The Great Recession of 2008-2009 was the worst downturn in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s, causing unemployment to spike to nearly 10 percent and slashing more than 4 percent from the gross domestic product. Consumer spending tanked and small businesses suffered, as 60 percent of job cuts in the U.S. occurred at companies that could least afford it — those with 50 or fewer employees. About 200,000 small businesses called it quits during that period. In 2010, American Express (AmEx) saw the bloodbath as a chance to launch an initiative called Small Business Saturday.
Hot on the heels of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday is meant to emphasize spending not at big box stores, but instead at local shops and vendors who rely on an influx of revenue around the holidays. Since the movement began, AmEx estimates that small business supporters have spent about $85 billion during Small Business Saturday. The U.S. Senate even got in on the act, passing a resolution in support of the concept in 2011 and annually since.
There are about 29 million small businesses in America, accounting for the vast majority of U.S. companies. And despite the impact of the burst housing bubble, these enterprises still accounted for more than 61 percent of all new jobs between 1993 and 2016.
So how does Small Business Saturday work out for small businesses? A data service company looked at credit card transactions at small businesses in Texas throughout 2017 and found that Black Friday was actually better for business than Small Business Saturday, perhaps because consumers' itchy credit card fingers are already in overdrive. Still, data transactions were up 41 percent on that day versus a typical day for small businesses.
In 2017, 108 million shoppers spent $12.9 billion on Small Business Saturday, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. This was a big drop from the $15.4 billion spent in 2016. However, awareness of the holiday has grown among American shoppers. Some 70 percent in 2017 said they were aware of it, up from 55 percent in 2015. The most popular small businesses frequented on Small Business Saturday were restaurants and pubs, followed distantly by clothing stores (41 percent versus 24 percent).