Small Business Saturday holiday shopping is back, and maybe changed forever

Sign on glass reading Thank You For Supporting This Local Business in a bakery in Walnut Creek, California, September 15, 2021. Photo courtesy Sftm. (Photo by Gado/Getty Images)Gado | Archive Photos | Getty Images

Over one-third of Americans (34%) say they plan to shop on Small Business Saturday, a rebound from 2020, but spending during the holiday promotional day has not returned to the levels seen before the pandemic, according to a new CNBC|Momentive Small Business Survey.

In 2020, 30% of Americans said they would patronize a small business on Small Business Saturday. Pre-pandemic, support for local businesses was higher, if declining: 44% in 2018 and 39% in 2019. 

“Of course, consumers still have some love for Small Business Saturday, but it doesn't have the same hype that we might have seen in previous years,” Laura Wronski, senior manager of research science at Momentive, wrote in an email. “Few people say they're the most excited to go shopping on Small Business Saturday, and few say they plan to spend the most money that day.”

The new survey was conducted Nov. 10 through Nov. 12, 2021 among a national sample of 2,744 adults.

More than half (59%) of respondents to the CNBC|Momentive survey say they aren't excited to shop on either Black Friday, Small Business Saturday or Cyber Monday, down from 65% in 2020, but consistent with the pre-pandemic levels in 2018 (58%) and 2019 (59%). Small Business Saturday generates the least excitement, with 8% of respondents saying they're looking forward to it, and 7% of Americans saying they plan to spend the most on Small Business Saturday.

In a year during which supply chain issues and rising prices have become key economic concerns, the effect is being felt in the holiday season behavior tracked by the CNBC|Momentive survey. It finds 72% of Americans saying they've experienced price increases in the past three months, as well as low inventory notices (62%), staff shortages at local businesses (55%), and shipping delays (51%).

Wronski noted that in other recent polling conducted by Momentive, it found nearly four in 10 people in the U.S. were planning to start their holiday shopping in October, and that those who were the most worried about supply chain issues were the ones planning to get an earlier start on holiday shopping.

“There's no doubt that both supply chain shocks and fears of inflation have disrupted consumers' typical holiday shopping patterns,” Wronski wrote.

These fears are high among small business patrons specifically, with Americans who plan to spend on Small Business Saturday more concerned about the supply chain (48%) than Americans who don't plan to shop on Saturday (42%).

Small business shoppers are buying online more than in the past, but making purchases online is correlated with an even higher level of supply chain concerns: 60% of Small Business Saturday shoppers who plan to make online purchases say they're worried about getting the items the want.

“A lot of consumers have intentionally gotten an early start on their holiday shopping because they don't want to be left empty handed at the holidays! It's one thing to wait a few months for a new couch to be delivered; it's another to try to explain to your kids why Santa isn't coming until January,” Wronski wrote.

Role of Amazon and e-commerce continues to grow

Shopping in-person (71%) and dining (67%) at a small business are the top two ways in which respondents plan to patronize a small business on Small Business Saturday, but the role of e-commerce has grown. Thirty-five percent of Small Business Saturday shoppers say they will buy online this year.

Among all holiday shoppers, the percentage who say they prefer to spend online has increased from 38% in 2018 to 46% this year, while 40% say they plan to spend more online, versus 25% who say they plan to spend more in person. Another 32% say they will spend equally online and in-person.

Amazon Prime subscribers have increased from 56% in 2018 to 67% of survey respondents this year.

“Online shopping really has overtaken brick-and-mortar retail as consumers' default experience, and that is even more true post-pandemic than it was in 2019,” Wronski wrote. “What's most interesting is how quickly people have adapted, and how much they've internalized some of the lessons of the pandemic — even when it comes to their shopping behaviors.”

Overall, high-income earners and middle-aged adults are most likely to shop at a small business on Small Business Saturday this year, with 40% of respondents whose household income is $100,000 or more saying they plan to patronize a small business, compared with about a quarter (26%) of respondents earning less than $50,000.

But the CNBC|Momentive survey shows increased support for local business in 2021 across multiple demographic segments: 30% of Black Americans plan to patronize a small business, up from 24% in 2020; 27% of adults aged 18 through 24 plan to patronize a small business, up from 21% in 2020; and 39% of those who earn between $50,000 and $99,000 plan to patronize a small business on Small Business Saturday, up from 33% in 2020.

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