Small Business Saturday is an annual event that was created to encourage consumers to shop locally in person and at small businesses online. This event takes place every November and represents a significant opportunity to increase sales for small businesses during the holiday shopping season. The concept was first introduced by American Express in 2010 as a way to put small businesses in the spotlight amid the recession that occurred following the 2008 financial crisis.

Key Takeaways

  • Small Business Saturday was introduced by American Express in 2010 as a way to promote small businesses in the wake of the Great Recession.
  • This annual event takes place every November between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  • In 2011 the Senate passed a resolution to support Small Business Saturday, and participation in the event has expanded to all 50 states.
  • Consumers spent nearly $20 billion shopping on Small Business Saturday in 2019 alone.

What Is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday is a one-day event that takes place every November on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In 2020 it lands on Nov. 28.

The event was created in 2010 by American Express as a means of encouraging support for small businesses during the Great Recession. In 2011 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution supporting Small Business Saturday, and the event has since taken on a nationwide appeal, with participation in all 50 states.

Small Business Saturday falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when consumers may already be shopping online or at well-known retail brands to prepare for the holidays. By focusing on small businesses, the purpose of the event is to highlight their importance in local communities, so they aren’t overshadowed by larger companies.

That may be especially important this year, considering how severely the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many small business owners across the country. According to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, one in five small business owners say they’ll have to close their doors if economic conditions don’t improve through the early months of 2021. Another 19% say that an economic downturn lasting another seven to 12 months could result in them having to close up shop for good.

Small Business Saturday is designed to support all online and brick-and-mortar small businesses, not just those that accept American Express as a payment method.

Who Participates in Small Business Saturday?

First and foremost, this event is intended to encourage consumers to shop at small and locally owned businesses. That includes retail stores and restaurants as well as other small businesses, such as salons, grocery stores, and service-based businesses. It also extends to small businesses that exist online.

In terms of what constitutes a small business, the Small Business Administration offers a broad definition. Generally, a small business is any business that has fewer than 500 employees. Following those guidelines, Small Business Saturday could include businesses that operate as sole proprietorships and partnerships, as well as small corporations and/or limited liability companies (LLCs).

American Express offers an online search tool to help consumers find small businesses in their local area that they can support on Small Business Saturday and all year round. The Shop Small map includes a variety of businesses that participate in the event via in-person shopping as well as online shopping.

Businesses must meet American Express guidelines regarding size and payment acceptance to be added to the Shop Small map.

How Small Business Saturday Benefits Small Businesses

The main goal of this event is to give small businesses a revenue boost during the holiday shopping season. Based on the numbers reported by American Express, it would seem that the event is successful when it comes to reaching that goal.

For example, it’s estimated that in 2019 consumers spent $19.6 billion on Small Business Saturday in support of local businesses. That figure outstrips the $5.4 billion spent on Black Friday and the $9.2 billion spent on Cyber Monday over that same weekend. Since the event was first organized, Americans have spent more than $120 billion on Small Business Saturday collectively. 

That’s significant, as American Express estimates that for every dollar spent at a small business in the U.S., 67¢ stays in the local community. By shopping small, consumers can help boost businesses in their own backyard and promote a healthier local economy.


The number of shoppers who participated in Small Business Saturday in 2019 and said the event made them want to shop and dine at small businesses locally more often all year long

How to Participate in Small Business Saturday

If you’re interested in supporting Small Business Saturday as a consumer, the best way to do it is to shop locally and encourage friends and family to do the same. That includes shopping at local brick-and-mortar businesses as well as at small businesses that operate online. For example, you may choose to support an online boutique or a digital service-based business. You can also use the #ShopSmall hashtag to promote the event on social media.

If you’re interested in participating in the event as a small business owner, American Express offers a number of tools that can help. They include promotional materials, such as posters and signage that can be used in your store if you operate a business with a physical location as well as digital marketing materials. Special signage is available for 2020’s event to support Black-owned businesses that have experienced undue financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are provided free of charge for businesses that are American Express merchants.

For 2020 American Express is providing additional marketing materials to help encourage social distancing for businesses with physical locations.

Small business owners can also prepare for the event in other ways, such as:

  • Creating special sales events to encourage spending on Small Business Saturday
  • Conducting e-mail marketing campaigns to inform customers of Small Business Saturday sales events
  • Offering special promotions or discounts as incentives to get customers to shop
  • Partnering with other small businesses to raise awareness surrounding Small Business Saturday
  • Making it easier for customers to shop online or in a store with social distancing requirements in place

Aside from helping small business owners to market themselves for this annual event, American Express offers special discounts and promotions to help businesses save money. And the company also helps small business owners identify shopping trends to make the most of Small Business Saturday sales events.

The event also gets help from Neighborhood Champions, which are organizations that promote Small Business Saturday locally. These organizations include local libraries, visitor centers, chambers of commerce, and other local business associations. Neighborhood Champions can sponsor their own events to market the event and encourage people in the area to get out and shop small businesses. As a consumer, you can support Neighborhood Champions in your local area by volunteering with one of these organizations if possible.

The Bottom Line

Small Business Saturday presents shoppers with a unique opportunity to show support for local businesses. It’s important to remember that this event is designed to encourage people to shop small not only during the holidays but at any time of the year. By shopping locally, you can help small business owners keep their doors open. As a small business owner, taking part in this event could help provide a cash flow boost during the holidays.