the form of jobs, charitable donations from the business owners, and local taxes, rather than billionaires or stockholders in a faraway city.

However, millennials have been most negatively affected by inflation. Because of inflation, millennials have less discretionary income than previous generations when they were the same age (25-40). Many cannot afford to buy a home and have seen their rents increase by hundreds of dollars per month—nationwide, rents increased by 18% last year.

Small businesses are also feeling the squeeze of inflation. Even though they cannot typically afford the types of discounts offered by big box stores, their sales prices have often been enough to attract customers. This year, small businesses were not able to offer significant discounts as they struggle with higher rent and utilities costs as well as price increases from suppliers.

Most of the information available on this year’s Small Business Saturday is anecdotal, but small retail businesses across the country from every sector are saying the same thing: this year was a disappointment.

This Black Friday boasted the largest number of shoppers in Black Friday history, though overall sales numbers were down. Retailers are reporting something similar concerning Small Business Saturday, with an increase in foot traffic not translating to higher revenue. Just like this year’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday wasn’t a boon for the jewelry sector, but many jewelers are confident of making up for it in December.

Is this the beginning of a trend? Is Small Business Saturday over? Far from it. Interest in the event only continues to grow, and this year, it brought out shoppers even though they didn’t seem to have money to spend. So people know about it, and it is a concept they want to support. It seems like that answer depends on whether or not inflation stabilizes and we can avoid a recession next year.