Despite the summer weather, this week, Selfridges, a major department store in London, transformed 3,000 square feet of its fourth floor into a Winter Wonderland. While its Yuletide sales approach may seem like the epitome of the “holiday creep” that has over time pushed the season from post-Thanksgiving to post-Halloween, it does bring up a valid question for small-business owners: Is it already time to plan for the holiday season?
Though it might seem early to start thinking about the holidays when the weather is hot enough to melt Frosty in five minutes, the fact is that “U.S. consumers have shown interest in early holiday shopping, and this has resulted in early holiday advertising campaigns being launched by a number of large companies and small businesses,” says Jake Dacillo, marketing director for Balboa Capital.
“It is not uncommon to see pre-holiday advertising in late August or early September,” Dacillo says. “This is done to meet consumer demand and gain a competitive advantage.”
Time to Plan for the Holiday Sales
You might not want to pull out your Santa decor just yet, but it is a good idea to prepare for fourth quarter sales as soon as possible.
“Small-business owners should start planning their holiday marketing efforts several months in advance so they can remain focused on their day-to-day responsibilities when their holiday campaigns roll out,” Dacillo says. “Savvy business owners who do this understand that the final months of the year are extremely busy and often involve extended work hours to meet the needs of shoppers.”
Early planning is best, agrees business optimization strategist Darnyelle Jervey, CEO of Incredible One Enterprises and author of Market Like a R.O.C.K. Star. “Using a seasonal approach to marketing and advertising can be a very sound strategy,” she says. “Start planning in August/September and then launch just after Halloween. Sometimes a soft launch earlier in October also works, because most holiday clubs pay out the savings the first weekend in October, and people start spending right away.”
Benefits to Early Holiday Season Marketing
“Although December is the most lucrative time of the year for many small businesses, the months leading up to it can be great for the bottom line,” Dacillo says. “Small businesses that begin their holiday efforts early, perhaps in late summer, can get a jumpstart on their holiday sale’s revenue and begin the final months of the year on a positive note. In addition, acting early can positively affect a company’s bottom line if they are inventory-driven. They might be able to secure inventory at a discounted cost by buying early.”
Of course, it's essential that you’re completely ready before you start offering holiday sales around Labor Day.
“An ill-prepared early holiday campaign can spell disaster for small-business owners who end up running out of inventory or marketing dollars before the holidays are in full swing,” Dacillo says. “Watch your competition to see when they start their holiday marketing campaigns and what they offer, but don’t rush to launch a last-minute campaign. It’s easier and more beneficial to modify already prepared and well-designed holiday marketing efforts."
When developing your early holiday campaign, ask these questions:
- What products and/or services will you offer discounts on?
- Will you have enough inventory to meet shopper demand?
- Will you advertise a loss leader to help drive sales of more profitable products and/or services?
- What are your holiday revenue goals, and do they differ from last year’s results?
- What is your holiday advertising budget, and what marketing channels will you be using to maximize sales?
- If your company can’t compete on pricing during the holidays, can you develop a winning strategy that focuses on quality and highly personalized customer service?
Unsure About Customer Reaction to Early Holiday Marketing?
If you’re not convinced that your customers want to start holiday shopping early, then ask. Use an in-store, online or email survey or social media outreach to ask your clients about their holiday shopping needs and expectations.
“Asking customers when they usually begin holiday shopping and how early they’d like to be able to get started gives you valuable insight into their holiday buying habits," Dacillo says. “Even better, asking makes your customers feel honored to take part in a holiday survey from a small business they trust.”
Read more articles about customer feedback.