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Is Small Business Saturday Underachieving? Yes.

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Awareness and support of the Small Business Saturday initiative continues to grow each year. According to a press release, an estimated 112 million consumers reported shopping at small businesses this past Saturday, a 13% increase versus 2015. This is great progress, but there is evidence to suggest participation could be stronger.

While 72% of U.S. consumers are aware of the day, only 112 million consumers or about 43% of the adult population actively participated. Why is 29% of the population aware of the day but not shopping small? Lacking digital efficacy among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may be a factor.

Compare the 112 million participants with the 154 million who shopped on Black Friday this year. The 42 million gap between participants of the two shopping holidays could be a function of stronger awareness of Black Friday, but also because of the robust marketing efforts of large brands.

Regardless, when we look at the latest research regarding SMB marketing, we can see that stronger digital efforts could drive more Small Business Saturday purchases.

A recent study by Brandmuscle found that 56% of local retailers haven’t claimed their Google My Business (GMB) listing. Given Google’s prominence on the path to purchase, experts from all areas of the digital marketing ecosystem regard this as one of the most fundamental and necessary digital components for any local business. Furthermore, just 33% have claimed their Yelp listing, 21% on Yahoo and 19% on YP.com.

In addition to the opportunity with listing management, there are still a significant number of SMBs that don’t have websites, as much as 50% or 60% according to some estimates. Of those with websites, roughly one-third (34%) are “unsatisfied” with the amount of business they generate. Just 9% said they are “definitely satisfied.”

The website issue has been intensified by the need for mobile-friendly experiences. According to a survey, 92% of local business owners, regardless of age, believe their mobile device is essential to running their business. Yet only 6% said that mobile is a primary marketing channel in terms of dollars spent.

The result of all of this is missed opportunities for SMBs. Without claimed listings on prominent local search sites, local businesses aren’t found in relevant searches. Without an up-to-date website that works well on mobile devices, consumers will overlook these businesses.

Pointing to deficient digital strategies as the reason for lacking participation of Small Business Saturday assumes that consumers aware of the day are potential buyers, which of course isn’t the case. However, taking the Black Friday example, promoting offers, deals and discounts via email, websites, social media, etc., has the power to bring consumers into the purchase funnel.

Digital marketing for local businesses is more complex than listings and websites, but if these businesses don’t get these right then it is an uphill battle to attract new customers. Though Small Business Saturday helps generate interest in shopping local, if a business can’t be found or isn’t working to attract “ready-to-buy” consumers, these events only go so far.

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