Holiday shopping friends

Two best friends shopping for Christmas in the old town Quebec city. They have fun playing tourists. They wear mittens and toques coats. Shopping in decorated and busy streets, browsing shop windows, choosing gifts, carrying lots of bags full of presents, having a coffee break or a meal after shopping, on the phone, checking technology.

Last year, American consumers spent $19.6 billion at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday. Behind that total spend were a 3 million year-over-year increase in number of consumers participating in Small Business Saturday and an almost $2 billion increase in total amount spent ($19.6 billion estimated for 2019 compared to $17.8 billion in 2018).

In so many ways, 2020 has been a very different year, and Small Business Saturday looks to be no exception. Consumer shopping patterns have shifted around the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact. Across the country, and right here in Delaware, small businesses are pivoting to meet their customers where they are now, on Small Business Saturday and throughout the year. Many of those entrepreneurs are taking a harder look at digitally transforming their businesses to engage with remote employees, vendors, suppliers, and consumers. In fact, the SBA-backed University of Delaware Small Business Development Center (SBDC) reports a 30% increase in its client load, with a significant jump in the average size of small business client firms, reflecting the broader-than-ever cross section of the small business community taking concrete steps toward a digital future.

But true digital transformation can be a big undertaking. By definition, ‘digital transformation’ means integrating digital technology into every area of a business. Often though, a small business’ limited budget and staffing leaves it at the crossroads of a very real digital divide that so often separates small business from larger competitors.

Fortunately, SBA can help—perhaps now more than ever. The SBDC’s talented small business advisors work as free-of-charge technical consultants to small businesses looking to bridge that digital divide. Those advisors can take small business owners step-by-step through the digital transformation process, at a pace that makes sense for their individual firm. Meanwhile, SBA-backed Women’s Business Center at True Access Capital and Delaware SCORE offer mentorship, workshops and trainings to help small businesses meet the digital transformation challenge head on, one step at a time. And, with CARES Act funding supporting these small business counseling efforts more than ever, now is a great time for small business owners to take the first step to connect with a local counselor, simply by visiting SBA.gov.

I urge Delaware small businesses navigating COVID-19’s impact this holiday season not to stop there. Under the CARES Act, small businesses affected by COVID-19 can apply to tap into a cash infusion through SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. And, for pandemic-battered small businesses concerned about keeping up with payments on current or potential SBA loans, the Small Business Debt Relief Program can help. Small business owners can find a comprehensive listing of SBA’s small business pandemic-related support, simply by visiting http://www.sba.gov/coronavirus.

Finally, I urge all Delawareans, this holiday season and year-round, to continue supporting the Main Street small businesses that make “home” “home.” Together, lets to find ways – both familiar and new – to shop small, on Small Business Saturday and year-round. Look for small businesses offering special and safe shopping and dining experiences. Look for online offerings from your favorite “mom-and-pops.” And look for ways to be an ambassador for small business – whether its reminding neighbors to shop and dine small, giving small business gift cards, inviting friends and family to experience your favorite small businesses for themselves, or sharing your “shop small” stories and where you’re shopping on social media using #ShopSmall.

This year, there is no doubt that small businesses, like all of us, face unprecedented challenges. But, if Small Business Saturday’s record-breaking sales, year after year, are any indicator, America’s ‘shop small spirit’ is indominable, and it remains, no doubt on the rise.

 -- John Fleming

     SBA Delaware District Director