If national forecasts prove accurate, the holiday season holds a welcome gift for retailers: the biggest jump in November and December sales since 2011. The National Retail Federation predicts an overall 4.1 percent sales boost this holiday season, with U.S. retailers expected to hire between 725,000 and 800,000 seasonal employees. Online sales totals are expected to increase between 8 percent and 11 percent over 2013 numbers.
With the holiday season expected to represent almost 20 percent of the U.S. retail industry’s total annual sales, small retailers need to get ready now, even if they have a bit more time this year. Bargain-hunting consumers plan to wait until Thanksgiving weekend to start their holiday shopping, according to research company NPD Group.
Here are eight tips for getting the most from the holidays:
Spruce up your website. Nearly 60 percent of consumers plan to do at least some of their holiday shopping online this year, making online the leading channel for holiday shopping, according to NPD. Women are more likely than men to shop online (62 percent vs. 57 percent), as are those with children at home.
Stay true to your values. Small retailers can’t beat big box stores on price, but they can strengthen their customer connections at the holidays, says Nicole DeBoom, chief executive of women’s activewear company Skirt Sports. “Ditch the sitewide or storewide 30-percent-off sale,” she says. Instead, try more focused promotions around core emblematic products. “Then package the promotion with the language that resonates with your community, giving your sale a theme that distinguishes you from the generic holiday sale,” she says.
Extend your hours. Online shopping is expected to represent more than $100 billion in holiday sales this year, but consumers will spend at least $500 billion more at brick-and-mortar retailers. They won’t do it in your store if it’s not open when they’re shopping. Consider opening early and staying open late during December.
Spread the cheer. People love freebies, so consider giving something away with certain purchases. Andrea Woroch, a consumer expert for website management company Kinoli, says holiday gifts can be alternatives to discounts. “Last year, Target did a great promotion that attracted lots of shoppers where they gave away a $5 gift card for select purchases,” she says. “This not only helped boost overall sales, but it helped boost sales of certain goods.”
Offer free shipping. Kinoli CEO Luke Knowles founded Free Shipping Day six years ago as a promotion for online retailers. Free shipping is the No. 1 promotion that shoppers respond to, he says. “If possible, offer deals on expedited shipping as we get closer to the holidays, as shoppers want to know they have options for last-minute shopping.” Make sure your shipping deadlines and stock levels are communicated clearly so customers don’t miss out on ordering in time.
Hire staff and focus on service. As a small business, personalized customer service is your best asset. “The holiday season is a stressful time, and having plenty of people responding to customer service inquiries and fulfillment requests is key to a positive customer experience and return business,” Knowles says.
Arrange some special deals. No, you can’t compete on price, but cost-conscious consumers will be looking for unique products and good deals this holiday season. Michele Loeper, marketing manager at fair-trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, likes doing one-day deep discount sales. “Also consider come-back offers. They can be especially enticing during those last-minute panic days leading up to the holiday,” she says. In the store, she makes sure to display some prewrapped grab-and-go items in categories like “foodie gifts” or “hostess gifts” that time-pressed shoppers can pick up on the way to a party.
Get organized. Eileen Mockus, CEO of home furnishings company Coyuchi, builds a seasonal calendar with every activity mapped out to the end of the year. “The holiday season goes all the way through the New Year, so make every day count,” she says. “Put together events, promotions, product introductions, shipping offers, e-mails, and other marketing offers. Plan ahead so the details are figured out and at the busiest time of year all you are focused on is flawless execution.”