Total retail sales in the U.S. reached nearly $5 trillion in 2017, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) expects holiday spending alone to increase between 3.8% and 4.4% in 2018. Some retailers earn as much as 30% of their annual revenues during the winter holiday season.
If you didn’t take advantage of the summer slump to begin holiday sales planning, it’s not too late. Prepare your shop – whether online or bricks and mortar – for the rush.
Assess Your Website
Consumers today demand the convenience of online shopping, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or at least a Web presence that provides details about your business.
Browse every page of your website, looking at it from a customer’s perspective. Or ask a few regular customers for their opinions. Is your website engaging? Is it easy for a customer to find what they want and make a purchase?
Consider giving the home page a “holiday” theme that starts just before Thanksgiving and promote your holiday hours if you plan to stay open late on certain days.
Equally important is to ensure your website is ready for more traffic as the holidays draw near. Your website traffic can double or triple (hopefully!) in a short time, requiring adequate bandwidth for a great user experience. And most customers will be using their mobile devices to browse your site, which means ensuring the site is optimized for mobile as well as desktop/laptop and tablet devices.
Go Social, Be an Influencer
Even the smallest businesses benefit from social media. It’s where your customers check your hours, send a message, place an order and find out how your business ticks.
At a minimum, create a Facebook company page or keep your current page updated with sales notices, events and photos. Open a Twitter account to tweet about the same sales and events referring to your Facebook page. Consider posting product pics on Instagram, too, and link your Facebook and Twitter profiles so any new posts are published to those accounts automatically.
The point is to drive traffic from one site to another, giving your business and brand a wider audience. While you’re in the social media groove, make sure your address and contact information is up to date on all of your social media profiles and your website.
Another area that’s taking off and keeps an audience’s attention longer than Facebook or Twitter is the concept of influencer videos. Bigger companies hire influencers to showcase their products, but you or an employee can become micro-influencers for your company. Or search your area for a blogger or YouTuber that shares similar interests as your company and find out if they would be willing to become an influencer for your company. You can post videos on YouTube or Instagram, and link to them from your website and Facebook page.
Get a Head Start on Marketing and Promotions
Work on a marketing strategy early in the holiday season so you’re ready to implement it before the holiday rush begins, which is right around Thanksgiving. The trifecta of shopping includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, with shoppers spending an average of over $300 per person. That number is spread across large and small businesses, so be ready to snag your share.
One way to bring customers to the shop or website is to sell an item as a loss-leader, or offer it as a freebie to a larger purchase. For example, pizzerias could offer free delivery on certain days over the holidays. A coffee shop could offer a free espresso with a slice of cake. A hair salon might include a free small bottle of shampoo or conditioner with a cut and dye job.
Another way to get your business noticed is to start a promotion early that gets customers talking. For example, a bakery that sells Christmas and Hanukkah desserts could offer bite-size portions of both in November. Encourage customers to try it, and then post their opinions on your Facebook page or in a tweet.
If you have a well-developed email list, plan to send out a personalized email blast to everyone to notify them of promotions and sales, holiday hours and the like, the same as you do with social media.
Also consider a loyalty program. After a customer buys 5 or 10 items (or services), they get the next one free. Digital programs are convenient for today’s mobile consumers, and do away with punch cards. A customer gives you a phone number at checkout and receives text messages with their point balance. It’s easy, it works and it can bring shoppers back throughout the year.
This one is common sense – check your inventory, determine what you need to fulfill holiday sales (including promotional items) and begin preparing orders. Early ordering can result in a lower price, and you’ll have peace of mind that your plan is underway.
If you expect to be inundated with orders to be shipped, consider contracting with a fulfillment service to handle the heavy lifting for you. Letting another company package and ship orders allows you to scale up as necessary to meet demand while reducing stress on your regular employees.
In summary, be prepared for sales season and create as much buzz as possible. You’ll reap the rewards well into the new year.