Cash Flow Solutions

Mastering the Art of the End-of-Year Holidays

The holiday season is approaching, and as a small business owner, your eyes might be set on those peak spending days, so you want to ensure you’re ready for them. In 2017, holiday sales reached $692 billion, and this year, it’s projected to grow between 3.8 and 4.4 percent (that’s more than $3.8 trillion!)

Here, we’ll guide you through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday as well as provide some general seasonal holiday tips.

Black Friday

Black Friday is one prime holiday for your retail business. The NRF reported that more than 174 million consumers shopped in stores and online from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday. To better take advantage of this revenue opportunity, check out these five tips.

1. Offer in-store and online deals.

Shoppers won’t come to your store, online or offline, if you don’t offer them special deals on Black Friday. For in-store sales, ensure the product labels reflect the correct price and sales. Customers won’t appreciate being confused about a deal they think is happening if it isn’t. Your online store should also offer discounts on products. However, expand your deals to shipping methods and rates as well. Perhaps if they order by midnight on Black Friday, they can get free two-day shipping (or at least at a reduced rate).

2. Look at previous years’ data.

Check what has worked in the past for your business, industry and local businesses for Black Friday. See if they’ve done better by opening Thanksgiving evening or early Friday morning. Some consumers even respect businesses that don’t open on Black Friday. Be sure to also stock up on your yearly best-selling items that never go out of style.

3. Increase your security.

When people see a great, limited-time deal, they can become aggressive. You’ve probably heard many stories of people fighting each other over discounted products on Black Friday. You’ll want to update security team and equipment, so you can nip potential brawls in the bud or even avoid potential lawsuits. You’ll also want to ensure your cybersecurity is up-to-date, so hackers can’t access all the extra consumer data you’ll likely receive.

4. Train your staff.

On Black Friday, there will be a lot more foot traffic of people looking for the best deal. Prepare your staff for dealing with a high number of people asking questions and long lines. If your deal isn’t amazing to a consumer, they won’t want to wait to buy it. Make sure your staff knows what deals are occurring and for which products. You can also have a quick sheet for them to refer to if you have a lot of products on sale.

5. Lay out your store efficiently.

People love deals but hate crowds. Your store should be laid out, so people can find what they need quickly and without constantly bumping into others. Be sure to make the layout of checkout lines clear, so customers don’t get confused and cut others waiting in line. Also, ensure your brick-and-mortar hours are on window display so people know exactly when they can shop at your business.

Small Business Saturday

American Express started this holiday in 2010 to celebrate small businesses across the nation. In 2016, Small Business Saturday saw 112 million shoppers and accumulated $15.4 billion in sales. Here are five tips to help you rock Small Business Saturday.

1. Extend your Black Friday deals.

Small Business Saturday always falls on the day after Black Friday, so you might be able to ride the coattails of those shoppers by extending your deals through Small Business Saturday. As a small business, you have an advantage over large retailers. While they can extend deals as well, this holiday was made specifically for you. Extend your Black Friday discounts to Small Business Saturday by offering an even larger discount for in-store customers.

For example, if you have your boots on sale at 30 percent on Black Friday, offer an extra 5-10 percent discount for purchases made in your brick-and-mortar. For your online store, offer reduced shipping costs for customers who live in or near your zip code (or even your state!).

2. Market locally.

While Small Business Saturday is important for non-local customers, you have a better opportunity to market to your local patrons. Host a breakfast kick-off with other local businesses or partner with other businesses to offer special deals if you show your receipt from the partner. You can also group with local businesses on your block to host an event for Small Business Saturday, so patrons can see which businesses are participating (for example, a festival with booths or a fun run). Offer information to customers to show them how supporting local businesses also supports the local economy.

3. Brand local.

Investing in locally branding products is also a great way to pull in local customers. From totes to posters to shirts to koozies, brand your business and community in a unique way. For example, let’s say your retail store is in a small town like Lake City, Colorado. You can have specially made products that say, “I left my heart in Lake City” or “Lake City vibes” – something that shows pride and love for the customers’ home city.

4. Expand your organic local reach.

If you haven’t been focusing on your organic local reach, now is the time to do so. You can do this by setting up optimized local directories. Create directory profiles for popular directories like Google Places, Apple Maps and Yelp. Include high search volume keywords, your physical store’s location and your store’s phone number. In your social posts, include local hashtags.

Let’s say you live in Portland, Oregon. You can use hashtags like #portlandshopping, #portlandlife and #portlandor. No matter where you live, make sure you include #shoplocal in your posts.

5. Take out local ads.

TV, newspaper and radio ads are decreasing year-by-year while digital advertisement continues to grow. As such, you might not think to invest in these areas for your small business. However, you should make an exception for Small Business Saturday by taking out ads in these areas. For example, a radio host could provide listeners with a phrase they can use in the store to get extra discounts, or customers can bring a cut-out of the printed newspaper ad for special deals.

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday was the biggest day in history of U.S. e-commerce in 2017, seeing $6.59 billion in revenue. Cyber Monday is all about, you guessed it, online shopping and online deals. Since Cyber Monday is all about your online store, here are five ways to get your e-commerce store ready for Cyber Monday.

1. Make sure your site can handle the traffic.

While your online store should always be running efficiently, it’s important to ensure it can handle the extra web traffic you’re bound to receive on Cyber Monday. You don’t want customers getting mad that your site is taking too long to load, and you definitely don’t want your site to crash if too many people visit it.

If you have various images of each product, limit the number to three or four and optimize them to the right size for faster loading. If you can, try to test the ability of your site by doing a practice run. Double the amount of average traffic you get and see if your site is working as well as it should be.

2. Offer free shipping.

Most e-commerce stores offer free shipping after the customer has purchased a certain amount. However, for Cyber Monday, consider offering free shipping on all orders or lowering your minimum spending threshold. If you offer free shipping after $100, lower it to $50. If you offer it at $50, lower it to $25. You can also offer coupon codes for reduced shipping on all orders. Online shopping was up 16 percent (reaching $453 billion) in 2017, so hook these shoppers in with better shipping fees.

3. Promote your sales.

Even before Cyber Monday, you should be promoting your online store sales. You could include a countdown at the top of all pages and or add the discount amounts on the sides of the pages. You could also include countdowns for other holidays as well (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, etc.), but for Cyber Monday, remember to promote these sales as being online only. Offer customers special deals that they can only get from shopping online. You could even offer codes for extra discounts on your SnapChat or Instagram stories as well to increase your social following and engagement (“for the next hour, use the code CYBER for an extra 10 percent off!”).

4. Ramp up your mobile.

Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is steadily growing, especially as social media sites like Instagram allow you to make in-app purchases (2017 saw a 13 percent increase in m-commerce from 2016).

If your app looks like a mini-version of your online store, that’s not good because there’s too much design on one small screen. Your app must be designed to make it easier to visit various sections of your store with just the tip of their fingers. It should also make the buying experience much faster. Customers should be able to add items to their bags without losing their spot in the app.

5. Personalize your promotions.

If you see a lot of online traffic from across the U.S., offer each coast with different promotions (on top of your all-day discounts). Look at what’s trending on each coast and offer them extra discounts on those items. For example, people in California tend to be on health kicks. Offer the West Coast an extra 5 or 10 percent off water bottles, vitamin powders or yoga mats. You could also offer customers who live in the north with extra discounts on winter wear.

General seasonal tips

December hosts the biggest gift-themed holiday of the year, so consumers will be shopping aplenty throughout the fall and winter. To increase your profitability beyond your projections, check out these seven tips.

1. Spread holiday cheer.

The holidays are a time for joy and cheer, so your small business brand should reflect that. Make sure your social posts, both organic and paid, evoke positive emotions from users and captions that are meant to spread the holiday cheer. Your brick-and-mortar should be decorated accordingly to make customers feel warm and cozy. You can offer free candy canes, hot chocolate or gingerbread men at your brick-and-mortar to elicit positive reactions as well.

2. Set up different ways to pay.

Offering customers various ways to pay will speed up checkout lines and keep your brick-and-mortar less crowded. For both your online and offline stores, offer customers the option to pay with credit card and Apple or Android Pay. Include PayPal for online stores and cash payments for offline stores. Customers will appreciate the various methods of payment and won’t scramble to figure out an alternative method of payment.

3. Offer deals for last-minute shoppers.

We’ve all been there (or at least someone who has been there) – trying to find a gift for someone at the very last minute, in a rush to ensure you purchase it on time and in a slight panic over not being able to find the right gift. Last minute shoppers are inevitable, and 76 percent of adults plan to purchase holiday gifts through Christmas. That’s a massive audience for your retail business to reach. A great way to entice them through their speedy mindset is to offer them special deals. For example, let’s say you have a product that hasn’t been selling as well as other products. You can discount these products and market them as last-minute deals.

4. Boost your marketing efforts. 

Your marketing efforts should focus on two aspects for the holidays: paid ads and organic reach. If you’ve been hesitant to run paid ads, now is the time to push forward. Create specific ads detailing what deals will be made available and for how long. For paid and organic, figure out what your targeted audience is talking about and wanting to see and create posts accordingly.

Social media play a large part in consumer behavior, especially for millennials. In fact, 78 percent of consumers say a business’s social media posts impact their buying decisions. Organic reach and paid ads can both be executed through social media to expand your retail business, both online and offline. However, you should also consider placing ads on search engine results pages as well.

5. Don’t forget mobile.

Mobile accessibility is becoming more and more important for small businesses. The average American adult spends over four hours a day on their smartphone, and that number is likely to continue to grow. If you don’t have a mobile app, ensure your online store is mobile-friendly (and consider creating an app once things have calmed down). It’s important to update your online and offline stores during the holidays, but you need to remember to update your mobile app as well. You can also offer special deals for customers who make purchases through your app (for example, an extra 5 percent off products).

6. Prepare for the worst.

While you shouldn’t assume the worst for the holidays, it’s important to be preventative and take the necessary precautions in case something happens. For your online store, run tests to ensure traffic won’t crash the website and that no one can access your customers’ private information. Have one of your IT employees attempt to hack into your database to see how protected it is. You should also prepare to handle broken products, irate customers, shoplifters and online complaints.

7. Ensure you have enough inventory.

If you have certain products you know will be in high demand, make sure you’ve stocked enough of them. Sometimes customers will get upset or angry if a product they wanted is sold out. This doesn’t mean you should stock too much of one item, but try to assess how large of a purchase increase you expect to see and stock up accordingly.

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