New York – It may be known to the rest of the world as “Small Business Saturday” but for Orthodox Jews, the American Express promotion designed to stimulate business is an intense shopping experienced crammed into the small window of opportunity between havdala and midnight.
Created five years ago by American Express, Small Business Saturday has become an annual event held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with the credit card company offering $10 cash back on a maximum of three purchases at qualifying stores, for a total of $30 for each cardholder who registered for this year’s program. While the program takes place on Shabbos, those few post-havdala hours still present an enticing shopping opportunity.
Small Business Saturday has evolved over the years.
“The first three years it was $25 for a single swipe and last year they made it only $10,” Dan Eleff of Dan’s Deals told VIN News. “There was a lot less participation last year and Amex realized that so they raised to $30 on the three swipes. It got them more swipe fees and it encouraged more people to do it.”
American Express had set aside $36 million for the promotion, enough to accommodate 1.2 million registered cardholders, according to Eleff, who called the program a smart move for the credit card company.
“For a marketing budget that is small potatoes,” said Eleff. “They got an incredible amount of free advertising and if they ran a $10 million Superbowl commercial for a one minute spot they wouldn’t have gotten this kind of exposure.”
Eleff, who stocked up on store credits at grocery stores and at the pizza store in his hometown of Cleveland, said that grocery stores were busier than they are on Erev Pesach.
Halachic expert Rabbi Yair Hoffman noted that taking advantage of the Small Business Saturday promotion, even on a large scale, would be halachically permissible.
“Generally speaking, taking advantage of offers where the other company has no profit at all is wrong, I think and there is a chilul Hashem when we take advantages of offers that aren’t win-win. In this case, where American Express charges double what Master Card and Visa do and a lot of retailers have stopped taking American Express, it is in their best interests to have stores accepting their card and seeing how many people shop with American Express.”
Business was more than brisk at Toys 4 U in Borough Park, which opened at 6 PM, 20 minutes after the z’man.
“It was a madhouse but everything went smoothly,” said Yossi Itzkowitz, owner of Toys 4 U in Borough Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg, Monsey and Lakewood. “We prepared for the last two weeks with our credit card processor to make sure we could swipe quickly and we had about 8 terminals in each store instead of the usual 3 or 4.”
There were lines out the door at Toys 4 U throughout the night which offered customers a choice of free gifts with every $30 purchase. The free gifts were offered on separate lines to keep the credit card lines moving as swiftly as possible.
“It was very nice, perfect for Chanukah,” said Itzkowitz. “We had plenty of $30 gift cards ready and people bought a lot of merchandise as well.”
The store logged 6,000 American Express swipes by the time it closed at midnight.
Brenda’s in Borough Park stayed open a full 90 minutes past its scheduled 10:30 closing time to accommodate the many customers who flocked to the store.
“It was insane,” said Alisa Mendlowitz of Brenda’s. “We were mobbed, packed. People brought in nine or ten cards and we had to swipe each one separately. I didn’t even have time to swipe my own card.”
An employee at Hatzlacha Supermarket in Williamsburg estimated that approximately 1,000 customers came out for Small Business Saturday, instead of the usual 100 to 200 patrons on a regular Motzei Shabbos. Few, however, actually bought any food items.
“They came to pay off balances or to get credit. They came; they swiped. They came; they swiped. Nobody actually spent money to get cash back.”
Social media was abuzz last night with pictures and stories of Jewish stores throughout the New York and New Jersey area that accommodated customers that came in with multiple cards. VIN News has confirmed at least one store than ran through dozens of American Express cards for a single customer totaling over $5,000. The owner has asked to remain anonymous.
Tuvia’s Seforim, Judaica and Gifts in Monsey saw a nice turnout, but had an even better showing from virtual customers who supplied the store with their credit card info to be entered on Motzei Shabbos.
“Tons of emails came in over the last few days for Small Business Saturday,” said Steve Rots. “We had a minimum of six credit card machines, maybe even seven or eight.”
Several stores reportedly had separate lines for customers with multiple American Express cards to accommodate their lengthier transactions.
At Rockland Kosher Supermarket in Monsey, regular announcements advised customers that there were two registers set aside for customers with five or more American Express cards, while just down the road at Evergreen, signs at the registers advised customers that no more than six American Express cards would be allowed per register. The store experience a rush early on in the night, a lull at approximately 9 PM and then another crush of customer from about 10 PM to midnight.
“We had all 15 registers open and lines until the back,” said manager Shulem Feder. “People were going crazy stocking up and swiping their cards. It was a very good experience to boost the economy. It was good for us, good for people and good for American Express.”