Another Black Friday weekend has come and gone—this one complete with the American Express-sponsored Small Business Saturday. The shopping extravaganza that overshadows Thanksgiving—a day for reflection and gratitude—was no less noteworthy than years before, with reports of violence and people behaving in a manner contrary to the aims of civilization. Watching the news footage of the trampling, pepper spraying and fisticuffs seems to have become an expected holiday event, not unlike a football game is for many.
The good news is reports of consumer spending were up this year! The National Retail Federation reports the average consumer spent $398.62 between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which is up from last year’s $365.34 per consumer. This is supposed to be encouraging news for all of us, because, among other things, more retail jobs will be added during the holiday season.
While the Occupy Wall Street encampments protested the stranglehold of multi-national corporations on the average American’s choices and self-determination, the rest of us went shopping. I am no different. For Small Business Saturday, for the purposes of this column, I registered my American Express Card, and after Seth relieved me at the bookstore, I sallied forth to find a small business that would accept American Express. American Express gave me a $25 statement credit as a reward for using their card to make a purchase at said small business. My hopes were not high, and I admit it is because I think poorly of credit card companies and mistrust their motives. If I had a choice between a day with Shylock from the “Merchant of Venice” or a customer service representative from American Express, the choice would be easy. So, to cover my bases, I visited my favorite hardware store, Stevens, and The Transplanted Garden.
I figured I would pick up the things I always seem to need, including cleaning products and fertilizer, at Stevens. Since they are part of a cooperative of hardware stores, which allows them to offer the competitive pricing that they do, in conjunction with their wonderfully knowledgeable service, I worried we might be in a gray area as far as American Express claiming they weren’t small enough to qualify for a statement credit. So, I headed over to the Transplanted Garden for part of Daddy’s Christmas present. (Don’t tell him, please, if you see him before the holidays.) Imagine my surprise to get an e-mail form American Express that evening, telling me that my statement credit would appear on the next billing cycle. They even thanked me for supporting Small Business Saturday.
Just to double check, a few days later, I called and went through my five most recent transactions, and there in the list was the statement credit! I honestly have to say I was surprised but pleased. Of course, even though they credited me the $25, they still charged the merchants’ processing fees. So they don’t get out of this like angels—just sayin’.
Though the mall might have been mayhem, Front Street in Wilmington was placid. It was actually a really lovely day, as it usually is: The farmers’ market and crowd it attracts, the yoga classes from Organic Yoga, lots of families with kids in strollers and lots of good conversation. We didn’t come close to sales numbers that we have done in years past or remotely close to the crazy spending reported at the chains—but everyone was relaxed, pleasant and nice to talk with.
I have heard reports from people both in person and from blog posts that Small Business Saturday didn’t seem to have the oomph that Black Friday did—that small retailers weren’t offering the kinds of crazy deals that big chains did to lure in new shoppers, which is true. In our little neck of the woods, the bookstore didn’t have a specific sale, though Sugar on Front Street, the bakery inside, did offer sales on jams and high-end peanut butters. I understand the logic behind the sale mentality to bring in the buying public. But, from a small business standpoint, we don’t have the volume to sell a book for less than we pay for it wholesale—which is why we don’t carry the new James Patterson hardback at 60 percent off or buy two get one free. We also pay for merchandise upfront, not when it sells, and we can’t send it back if it gets damaged on the sales floor—we have to eat the cost. So, no, many small businesses weren’t offering crazy, over-the-top deals—but we were offering a much higher level of customer service. Because our employees hadn’t worked overnight and were not mobbed by crazy people prepared to trample each other to death.
My friend Allison commented to me that she was looking to purchase a crock pot as a holiday gift. One of our mutual friends excitedly pointed out that Walmart would have them on sale for $10 on Black Friday.
“Are you kidding?” she said to me later. “I would pay someone $10 not to have to go to Walmart on Black Friday.”