This year marks the 10th annual Small Business Saturday, started by American Express during the recession as an effort to tactfully help local communities after the biggest Big Box shopping day of the year.
“Initially, the day offered incentives to American Express cardholders, giving them a $25 credit to use toward purchases at small shops,” according to Fortune. “By 2013, that reward dropped to $10, and in 2015 the financial incentive was scrapped entirely.”
A spokeswoman told Fortune the incentive was a way to introduce people to the event, helping to create an annual day to support small businesses across the country for years to come.
Last year, 104 million shoppers spent a record high of $17.8 billion, according to the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey.
Support for a successful day
In Rochester, Michigan, the city’s Downtown Development Authority promotes deals and supports participating stores in the area so it can feel like a cohesive event.
Owners of MI State of Mind, Andy Buss and Bailey Buss, sell Michigan-branded apparel, decals and other trinkets. Buss said as a business owner, he appreciates the investment from the city & community.
“For it to be as successful as possible, the whole downtown needs to buy into it,” Buss said. “I think it’s really important to have an entity organizing it and to keep reminding everyone about the day. There needs to be a coordinated effort for the whole downtown to feel it’s worth going to.”
In addition to discounts, MI State of Mind will be giving out free stickers and decals with every purchase. Buss said this is an opportunity to get his brand out in the world, helping with marketing efforts throughout the year.
Consumption as identity
About 15 minutes away, owner of Southern Green, Kelly Green, who sells plants and other unique greenery in the storefront of Tootie and Tallulah's in Berkley, Michigan, is making sure she has enough inventory for the day.
“I think people get excited to come in and help celebrate and support small business,” Green said.
Tootie and Tallulah’s will have extended business hours for the day: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. instead of its usual 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Inside the Berkley shop, there will be double the staff on the floor to help handle the influx of people.
In addition to some special offers, the shop will display its latest merchandise ahead of the holiday season.
“It’s not just about getting good deals, seeing the best and latest merchandise out or whatever kind of special incentives are going on that day,” Green said. “It seems to make people really feel good to support small business and to support their neighborhood businesses.”
What Green sees firsthand as a business owner is how people are perceiving themselves when they do something like support a small business, which plays into the psychology of how consumption can be used as a form of identity.
Consumer Psychologist Dante Pirouz explained brands and products become an extension of a consumer’s self identity. If a person loves the brand — or their perception of a product or purchase — it becomes an integral part of self.
So if a shopper thinks their purchase helped their community, they end up feeling good about that purchase and then, in turn, themselves.
The excitement’s return on investment
Because this event sits between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the entire weekend brings about feelings of anticipation, fear of missing out, scarcity and competition. These psychological factors have a way of drumming up new business.
“I think it brings in people who don’t ordinarily shop small, which is always great to get new faces in,” Green said.
Like countless other small business owners across the country, Buss and Green both said this is one of the busiest shopping days of the entire year for them.
“Supporting a small business is really a very patriotic, moral and ethical thing to do,” Green said. “From my perspective, that’s what I see in people. They’re really happy with themselves. There are a lot of people in the store. There’s a lot of excitement. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s smiling. It’s like a party. It’s just fun.”
And there’s a reason why people are having so much fun based in consumer psychology.
People anticipate the event. They fear they will miss out on an advertised discounted item that is perceived as scarce, creating a competitive environment among consumers. Anticipation, fear of missing out and competition elicits anxiety in people. But when a purchase is made of said perceived scarce, discounted item, this creates excitement and arousal in the brain, making for an enjoyable and satisfying experience.
And what Green said about the excitement: “It’s really contagious.”