Why ‘Small Business Saturday’ would make no sense

If Canadian small and medium-sized businesses really think that having a day dedicated to them will boost sales, they must worry about competing with Santa Claus for revenue, too.

Shane Schick, editor-in-chief, IT World Canada

The hysteria around Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping periods in the U.S. calendar, has been rivaled only the increased attention paid to so-called Cyber Monday, when online retail also reaches an American Thanksgiving-induced fever pitch. In both cases, it’s the Wal-marts and other giants of the shopping industry that seem to benefit the most. SMBs, often independently operated and unable to compete with the steep margin discounts offered by the big box stores, don’t necessarily see this particular rising tide as lifting all boats. That’s the rationale for “Small Business Saturday,” one of the more desperate marketing ploys I’ve come across in a long time.

There are a number of people who disagree with me, however. If you look up the “Small Business Saturday” page on Facebook you’ll see more than two million likes, and the day already launched in the U.S. last year. According to a story in the Windsor Star on Thursday, the push is now on to bring this north of the border, and probably with greater urgency since even the biggest Canadian firms probably don’t get much out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday anyway. Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) officials are reportedly considering the concept, but may not tie it directly to the U.S. holiday season.

While there’s nothing wrong with a public relations campaign that encourages consumers to shop local and support their neighbouring SMBs, an initiative like Small Business Saturday obscures the real competitive problems, which have nothing to do with American Thanksgiving and everything to do with scale. People don’t rush to the big box stores on Black Friday because they love Target and its ilk. They go there because there are a lot of sales, which are well marketed to anyone who bothers to pay attention.

The good news is that SMBs are in a better position to compete than ever before, through online marketing and technology investments that can match the capabilities of larger firms. One of the SMBs quoted in the Windsor Star story talks about keeping in touch with customers through social media, a smart approach that isn’t the norm in Canada, based on our State of the Canadian SMB report. Farming out some compute infrastructure into the cloud may help speed up transaction processing for e-commerce and even regular orders, and effective use of customer relationship management software could help SMBs better target customers with something they’ll want or need.

This isn’t to say IT will turn every day into Black Friday for the average Canadian SMB, but neither will launching a Small Business Saturday. Instead, the goal should be simple: look at your expenses, make the most of the technology tools available, and aim for increased business 24/7.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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