It might seem as if summer is scarcely over. But if you own a retail or e-commerce business, you know that now is the time to start preparing for the fall and winter holiday shopping season. According to a survey conducted by CreditCards.com, as of Labor Day weekend, 70% of Americans had already started their holiday shopping. Clearly, now is not a moment too soon to start preparing your business for an influx of holiday shoppers.
Here are six steps to get your business ready for the holiday sales season.
1. Make Sure Your Website Is Ready for Business
Now is the time to make any changes that are needed to bring your website up to par with your competitors. The specifics will differ depending on whether you own an e-commerce website or simply use your website as a marketing tool.
If you run an e-commerce site:
- Update your security software if needed and display security credentials on all pages of your website.
- Test your checkout process to make sure it is simple to follow and works properly.
- Clearly state shipping costs and deadlines (for guaranteed holiday delivery) at the top of your home page.
- Make sure your search function works well.
- Place customer service contact information where it’s easy to find.
- Finally, do some load testing, which is making sure your site will stay up even if it experiences heavy traffic.
If you use your website as a marketing tool:
- Make sure your site has all the information people need to find your retail store. That includes hours of operation, store phone number and a map or directions along with your street address.
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Shoppers frequently use their smartphones during shopping trips to find nearby stores, and if your site doesn’t load quickly on a phone, they won’t visit you. Your website provider should be able to offer options for making your site mobile-friendly on a budget. Consider adding a “click-to-call button” on your website to make it easy for customers to call your store with just one tap on their phones.
- Update your local search information. Your store should be listed on local search directories, such as Local.com. Many customers will find your store through a Google search, so make sure that your business’ listing is up-to-date. Not only does this ensure accuracy for people that are looking for you, but it also shows your business to customers that perform searches for nearby businesses.
2. Make Sure Your Customer Service Is Stellar
Make any necessary seasonal hires early enough so you have time to train them in your policies and procedures. Run all of your employees through a pre-holiday training to get them ready to roll. Whether you own a brick-and-mortar store or a website, convenience and service are key to making holiday sales. Remember to educate them about any return policies, especially if they are holiday season-specific.
3. Plan Your Décor and Merchandising
For a retail store, plan how you will make your location stand out from competitors with festive decor. Appeal to all the senses with music, lighting, decorations and even delicious smells like pine or cinnamon. For an e-commerce website, plan how the site will be organized. For example, it’s helpful to develop lists of suggested products for different types of recipients, such as Gifts for Mom, Gifts for Grandparents or Gifts for Teachers.
4. Plan Your Promotions
Marketing is key to holiday sales success, so lay out a detailed marketing plan for the period from now through January 1. This should include your strategy for deals and discounts, how you will reach out to customers and prospects (e.g. email, direct mail, social media, traditional advertising, etc.), your marketing budget, how you will reward loyal customers and what marketing you will do each day.
In a survey last year, nearly one-fourth of holiday shoppers reported using promotional offers they received by email, making email the most successful holiday promotional tool. Make sure your email marketing lists are current and complete.
5. Polish Your Social Reputation
Many shoppers use social media and online reviews when choosing where they want to shop online or off. Take some time now to review your social media presence, including any online ratings and reviews of your company, and make sure your reputation is in good shape. Develop a plan for monitoring social mentions of your business during the holidays so you can respond quickly to any negative comments or reviews.
6. Get Ready for the Post-Holiday Rush
That’s right: The days between Christmas and New Year’s can be almost as profitable as the holiday shopping season. Create a strategy for handling returns in a streamlined fashion, which should include a strategy for encouraging customers making returns to buy something else from you. If you don’t already do so, consider selling gift cards for your site or store as holiday gifts. This can really ramp up your post-holiday sales.
Following these steps can set your business up for a very happy new year. Once you’ve set up shop, focus your attention on keeping your shelves stocked and your suppliers happy.