Summer isn’t even technically over, yet many retailers are already rolling out the wreaths, the holiday lights and gifts. It's understandable: This holiday-shopping season could be more fierce than ever as retailers online and offline vie for shoppers in an evolving retail economy where consumers are still not spending like they used to.
Some retail analysts fear holiday sales could even be sluggish this year as interest rates rise and consumers tend toward big-ticket purchases like cars and houses over lower-priced items.
So how can small and independent retailers get a leg up this holiday-shopping season?
1. Start early—as in now.
Shoppers may snicker when they see snowman sweaters sitting next to witch costumes, but there’s legitimate reason for that: A rather large percentage of shoppers really do start buying holiday gifts in September and October. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimates that 40 percent of all holiday shopping is done before Halloween. Retailers realistically need to be starting earlier to attract these early-bird shoppers.
2. Bolster your e-commerce operations.
EMarketer predicts that e-commerce sales will increase about 15 percent year-over-year in November and December on this year, far outpacing growth at brick-and-mortar stores. Small retailers need to make sure they’re doing all they can to effectively compete online—whether that means making sure their merchandise shows up high in results on price-comparison sites like Google Product Search and PriceGrabber, building out a sales channel on Amazon.com, or improving your site’s search-engine optimization, or SEO (SearchEngineJournal.com offers “18 Killer Ways to Make Your e-Commerce Website SEO Friendly”). The trick is standing out in an ever-crowded online retail world.
3. Think mobile.
An estimated 16 percent of holiday sales will be done this year via mobile devices, such as tablets and phones, according to eMarketer. Online retailers need to make sure their e-commerce sites are mobile-friendly, such as ensuring shoppers can easily check prices and buy products from their iPads. Keep in mind that social media will also play an important role in many retailers’ holiday marketing this year, whether it’s using Twitter to promote deals or using Pinterest to share gift ideas. Infusionsoft, which provides small businesses with sales and marketing software, offers some helpful tips on making your e-commerce site more user-friendly to mobile users.
4. Be price sensitive.
As sales move online, price realistically becomes more important. Many online shoppers use price-comparison sites and tools. That means retailers need to make sure they’re offering a competitive price—or at least one that shoppers won’t balk at. While small retailers can’t always compete with Walmart or Amazon for the lowest prices, they can find other ways to compete with big-box store's attractive price point, such as offering stellar customer service.
5. Offer stand-out promotions.
Retailers need to be more creative than ever in finding ways to make the shopping experience online and offline as dynamic and emotionally rewarding as possible. Your customers may love little perks like free gift wrapping or free shipping that make their lives easier, which can give you an edge over competitors. Deals and promotions can be extra important in the key shopping days and weeks, such as Black Friday and “Green Monday” (the second Monday of December).
Read more articles on holiday shopping.
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