American Express’s Small Business Saturday last weekend saw a call to arms to encourage us to shop locally and support small businesses. Since its launch in 2010, this annual event now reaches millions of people across the US, UK and Australia, helping independent retailers get their share of the Christmas spending frenzy.
Small Business Saturday arrived in the UK in 2013. From £468m in 2013, £748m was spent on Small Business Saturday in the UK in 2017, with 87 per cent of local authorities backing the campaign, up from 80 per cent the year before.
As home to more than 4,000 micro-businesses and SMEs the length and breadth of Great Britain, including many independent online retailers, we welcome any initiatives that promote small businesses.
Yet the concept of supporting SMEs as an exception rather than a rule is concerning. In the UK, small businesses contribute £0.9 trillion in value to the UK economy each year – more than half of the country’s total activity. SMEs account for more than 99 per cent of all private sector businesses and 60 per cent of all private sector employment. As Brexit affects the confidence of international businesses in investing in the UK, our home-grown small businesses are likely to play an even greater role in our future prosperity. The success of small businesses also has a positive impact on local communities. Local businesses provide job opportunities while feeding cash back into the local economy.
As such, we should be supporting them all year round – not just on one day or in a way that feels charitable.
So while Small Business Saturday is helpful in highlighting the variety and value of the UK’s small businesses, there is more work to be done to change attitudes and shopping behaviours. Misconceptions still prevail about small and independent retailers that prevent us from choosing them on a regular basis. For example, it is widely held that large and online retailers are always cheaper than smaller sellers, when this is often not the case. Small retailers often offer excellent deals but are passed over in favour of larger businesses, which have access to hefty advertising budgets that make it easy to showcase cut prices.
The continuing rise of online retail, however, offers significant opportunities for small retailers and entrepreneurs. The number of self-employed workers in the UK has been on the rise since 2001 and now accounts for around 15 per cent of the working population.
Young people in particular are keen to work for themselves, with the number of self-employed 16 to 24-year-olds nearly doubling since 2001. Flexible workspaces offering cost-effective places to run a business and store products, coupled with websites such as eBay, Etsy and Not On The High Street, which give small businesses and sole traders a platform to market alongside major global brands, are levelling the playing field and making it more convenient for consumers to support small and micro businesses.
The British public is eager to support small businesses and the message championed by the Small Business Saturday campaign is one we are eager to hear. Last year, more than 115,000 tweets were sent on Small Business Saturday, reaching over 115m people and "Small Business Saturday UK" was trending at number one in the UK. This outpouring of positive consumer sentiment for small businesses demonstrates that they could and should be supported every day, not just on Small Business Saturday.