Amex: Three Skills That Helped SMBs Navigate 2020’s Digital Shift

The year 2020 has been a wild ride, and certainly one for the books in just about every corner of the commerce ecosystem.

In fact, Kathleen Fiorello, head of U.S. partner acquisition and global capabilities at American Express, told PYMNTS in a recent Masterclass discussion that if she had to reduce the year to a single theme for the commerce ecosystem, it would likely be all about adapting rapidly to change.

“I think there are three words that come to mind when I think about the 2020 pandemic and merchants: ‘pivot, adapt and evolve,’” she said. “And I think all of our merchants and the industries that we’re in have had to do just that — mostly by thinking about how they were going to get back in business in a different way, which tended to be in an online environment.” 

Fiorello said that’s a tall order, particularly for small businesses that were in many cases trying to take on five to 10 years of digital commerce innovation nearly overnight. But she added it’s a tall order that in many key regards they weren’t alone in undertaking.

As the pandemic began unfolding earlier this year, American Express and its acquirers immediately moved to an “all-hands-on-deck” effort, Fiorello said. The company aimed to figure out how it could best support merchants through this difficult time — and best enable their digital transformations.

She said supporting small business has always been a key commitment for American Express and its third-party acquiring partners, although the pandemic has made that support more important than ever.

“Right at the beginning when the pandemic started, we were in touch with every single one of our acquiring partners,” Fiorello said. “And the first thing they said when we were talking to them was: ‘What can do to help support our collective small business partners?’”

As it turns out, there’s lot that can be done to help small businesses — both in terms of direct monetary support and in guiding them down paths that have gone digital and are unlikely to look back, said Fiorello.

Making SMB Support A Year-Round Event

American Express has run a “Shop Small” campaign every year during the holiday season for the past decade. However, 2020 was unusual in that “Shop Small” started early, over the summer. Fiorello said that’s because it was in those earliest days of reopenings that small businesses were at their most vulnerable and in need of support.

“In June, we launched an offer to the base committing more than $200 million to help customers get out shopping with small,” she noted. “It was our largest global campaign for ‘Shop Small’ ever. And we also added in a cardmember offer, where if you spent $10 you got $5 back. And you can do this up to 10 times.”

Fiorello said that campaign had a visible impact. U.S. consumers shopped more than 580 million times during the “Shop Small” campaign, and American Express pushed 14.5 million recommendations to consumers looking to shop at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Fiorello added that it wasn’t just a U.S. campaign, but also ran in 18 additional countries worldwide.