Small Business Saturday is sluggish in Columbus

Now in its third year, Small Business Saturday is relatively well known throughout the United States.

For the initiated, this annual sales event was created in 2010 by American Express as an alternative to the big box shopping of Black Friday and the e-commerce sales of Cyber Monday. The program encourages shoppers to spend their dollars with participating small businesses and entices those shoppers to pay using their American Express card through a cashback reward incentive.

Still, despite the growing awareness of Small Business Saturday, some retailers in Columbus did not feel any sales bump this year.

“We did not see the same impact that we saw last year,” says Josh Quinn, owner of Tigertree, a boutique in The Short North. “But our Black Friday was by far our biggest yet.”

Jeff Zettler, manager and owner of Goodale Hardware in Grandview Heights, reported that the program has done little to increase retail sales for his business.

“For Columbus retailers, Small Business Saturday falls on perhaps the very slowest Saturday of the whole year, so it is very hard to tell how effective the promotion really is at driving foot traffic,” he says. “This is our third year with the program and so far we’ve noticed virtually no change.”

The main reason cited for the slow business day in Columbus is the fact that the Saturday following Thanksgiving is traditionally host to the Ohio State University-Michigan football game, which either entrances potential shoppers or steers others away out of fear of home game traffic.

“The football game always interrupts natural foot traffic in the Short North,” says Scott Hanratty, store director at Bungalow Home. “I have worked in small businesses in this neighborhood for over five years, and its nothing new. We all know what football Saturdays will be like.”

Regional reports from cities across the country revealed mixed results of Small Business Saturday’s effectiveness. Retailers in Tulsa, Okla., Tuscon, Ariz., and Salem, Ore. experienced positive results. Other cities, however, claimed that Small Business Saturday wasn’t working.

“I have heard from other retailers in my segment outside of Ohio who have had terrific results with the Small Business Saturday promotions, but they also are not located in prime time college football markets,” Zettler says. “The ones I’ve talked who are in major college football markets like ours have mentioned similar results to ours.”

Zettler said he would prefer to see Small Business Saturday moved from Thanksgiving to Super Saturday, a retail term for the final Saturday prior to Christmas each year, when the holiday shopping season typically ends.

“Weather can be a big factor, too,” Quinn says. “Last year it was 62 degrees on Small Business Saturday, so I think there was a combination of people deciding to stay indoors after the football game rather than people choosing one over the other. If we can just ensure it will be 62 degrees on Small Business Saturday next year, we will be in good shape.”

One consistent remark from local retailers in Columbus is that there was a noticeable uptick in American Express credit card usage during the event.

“Customers were using their AmEx cards often,” Hanratty says. “We had a great customer who told us that Small Business Saturday was going to be her new holiday tradition. It made her feel great that she was helping the business in her neighborhood.”

The Small Business Saturday campaign doesn’t cost participating retailers any money, so many have said they’ll continue to promote the program in the future in hopes that it may eventually lead to a bump in business.

“I’m glad American Express has the program and we’ll happily continue to participate,” Zettler says. “But as long as it’s going against the OSU-Michigan game, I don’t expect dramatic results from it.”

For more information on Small Business Saturday, visit