Preparing your (Small) Business for Holiday Shopping in 2013

Preparing your (Small) Business for Holiday Shopping in 2013

by Stephanie Morrow, December 2013

If you noticed Christmas merchandise for sale at the beginning of October, that's because the holiday shopping season has been starting earlier and earlier each year. Shoppers like to take advantage of Black Friday deals, and a few stores even stayed open Thanksgiving Day, hoping to attract the diehard early birds.

Although it may seem unusual to see shelves full of Christmas tree lights next to a row of Halloween costumes, many large retail stores, such as Kohl's, Macy's and Costco, begin marketing to their holiday shoppers in preparation for the kickoff of the holiday shopping season, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and continues through the day after Christmas.

Holiday Shopping Trends

Research from business products and marketing services provider Deluxe Corp. shows that, despite the government shutdown, small businesses should prepare for an even busier holiday shopping season than last year. Their Annual Holiday Shopping Survey indicates 35 percent of consumers plan to shop locally at small business, up from 27 percent in 2012. Of the 1,000 respondents, 95 percent believe it's important to support small businesses.

In addition, ShopperTrak, the leading provider of shopper analytics, predicts the last four days before Christmas—December 20 through December 24—to be among the busiest. Retailers should be prepared. The final Saturday before Christmas, known as “Super Saturday,” is predicted to be the second strongest shopping day of the holiday season (behind Black Friday), followed by Sunday, December 22 and Friday, December 20.

To remain competitive with huge national retailers, small businesses need not only to prepare as early as the big-box stores, but also find innovative ways to attract—and retain—holiday customers throughout the holiday season.

Big Box vs. Mom & Pop Shop

Small businesses have two main advantages over big-box stores: unique merchandise and more personalized customer service, both of which make life easier for the holiday shopping onslaught.

With the increase in online shopping and the prevalence of social media, small business owners have more tools than ever for increasing holiday traffic. Savvy business owners can leverage those advantages into big profits.

But service and unique merchandise will only please customers if they actually go to small businesses and buy things, especially online. To be sure to attract the most customers online, small business owners will need to take full advantage of their e-commerce opportunities.

Shopper-Friendly Websites Attract Holiday Dollars

Each year, more shoppers are relying on websites for their holiday shopping. In fact, nearly 80 percent of customers Deluxe surveyed this year said they will shop for their holiday gifts online, with more than 25 percent favoring small business sites over larger retail chains. To make the most of this trend, small e-commerce businesses need to make sure their shopping experiences rival those of the retail giants.

Fortunately, the same technology is available to everyone. Even with a much smaller marketing budget, small business owners can create the same kind of positive shopping experience as large retailers with multimillion dollar budgets. Here are some holiday marketing strategies, courtesy of eMarketer:

  • Offer holiday specials
  • Promote free shipping with their purchase
  • Make sure your holiday delivery schedule is clear
  • Provide suggestions for gifts on customized landing pages

Above all, make sure your website looks professional, clean and modern, and is free from spelling and grammatical mistakes. The fastest way to have customers lose faith in your business is by publishing stale content riddled with errors. Try shopping on your own site to make sure it is easy to navigate. Overly complex or unintuitive sites frustrate potential customers, which can make them leave your site for a competitor's. Consider adding chat support to your site so that shoppers can ask questions in real time. Twenty-four hour support is best.

Drive Holiday Sales with Social Media

Does your company have—at a minimum—a Facebook page and Twitter account? If the answer is no, you're way behind the times and losing customers before you even acquire them. With 900 million users on Facebook, 200 million on Twitter and 70 million users on Pinterest, you're missing out on huge marketing opportunities—that are free in most cases—by not using social media to your advantage.

The top 500 retailers saw an impressive 240 percent spike in Facebook referrals on Cyber Monday last year. According to Infographic, 48 percent of shoppers anticipated using social media to plan their holiday shopping last year. With more than $70 billion dollars of shopping at stake, small businesses cannot afford to not use social media to market their upcoming holiday deals.

So what can you do? Here are a few ways to help drive sales through social media:

  • Post Facebook-only holiday specials
  • Post limited-time only offers
  • Post holiday-themed offer codes
  • Post pictures of your products offered
  • Tweet a holiday offer hashtag to link to a special offer page
  • Offer an exclusive preview or early access to special events/deals to your Facebook followers
  • Offer holiday-themed contests to win products or gift cards

It's a Mobile World

In addition to using social media to promote your company, creating a mobile strategy can help you acquire even more customers. According to comScore, a leader in digital analytics, mobile commerce is significantly outpacing ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar spending in certain product categories. While an app might not be a “must have” for small businesses, a mobile strategy is essential to reach new audiences and grow your business.

Some tips:

  • Ensure your website is optimized for mobile devices and tablets.
  • Make the checkout process quick and easy.
  • Make your website easy to search.
  • Put any coupons online.

Use Email to Your Advantage

Email blasts are designed to remind customers about your exceptional products and services. Customers who have signed up for your email list have generally shopped with you in the past and will likely do so again if properly enticed. The trick is to reel them in without barraging them with email messages that quickly begin to seem like spam.

  • Ensure email messages stay on target and appeal to your customers' interests.
  • Plain text messages are antiquated, so design a visually attractive email that incorporates pictures and links to your products.
  • Use email to send preferred customers coupons and exclusive holiday deals.
  • Offer additional incentives for shopping on specific days throughout the holidays, such as a 10% off coupon or free shipping on online sales of more than $50 for that day only.

Remember that there is a fine line between engaging your customers through email and annoying them by frequently bombarding their inboxes. Email spam can be just as annoying as junk mail and will often prompt potential customers to delete excessive email messages without even reading them.

Integrate Your Efforts

Although each of the preceding sales tools is effective in its own right, small businesses will see the biggest spike in profits if they integrate their marketing campaigns to make full use of all the tools available. Get that Facebook page up and running, start Tweeting, revamp your site if necessary, attract mobile customers and spread the word through email.