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Who Wins When Congress Makes Shopping Suggestions?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In a public service announcement, Sen. Mary Landrieu asks shoppers to “visit your neighborhood small businesses on Saturday, Nov. 26.”

Google and Facebook have created free tools that business owners can use to promote themselves digitally. American Express will give the first 200,000 consumers who register on a Facebook page and spend $25 at a local store on Small Business Saturday a $25 statement of credit. That alone represents a $5 million investment. The 200,000 cap, moreover, may be relaxed to accommodate more customers.

All of this has prompted some analysts to wonder whether Small Business Saturday is more about American Express, which has a reputation for high merchant fees, than it is about local, independent retailers. In 2010, Small Business Saturday boosted sales at small businesses accepting American Express cards by 28 percent over 2009, but nationally, retail sales went up by only 9 percent overall, according to the business newsletter Multichannel Merchant.

An American Express official said the campaign is about helping small businesses, not about the card company’s bottom line. “If you look at all the work that’s being done in terms of creating awareness for shopping small on the day in general, everybody benefits from that,” American Express spokesman Scott Krugman said.

As chairwoman of the Small Business panel, Landrieu meets frequently with groups interested in promoting small businesses, a spokesman said. The other Senators who recorded PSAs for the Small Business Saturday campaign are Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Snowe.

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