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While most Americans are focused on savoring the last bits of summer, preparing for the start of the school year, and anticipating the return of fall sports, business owners should be looking ahead to the holidays.
While the belief is that most Americans will put off their Christmas shopping until the last minute, past surveys have found that many Americans prefer to complete their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving weekend.
With as much as 40% of small business’ yearly sales coming in the last two months of the year, it’s never too early to start planning ahead.And being one of the first ones ready to go will help you get the early shoppers.
We’ve got nine tips all small business owners should do to be ready for the holiday shoppers.
Begin planning your inventory
With so many options during the holidays, it’s best to make sure you have what your customers want when they want it.
Start by looking at last year’s sales. It’s a good way to gauge what sold well and what didn’t, so you know what you need to have more of in stock, and what you can skip. It can be just as bad to over-order a product that people don’t want as it is to not have what people want in stock.
Also, remember—your suppliers may have ordering deadlines to get product to you in time for the holidays. Make note of these deadlines on a calendar you can easily see so you don’t miss them.
Start Ordering Supplies
Just like product inventory, it’s important to have the items you need to keep the business running.
Shopping bags, shipping and packaging supplies, receipt tape, branded gift cards, and even toilet paper and paper towels. You don’t want to run out of something in the middle of a busy shopping day. Check last year’s orders to get a good idea of what you will need.
If this is your first year in business, talk to other business owners in your local network to get an idea of how much you might need.
Remember to order early to avoid rush shipping charges later in the season. Being prepared can help you meet your customers’ needs with ease.
Review your website
Whether you do a lot of online sales or not, give your website a once-over. As a front-facing piece of your business, it’s important for customers to have a pleasant experience visiting you online, just like they would when visiting your brick and mortar.
Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find your most popular items? Are you on a server that can handle the increased holiday traffic? Does your e-commerce checkout work smoothly? Is your site inviting and up-to-date with all of your logos and branding? A good idea would be to have someone else – a friend or an employee – to take a look at the site to see if they spot any problems.
Put together a marketing strategy
While you don’t have to advertise for the holidays just yet, it’s important to have a strategy in place.
Start putting together a calendar of promotions and sales. Have a plan for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and especially the last week leading up to Christmas.
Identify the channels where you are most likely to get a good return on investment; whether that’s radio, social media, email campaigns, or newspaper and other print media.
It’s important to know where your customers are most active and put the most effort and money into those media.
Review Your Social Media
One of those channels is likely to be social media. At this point, just about everyone is on some sort of social media, whether Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Take a look at your accounts. Do you have consistent branding and messaging across all platforms? What kind of posts do your clients respond to the most? Do you have an engaged audience?
Social media is an easy and inexpensive way to promote not just your business as a whole, but specific products, promotions, and events.
If you haven’t been consistent in posting to your accounts recently, now is a good time to start. Getting people engaged with your social media accounts now means they will be loyal followers when you need them the most, during the holidays.
Plan an event
Another form of marketing that’s a great way to get people in the door, is event marketing.
Events can show customers you care about them and the community. It’s also a great way to get them away from their computers and phones and in the store, which can be tough.
Make sure the event is enticing, has some good specials and sales, and involves something “free”—maybe drinks (21 and up), snacks, gift bags, or a fundraising event in conjunction with a local charity.
Review your return policy
As business owners, you hope that all sales are final. But that’s just not reality. So what is the right return policy for a small business?
One that gives the customers what they want. That means the ability to return something and get their money back without a hassle. They want returning a product to be simple and fast.
Yes, a return policy like this can cost money, especially when customers have paid for their purchases with credit cards and you get stuck with the merchant account processing fee.
But, there are a few reasons this is the best policy:
First; did you know it costs five times as much to bring a new customer into your store as it does to deal with one unhappy customer's problem? Keeping a current customer happy is less expensive than replacing them with a new one.
Second, customers talk and read reviews. An inconvenient return policy could keep new customers from visiting your store in the first place. Ninety percent of adult U.S. shoppers said that a convenient return policy was important when deciding to make a purchase according to a Newgistics poll.
You can have exceptions in your return policy. Just make sure they are published, printed, and easily visible to customers, and fairly applied.
Review your customer service
Similar to your return policy, it’s important your business is providing the kind of customer service people talk about. Not only that, you need to make sure that it’s a policy that is being followed by the entire staff.
Listen to your customers. They may have some really good ideas and offer insights on things you may not realize about your own business.
Deal with complaints. No one likes them, but if they are dealt with and corrected quickly, they can help lock in the customer’s loyalty and even help generate new business.
Take the extra step. Don’t just tell them where to find something in your store or online, show them. The extra care and effort can go a long way.
Plan for future sales
Once the holidays are over, you still want to make sales. With customers usually going conservative during the month of January, it’s important to find ways to get them back in the store after Christmas.
Whether that’s post-holiday sales or handing out coupons during the holidays that take effect in January, find ways to remind customers to keep coming back even after the calendar turns to 2020.
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