Friday the 13th Costs Small Businesses Nearly $1 Billion
It's the one ominous date on the calendar that, perhaps with the exception of Tax Day, frightens small business owners more than any other.
Although some folklorists trace the origins of Friday the 13th-related phobias back to biblical times, only in modern history has the phenomenon of individuals fearing this date (a scientifically recognized condition known as friggatriskaidekaphobia) become a commonplace reality.
According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in morbid and irrational fears, as many as 21 million Americans may presently be suffering from some form of Friday the 13th anxiety.
Despite the indisputable fact that Jason Voorhees has only maimed and murdered on the big screen, U.S. consumers demonstrate a measurable propensity for staying close to home whenever the spooky date in question rolls around. Consequently, Friday the 13th has become a full-blown Nightmare on Main Street for small businesses.
Dr. Dossey's Phobia Institute estimates that between $800 and $900 million worth of business is lost annually due to people putting off shopping, traveling, and even medical treatments on this date.
"Friday the 13th is a killer for small companies," business analyst Mike Randazzo says, well aware of the truth his pun conceals. "Year after year, small businesses see a noticeable dip in customer traffic and sales on this foreboding occasion. The fears underlying such behavior may not be rational, but the economic impact is undeniable."
A National Phenomenon
Such fears, Randazzo says, even influence the broader investment community. "Today's headlines in the Wall Street Journal speculated about the prospect of Friday the 13th being bad for markets," Randazzo observed. "Well, guess what? The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 100 points this afternoon. People have a way of making their fears materialize on this occasion."
As the Vancouver Sun reminded readers Friday, a 1993 study published in the British Medical Journal "found that the traffic accident risk increases by as much as 52 percent on Friday the 13th, compared to a normal Friday," further evidence that raw nerves and anxious minds may actually make people more accident prone.
Scare Up Some Small Business Creativity
"There can be as many as three Friday the 13ths in one calendar year," Randazzo says. "If you're a small business owner, the best way to approach the day is to have fun with it. Acknowledge the date. Studies show that people experience a mitigation of irrational fear when others openly address said fears and make light of them in a non-judgmental, lighthearted way."
Without being too over-the-top and cheesy, Randazzo cautions, Friday the 13th always presents a magnificent opportunity to promote "scary sales" and "frightening deals" that may lure more customers than normal into your business the week leading up to Friday the 13th.
"In the big picture," Randazzo concludes, "anything can be turned into a promotional opportunity. Friday the 13th should be no different from Valentine's Day, Halloween, or even Christmas. Recognize it in a fun way that puts a positive light on you, your products, or your services."
Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.