While I would agree that December is the most wonderful time of the year (minus the cold), it can feel like the most challenging time of the year for small retailers.
There are big sales days to get ready for and to compete on – Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Green Monday, etc.
There is shipping to deal with – people want their items in time for Christmas and sometimes free shipping and/or fast shipping will make or break the deal. Read How to Offer Free Shipping and Still Be Profitable Here.
There is inventory to worry about – what will people want or not want to buy this year? How much should you keep in stock?
I could go on and on.
In addition to business-related challenges, small retailers also find it difficult to wear all of their retailer hats and also be a human being that wants to spend time with family and loved ones during the holidays.
Intuit recently surveyed 923 self-employed online retailers and found that
“over 80% of retailers reported working extra hours each week during the holidays. More than half of those who work additional hours at their online retail jobs said they work an additional 10 hours or more per week. 1 in 4 works 20 extra hours a week or more.”
If you put in extra hours or can relate at all to any of these challenges, don’t worry. Don’t worry because you aren’t alone. And, don’t worry because there are solutions.
Here are 5 ways you can rise above the stress and enjoy the holiday season while also making sales.
#1. Plan Ahead
When did you start preparing for holiday shopping this year? Here’s what retailers like you are doing according to Intuit’s research –
“The survey found it’s most common for online retailers to begin preparations in September, but 1 in 5 prepares more than a year in advance. A tenth of respondents said they don’t prepare for the holiday season at all, carrying on with business as usual.”
One Forbes article suggests that planning for the holidays should begin after the previous holiday season,
“In some ways, planning for the upcoming holiday season starts right after the other one ends. That’s because this is the time to do a recap on how it all went, including sales, profitability, margins, and satisfaction. Knowing the results of the previous season should set the foundation for the next season.”
Forbes then suggests you use the summer to plan products and work with vendors to stock up on inventory. When fall comes, you should be planning promotions and marketing campaigns.
“As much as can be completed prior to the arrival of the holiday season the better to free up time for personal interaction with customers and for any issues that need close attention.”
While we can’t go back in time for this holiday season, you can note when you started planning this year and evaluate if it worked well or not.
Were there ideas you ran out of time to carry out? Did you plan enough time for visual merchandising? Were your social media posts ready in time? Was your website updated when it needed to be?
Do you need to start a little earlier? Did you start earlier than you needed to? Note it, and put it into your calendar for next year. Live and learn. When time is short, stress often creeps in. By planning ahead, you’ll lower your stress.
#2. Learn from the Past
Make sure that you are tracking your orders so you can get an idea of what customers order year to year. Do you analyze your purchase orders? Do you track your inventory? Are you making the most of your sales data?
Obviously, things will not be exactly as they were last year, there are trends and fads and new products, but more information is always helpful when it comes to keeping your business sharp. The more aware you are of the goings on of your business, the more you will not only feel in control, but be in control. You’ll make better decisions which will take your stress down a notch.
If you are realizing that you need a better inventory management system than what you currently have, hop over here and see if we can’t help you out.
#3. Stand Out With Stellar Customer Service
Intuit’s survey found standing out from the competition to be the #1 challenge during the holidays. They found the best methods to be online ads, word of mouth, customer reviews, promotional offers, and email marketing.
I’m not gonna lie, standing out during the holidays can be pretty challenging. I know as a consumer, I have been pretty inundated with ads, emails, direct mail, etc.
That being said, I will add this – the way you treat customers will set you apart. Especially now.
People are shopping more, time is highly valued, and extra needs that require communication arise.
My husband and I will choose to shop on websites we have had good experiences with because we know we can call and get the help we need, especially at this time of year. Just last night my husband called a business to ensure our soon-to-be 3-year old’s birthday present would get here in time. If it wasn’t going to, we would have looked elsewhere.
People feel the same way about Christmas and Channukah. As consumers and gift-givers, we all want to be able to feel confident that we can talk to a friendly, helpful person about our shopping questions and needs. If we don’t, we’ll keep looking.
Bonus – If you and your staff are treating customers well and finding joy in helping others find what they’re looking for, chances are you will enjoy the holiday shopping season more and stress less. Everybody wins.
#4. Don’t Get Left Behind Because of a Slow Website
Because a lot of holiday shopping is done from home by consumers in their pajamas (count me in), you must provide consumers with a smooth online experience.
“‘Time is of the essence during the holiday season,’ said Jenn Horner, senior relationship marketing specialist at DEGdigital.com. ‘If your website is difficult to navigate, or search or simply takes too long to load, customers will leave.‘”
Source: Business News Daily
A good online experience includes a website that is mobile-friendly,
‘”Making sure your site is mobile friendly is the most important piece,’ said Katie Wilson, founder and CEO of TapOnItdeals.com. ‘Over 50 percent of searches start on mobile so make sure it’s easy to view your inventory, click-to-call, and to click for directions.'” (BND)
#5. Analyze What Is and Isn’t Working
Intuit found that
“The No. 1 work-related struggle for solo retailers during the holidays is competing with other online retailers for virtual “shelf space.” To combat this, 85% of respondents said offering sales and promotions is their go-to competition strategy, and of those, the majority says sales and promotions boost profits. Still, nearly 30% say sales and promotions reduce profits, and they only offer deals to keep a competitive edge during the high season.”
Are promotions working for you? You need to analyze your data to be sure. You may need to adjust your promotions.
Shipping – If you are offering free shipping for all orders but it isn’t working for you, try offering free shipping for orders over a certain amount that does work for you. $50? $75? $99? ( I will say, as a consumer, the places that offer free shipping for items over $99 drive me nuts – unless the products are all higher priced anyway.)
“According to Comscore, free shipping continues to be a major driver with roughly 60% of shoppers willing to add more products to their cart to qualify for free shipping.”
Discounts – If you offer discounts, analyze if the numbers are working out. Perhaps you should offer a lower percent off, perhaps you could offer a higher percent off of only certain items rather than an entire purchase, etc.
When you analyze your data and make adjustments accordingly, you will not be focused on the fact that discounts lowered your profit on a particular item, but will be aware of how your discounts positively affected your overall profits.
When it comes down to it, here’s my bottom line – enjoy the holidays as a retailer by planning ahead and treating people well. In fact, that strategy would work year round.
Also published on Medium.