The big holiday shopping season is just around the corner. Whether you’re an online retailer or a bricks-and-mortar store, chances are you make a large chunk of your annual income during December. For this reason, it’s important to prepare well in advance of the Black Friday rush. Here are 25 tips from entrepreneurs throughout the country to help you boost holiday sales this year.
- Beef up your e-mail lists NOW. “Email can be one of the most effective methods of alerting your audience,” says Blue Fountain Media’s Gabriel Shaoolian. “Leading up to Cyber Monday or Black Friday, small business marketers should update their email signup forms and give some incentive for their consumers to submit their email addresses to maximize the potential of email marketing.”
- Participate in Small Business Saturday. Each year on November 30, American Express hosts Small Business Saturday. Retail expert Patricia Norins recommends finding unique ways to make the most of Small Business Saturday this year. “Get the media and local officials involved,” Norins advises. “Local media is always looking for a good story.” Norins also advises providing free parking, leveraging existing events in town, and encouraging other local businesses to participate in Small Business Saturday.
- Conduct a website audit. Prior to the holidays, businesses should make sure their site is easy to navigate. Peoplefluent’s Sharon Palermo recommends checking to ensure items are categorized well, searching your site is easy, images and descriptions clearly showcase products, and information on returns is easily accessible.
- Give to charity. Butch Harmon, CEO of No Napkin Needed, recommends donating a portion of proceeds to charity. This will both benefit the charity and make your customers feel as though they’re making a difference.
- Offer free shipping. Free shipping is essential during the holidays. In fact, research has found one of the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment during the season is failure to provide free shipping. “If you’re not offering free shipping, customers will find this offer elsewhere,” says Steve Eilers, owner of SharpShades.com. “We recommend this and see a 30% increase in sales due to free shipping and handling.”
- Check server capacity. As we all learned from the Healthcare.gov issue this year, when a website is flooded with visitors, disaster can happen. “E-stores need to be ready to handle a massive spike in website traffic
and customer service requests,” says Kristin Serio, senior account executive at Uproar PR.
- Use social media. Tracy Higginbotham supports New York entrepreneurs through Women TIES, LLC. She recommends business owners use their social media sites to promote holiday sales as much as possible. “Once they promote or post their specials on social media, it is very important for them to ask their friends or customers to share their posts or tweets with their friends to create a larger potential buying audience,” Higginbotham says.
- Think local. Manta recommends small businesses focus on local customers. “You know your customers and your locality much better than the neighboring big businesses,” a Manta spokesperson says. “Leverage your knowledge to create targeted holiday content, and conduct outreach via email and social media. Take advantage that you don’t have to wait for permission from corporate HQ to be quick and scrappy with your outreach.”
- Provide a gift guide. “When you give your clients ideas of what to purchase for someone, they listen,” says Jayme Pretzloff, online marketing director for Wixon Jewelers. “These visitors want your ideas because it makes their lives easier.”
- Count down to the last second of a sale. Movable Ink’s director of strategic partnerships, Lalit Chopra, told Silverpop, “Include a streaming countdown clock in your e-mail that updates in real time to show the hours, minutes and seconds ticking away until the end of a sale.”
- Collect all the customer data you can. CBL & Associates Properties’ Jerry Jones told Specialty Retail Report that by gathering customer contact information, businesses can regularly send mailings to entice customers in for holiday-related sales.
- Check for mobile optimization. Many businesses don’t realize their websites aren’t optimized for mobile. “With 63 percent of adults using smartphones to get online, a business that misses the mobile boat loses sales,” says a spokesperson for DudaMobile, a service that automatically converts a site to a mobile-friendly design.
- Participate in free shipping day. Each year, Free Shipping Day is held just before Christmas, offering free shipping to consumers with promised delivery by Christmas Eve. This year’s event is December 18.
- Lose the passwords. James Mikrut of Cleverbridge urges businesses to avoid requiring passwords and account creation to make a purchase. “Aren’t there other pieces of information that can be used to access important information other than creating another password?” he asks. “How about the order reference number, which is uniquely available to the customer, or last four digits of the credit card number used or a zip/postal code?”
- Recognize the customer, situation and context. “A brand should not present the same experience to a brand-new customer as to someone who shops on the site several times a month,” says Nathan Richter, strategic services director for Monetate. “Rather, a brand might welcome a new visitor with a banner asking them to sign up for email specials, whereas a returning customer could see a banner featuring a sale on a favorite brand.”
- Test your site. “In order to keep customers happy and guarantee that your site runs smoothly, I recommend setting up ‘real-world’ performance tests to simulate multiple business scenarios across different browsers, connection speeds and platforms — whether mobile or web,” says Micro Focus’s Archie Roboostoff.
- Take advantage of Cyber Monday. Merchant Warehouse CEO Henry Helgeson says the real opportunity lies in Cyber Monday. “When it comes to online shopping, particularly around Cyber Monday, there’s a real opportunity for small and mid-sized retailers to compete with major online outlets,” he says.
- Use existing data. Maxymiser’s Daniel Toubian suggests businesses, “Look at the data that you already have and analyze which segments are driving the biggest traffic surges, then personalize the experiences to turn customers into brand advocates.”
- Decorate your website. Hannah Watkins, director of integrated marketing for Ironistic, encourages businesses to add festive design elements to their sites to celebrate the season.
- Help last-minute shoppers. As Christmas approaches, approximately one-third of consumers have not yet done their shopping. Volusion recommends offering affordable overnight shipping options to customers to cater to procrastinators.
- Take care of the kids. Jill Cartright, executive director of BRIXY, has discovered many shoppers are challenged with keeping the kids and significant others happy while shopping. “Consider adding seating to your store or turning a corner or nook into a play space for children,” says Cartright. “If you sell toys, put out a few pieces as demos – parents are more likely to buy a toy that their child has played with and enjoyed than they are to risk money on one that may fall flat come the holidays!”
- Combine online with in-store. The convenience of shopping online is great, but many shoppers don’t want to pay shipping. Social media strategist Jean L. Serio recommends allowing customers to order online with in-store pickup.
- Offer gift cards. Gift cards are big business, especially during the holiday season. CVS’s GOGO program was acknowledged for its innovation, but many retailers have developed similar programs. Customers are provided a free gift card of small value when they purchase a gift card for a friend. (Give One, Get One.)
- Monetize links. During the holiday season, businesses can earn additional revenue by monetizing their social media posts. “Tools like VigLink Anywhere allow you to insert merchant links within Twitter, Facebook, emails, RSS feeds, Tumblr and more that can help increase business,” says PR executive Stacy Silver.
- Return calls quickly. “Letting a voice mailbox fill up with calls that you never return can result in more holiday sales for your competitor,” says ReachLocal’s Tara Banda. “In fact, 50% of consumers will choose to do business with the company that calls them back first.”
Impart some of these tips into your holiday marketing plan and you just might see a big return. Let us know – which tips do you think you’ll try?