Amex commits $200M to drive post-pandemic SMB shopping, $10M to Black-owned SMBs

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After the last major recession a decade ago, American Express introduced cash incentives to drive its customers to small businesses on the day after Thanksgiving in what became the ongoing Small Business Saturday event. That idea is being resurrected — and transformed — for the post-pandemic economy.

Amex is offering cash rewards on a global scale for customers who shop at small businesses that are trying to recover from coronavirus lockdowns. Through Sept. 20, U.S. Amex customers will receive $5 back after they spend $10 at an eligible small business, repeatable up to 10 times for a total of $50 cash back via a statement credit, Amex said Monday.

Customers in the U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico are eligible to participate in the promotion. Specifics vary in each country, but Amex is committing more than $200 million to the effort, an Amex spokesperson said.

Amex also has pledged $10 million to support Black-owned small businesses over the next four years through grants, in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which will coordinate with the U.S. Black chambers, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Business League and Walker's Legacy.

The funds are meant to aid in coronavirus recovery and to address challenges Black-owned small businesses face due to racial and social inequities, and a portion of the grant will go toward Black business leadership development and mentoring, Amex said in a press release.

Amex's SMB shopping incentive aims to drive repeat business both for Amex merchants and Amex credit cardholders, which historically skew higher among users of travel and entertainment, two sectors where the pandemic has decimated purchase volume. Customers must enroll their Amex cards by July 26 through the ShopSmall.com website, which offers a list of participating stores and online merchants.

Amex said 65% of SMBs need their regular shoppers to return if they're going to survive 2020, based on a survey the card brand conducted among small-business owners.

One in four small-business owners stopped paying themselves to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic, 23% shifted operations to e-commerce and 19% instituted pickup or delivery services at their stores, according to Amex’s research.

It remains to be seen whether Amex will reignite cash-back incentives for its post-Thanksgiving push. Amex gave U.S. customers a $25 statement credit for spending $25 on Small Business Saturday beginning in 2010.

In 2013, the deal changed so customers received a $10 statement credit for spending $10, and the following year customers could get that same deal up to three times.

Five years ago the cash available for Amex’s Small Business Saturday shifted. U.S. participants in 2015 could receive targeted Amex Offers for $10 off a $10 small-business purchase in November, and in 2016 the deal gave customers twice the usual rewards points for shopping at small businesses from mid-October through the end of the year.

In 2017, cash incentives dried up in the U.S. while Amex continued its publicity around Small Business Saturday. Last year, working with the National Federation of Independent Business, Amex conducted a consumer survey of small-business spending, and found that small-business sales on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2019 reached $19.6 billion.

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