News & Trends

3 words to live by this Small Business Saturday

Posted by: Diane Agostinello Diane Agostinello
on November 20, 2013

Shop Small Today’s guest post comes to us from Bruce D. Sanders, Ph.D., SPHR, consumer psychologist, retail consultant, and author. He shares some Small Business Saturday advice as we head into this year’s event on Nov. 30.

For more help, visit Small Business Saturday’s website, where you’ll find a variety of Shop Small logos, printable signage, email templates, small business success stories, and other marketing resources to help you promote your store and event.


What kind of in-store special event do you have on tap for Nov. 30? That’s Small Business Saturday. It’s an opportunity to show appreciation to your current customers and to draw in browsers.

“Small” does have an extra appeal this year because of the current popularity of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “David and Goliath.” And North American consumers particularly have always enjoyed rooting for the underdog. It might improve sales if your special event strengthens in your shoppers’ minds an association between “small” and your store.

But from my perspective as a consumer psychologist, I’m going to suggest to you two other words as guidelines for that special event: Local and authentic. Research finds that those two words carry greater power than “small” in building long-term interest in your store. For example, when potential customers view your business as local and authentic, they’re more likely to allow you to continue to contact them via Internet and telephone.

To establish credibility as a local business, show off at your Small Business Saturday special event the photos, certificates of appreciation, and other evidence of your community participation. To prove you’re authentic, make your special event a consistent projection of your store’s distinctive personality. Do it with the decorations, the employee wardrobe, the little mementos you hand out, and the rest.

In particular, Stanford University researchers identify five primary store brand personality dimensions. Here are nicknames for the dimensions, along with words describing points along each dimension:

  • Sincere to witty: In what ways is the retailer honest? Wholesome? Cheerful? Teasing?
  • Exciting to predictable: To what degree is the retailer daring? Spirited? Stimulating? Trendy? Responsible? Dependable? Persistent?
  • Expert to inquisitive: In what ways is the retailer knowledgeable? Successful? Calm? Confident? Secure? Imaginative? Curious?
  • Sophisticated to approachable: To what degree is the retailer formal? Assertive? Ambitious? Casual? Sociable?
  • Rugged to luxurious: In what ways is the retailer gruff? Challenging? Cooperative? Trusting? Considerate? Indulgent?

Large retail businesses sometimes successfully move back and forth along the five dimensions over time. But the smaller retailer that wants to project authenticity is best advised to maintain a fixed position along each dimension. Determine how you want customers to perceive your distinctive store operations, and implement marketing and promotional measures that best fit your personality.

In all of this, your objective is to keep the focus on your future. Yet, as in the rest of retailing, there is the exception to the general rule. I’m thinking about how, during the years I’ve consulted with owners and operators of small to mid-size retail businesses, I’ve stumbled across — sometimes literally — a bothersome number of instances in which a shopper attending a special event is blocked from making a purchase right then. Store staff are so distracted by greeting the new visitors that it’s hard for a regular customer to get assistance finding the item she’s seeking. Or the tables to serve the refreshments and hand out the souvenirs prevent access to the shelf which holds that item being sought.

Everything else being equal, it’s better to make a sale now than in the future. Therefore, to local and authentic, I’ll add one more guideline for a profitable Small Business Saturday special event: Uncluttered.


Consumer psychologist Bruce D. Sanders is the author of “Retailer’s Edge: Boost Profits Using Shopper Psychology.” He blogs at RIMtailing and tweets @rimtailing. Bruce currently serves on the teaching faculty at University of Nevada-Reno.

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