Shoppers Spend Big on Small Business Saturday Credit: Small local independent store image via Shutterstock

Consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday this year spent $5.5 billion with independent merchants this past Saturday. This was an increase from predictions of $3.3 billion in sales.

On the merchant side, 46 percent of independent retailers familiar with the "shop small" initiative planned to incorporate it as part of their holiday marketing strategy.

Consumer awareness of Small Business Saturday, now in its third year, also jumped to 67 percent from 34 percent just two weeks ago, according to a report issued by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express. Of those aware, nearly half (47 percent) shopped this past Saturday.

Separately, American Express said their cardmember transactions at small business merchants rose approximately 21 percent compared to last year's results.

More than 150 companies such as FedEx, Twitter, AOL/Patch and Clear Channel banded together to rally support for the event and promote shopping at small merchants. Small Business Saturday also received strong bipartisan endorsement from political figures and business organizations across the country.

On the social media front, more than 3.2 million users "liked" the Small Business Saturday Facebook page and more than 200,000 tweets were sent in support of the small business shopping initiative, many leveraging the hashtags #smallbizsat and #shopsmall.

"This Small Business Saturday was probably twice as big as last year's and the store was packed all day," Leah Daniels of Hill's Kitchen in Washington, D.C., told USAToday.com.

"In an uncertain economy, America’s small businesses have remained a beacon — creating good jobs and supporting the families they employ and the communities around them,” said Dan Danner, NFIB CEO. "We are very pleased that so many Americans sought to give back by shopping small this Small Business Saturday. We hope that support of small firms, retailers, restaurants and other independent businesses continues throughout the holiday season and all year-round. Continued support of this vital sector is one important way to ensure our economy fully recovers and a healthy private sector is restored."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith. We're also on Facebook & Google+.