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Where Will You Shop for the Holidays?

Welcome to the Black Friday countdown. This is the day retailers look forward to more than any other day of the year. It is the day that many merchants move out of the red and into the black. Officially considered the biggest shopping day of the year, stores open at ridiculously early hours; this year many won’t close at all the night before.

Several spinoffs have come from this. Unfortunately for Live Local, Cyber Monday—the Monday immediately following Black Friday—is one. It encourages people to shop online and send their money out of their communities. Another day I feel torn about is Small Business Saturday, launched by American Express. It should come as no surprise that I am completely thrilled to see the TV ads running nationally, touting the importance of supporting small businesses. But that it is sponsored by a credit card company is really disheartening.

Here’s the good news: A national television advertising campaign has been launched to promote shopping at small businesses in America. It’s on Facebook, Twitter, radio—“the works,” as the saying goes. All of this brings attention to the importance of small business in America, and because this advertising campaign has been paid for by American Express, it has a slick, high-production value, is emotionally evocative, and ends with a call to action. In essence, it has everything a good commercial should have.

Here’s the bad news: It is sponsored by a credit card company! Just a recap for those who are still unaware of how credit card processing works: Merchants rent the machines, pay a monthly fee for the provision of processing cards, pay a per transaction fee and a percentage for the transaction. American Express has one of the higher processing fees of credit cards, so fewer small businesses accept them. For example, my book store does not accept American Express.

American Express is offering a $25 statement credit to customers who shop at a small business on November 26th, provided they register their card in advance. American Express is going to win both ways on this: They assume that consumers will spend more than the $25 they will refund; thus, they will still be charging the merchant a percentage of the full amount—not the full amount minus $25!

I am so conflicted I am unsure how to express it. On one hand, I am thrilled that someone is at least giving lip service to small businesses. FedEx signed on as a corporate sponsor and gave away $1 million in American Express gift cards to FedEx customers and through Facebook promotions. (Oh, but we can bet the merchant will still pay a processing fee when they are used!) From the FedEx press release:

“A vibrant small business community is critical to the health of the U.S. economy and the cornerstone of the thousands of cities and towns FedEx serves every day,” T. Michael Glenn, executive vice president of market development, says. “Through this commitment, FedEx is able to help raise awareness for Small Business Saturday, as well as put money directly into the pockets of consumers while reminding them to support their local businesses during the holidays.”

Full disclosure: I have an American Express card and registered it for Small Business Saturday (hey, no one said this Live Local commitment would take away my credit card debt—only prevent me from getting in deeper). As soon as there are some concrete answers about the statement credit and the experience, I will report back to you.

The National Retail Federation conducted a survey last year for the post-Thanksgiving Day weekend; it reported 212 million shoppers and that spending per shopper (both in stores and online for cyber deals) averaged $365.34. If we get really honest, most of what sells at the big retailers for Black Friday (and most days) is cheap, plastic crap from China.  Instead of over 2 million people sending $300 overseas, imagine $63 billion spent on American manufacturing. Markets respond to demand—we will never re-build a manufacturing base here if we do not ask for it. So while you have a cheap plastic electronic in your hand that will be obsolete in 18 months, ask yourself how you really feel about the American economy and our long-term security. Couldn’t we make a better version of that product right here?  Couldn’t $63 billion create jobs?

In the past I have reported our Black Friday numbers at the bookstore—$500—which for us were astounding. (And I let my employees take holidays off to see their family; I work rather than keeping them or, worse, forcing them to work overnight like Walmart and Target.) Still, our sales wouldn’t rival one day of bad receipts for Barnes and Noble in March. It is not so much that I dream with greed of all the money spent on Black Friday flowing from a corporate giant to us; rather, I dream of the tremendous impact it could have on our city and county if it stayed here.

Instead of sending nearly $0.80 of every dollar spent on Black Friday out of here, please—consider investing in the Cape Fear region. Shop small businesses every day of the year!

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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