The National Retail Federation  says consumer traffic was up 8.7 percent over last year for the all-important Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with 212 million folks spending an average of $365.34 (up from $343.31). Shoppertrak  says Black Friday buyers alone were up 2.2% over 2009 and according to NRF, 24 percent of those shoppers were die-hards, in stores before 4 a.m.
But this unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season offered something beyond the pre-dawn, deep-discount doorbusters that remain the domain of the big boxes. With the advent of Small Business Saturday, the little guys also got in on the action.
American Express OPEN launched the campaign to support smaller, independent retailers and encourage consumers to shop locally. Promoted via a Facebook page  that has a million-plus people “liking” it, Small Business Saturday designated the day after Black Friday for cardholders to purchase from local businesses and earn a $25 credit on their statement. The program has since been extended to include qualifying purchases made through Dec. 31.
It’s hard to say whether the campaign achieved the desired result on Nov. 27 — local news stories highlighting businesses that benefited stand in the place of actual sales figures for that elusive segment — but the concept is worth celebrating nonetheless. It’s the same gospel that Cinda Baxter has been preaching through her viral 3/50 Project , which encourages consumers to shop three independent retailers per month and spend $50 in order to keep the majority of that cash feeding the local economy.
American Express says it plans to make Small Business Saturday an annual event. With the power of their promotion behind it, independents stand to get a greater share of the holiday dollars. But I’d say the giant leap for mankind here is the increased awareness of local options for shopping throughout the year.