Survey: Small Retailers Struggling to Compete this Holiday Season

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The holiday season isn’t just an important time for small businesses, it’s the important time. Nearly one-third of store owners say they are completely dependent on revenue earned during this period, according to a new survey by Vistaprint.

In surveying 500 small business owners across the U.S., Vistaprint found that 29% are “completely dependent” on holiday revenue and 40% say a bad holiday season will cause them to struggle during the next 12 months.

“The holidays can be extremely overwhelming and stressful for small business owners, especially if they are critical to their survival or long-term performance. We want business owners to realize that they are not alone in this feeling,” says Sarah Nunes, director of brand management at Vistaprint.

With the season already well underway, retailers as a whole appear to be on track for a strong performance. More than 174 million Americans shopped during the first weekend of the holiday season this year, topping earlier estimates of 164 million. The average amount spent per person during the five-day period following Thanksgiving was $335.47, but much of those sales took place at national retailers with robust e-commerce divisions, leaving smaller businesses struggling to keep up.

Sales during Small Business Saturday took a slight dip this year. According to a survey by American Express and the National Federation of Independent Business, $12.9 billion was spent at independent businesses on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2017, compared to $15.4 billion in 2016 and $16.2 billion in 2015.

Vistaprint found that more than half (56%) of small businesses say it’s difficult to compete with large retailers this time of year, and they’re spending an average of $560 on marketing during the holiday season. Twenty-percent of small business owners in Vistaprint’s survey said they plan to spend just $100 or less on advertising this season. Compare that to the $1.08 billion major retail chains spent on advertising during the three-week period between November 21st and December 11th last year, and it’s clear that smaller shops have their work cut out.

“The majority of owners struggle to compete with the major retailers, and face barriers to marketing their business throughout the season—particularly a lack of time, which likely comes from having to wear many different hats during the busiest time of the year,” Nunes says.

The top two barriers to undertaking marketing and promotional activities, according to Vistaprint’s survey, were lack of time and lack of ideas.

Eighty-one percent of businesses said they plan to decorate their storefronts, a relatively low-cost idea. But just 78% said they believe decorating their storefronts actually increases the amount of business during the holiday season.

Besides decorating their windows, top marketing activities listed in Vistaprint’s survey included promotional offers or discounts (64%) and themed social media posts (44%). Social media is a particularly low-cost, high reward option for many small business owners who are savvy with digital media.

“Small businesses are crucial to our economy, and also bring significant value to consumers through offering a highly personalized service, a unique product and service selection and the opportunity to give back to their community,” Nunes says. “It’s important that we support them in meeting their goals and ensuring they thrive in the holiday season and beyond.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.