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If you run a small retail business, the holiday season has a rhythm to it: stock up on inventory, decorate and then work like crazy to make it most profitable time for your company. Often, companies count on holiday sales to make up for slow times and bring in income to buoy the bottom line.
Thanks to the still-soft economy, this year doesn’t promise to be typical. In an AT&T survey of more than 300 small companies, only 15 percent expect sales to increase more than 20 percent, while 66 percent expect sales to be the same as 2010. Part of the issue, business owners said in the survey, is that customers are focused on price, so discounts and sales will cut into holiday revenues.
However, this holiday season can still be great. The key is a laser focus on customers and going the extra mile to capture new business. Here are six ideas that can be quickly instituted so you can make this season as good as possible.
1. Treat your best customers like gold
Many businesses will compete for your best customers with special offers, sales and discounts, so you need to reward your best customers, too. For example, offer a $10 coupon for every $100 spent to thank loyal customers and encourage them to come back for more. If you have a customer database, reach out directly via e-mail or social media with discount codes or coupons. At the same time, make sure you thank them. Do this early to get a jump on competing offers since, according to the AT&T survey, 42 percent of business owners plan to improve their customer service to help increase holiday sales.
2. Find your niche
There are ways to nudge shoppers to buy from you—instead of the competition—at the time of the year when consumers and businesses are opening their wallets. Do you source locally? Do you give a portion of revenues to charity? Have you been around the longest? Are your designs one-of-a-kind? Promote this unique value on your site, in your store and get your staff involved. This sort of differentiator can tip the scale in your favor when a shopper is making a decision.
3. Use tools to help
Holiday shopping is characterized by the need for a particular item in a compressed time period. This need—and the ability to let shoppers know that you can meet it—works to social media’s strengths. If you have an item that is in short supply or that meets a need you know exists, keep your customers apprised via text messaging or e-mails. These alerts will be appreciated by customers who are hoping to find just the right thing in the time available. In AT&T’s survey, 42 percent of business owners said they plan to rely on social media more in 2012 than they did this year.
4. Stand out by helping out
The holiday season is stressful for many shoppers: too many choices and too little guidance. Step up to the role of Santa’s helper by guiding your customers to the right gifts quickly. Be sure your website reflects your current inventory and provides a simple option for searches. Consider adding live chat to your site so you can answer questions right away. Putting together an online gift guide is another way to help shoppers quickly make choices. If you have a physical store, consider hiring extra staff to help make your customers’ shopping experiences more satisfying.
5. Create bundles of holiday joy
You know your business and what sells. Use that knowledge and bundle your offerings creatively to save your customers time and increase your revenue. Your business can differentiate itself with a unique offering by combining several related products or services and selling them at a discounted price—for example, a spa bundling a facial with one or two skin-care products.
6. Don’t let hot sales leads get cold
Not every customer is ready to buy from you the first time they walk into your store or visit your website. It’s important to offer alternatives to keep potential customers engaged, such as suggesting another product that is similar, offering to notify them when new shipments arrive, finding the products at another location or offering free shipping once the products are back in stock.
The stakes may be higher this holiday season, but the same sound marketing principles apply all year long. Treat your customers the way you want to be treated. Learn more ways to sell in this economy during AT&T’s free webinar at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT Thursday, November 10. Sign up now.
Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert. She is founder and President of Bredin, Inc., a marketing consultancy that helps Fortune 500 firms develop profitable, long-term relationships with small and medium businesses. She has advised millions of business owners over the last 20 years through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary and forums.