How to Make Holiday Season Success for Your Small Business

Just like the big retailers, your small business is planning for a holiday shopping season that looks very different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On one hand, everyone wants to have a traditional holiday shopping experience, says Matthew Wagner, vice president of Revitalization Programs at National Main Street Center Inc.

“On the other hand there is continued fear around the virus, and consumers have gotten used to—and show an increased preference for—convenient delivery and pick-up options,” ” he writes in a post on the Main Street America website.

That said, the importance of holiday sales to retail businesses is undeniable. Overall, holiday sales represent about 20 percent of annual retail sales each year, but the figure can be higher for some, according to the National Retail Federation, with hobby, toy and game stores reporting the highest share at about 30 percent.

“In addition, holiday sales can be more profitable because the increased volume of purchases comes without significantly increasing retailers’ fixed costs of doing business,” the NRF notes.

The Ongoing Need For Creative Approaches

Half of U.S. shoppers say the pandemic will affect how they’ll shop for the holidays this year, according to a Google study.

“This reaffirms the need for Main Street retailers to remain nimble and agile in order to respond quickly as we gain more clarity around the response of shoppers during the holidays,” says Wagner in the Main Street America post.

If you’re among the retailers who count on holiday sales every year, check out these ideas to help your small business be more successful during this unique shopping season.

1. Start promoting holiday sales ASAP. Most big retailers have announced they’re skipping the day-after-Thanksgiving sales to kick off their holiday season, and instead are just moving up the season. And so should you.

Plan on starting your holiday season sales as soon as possible. Whether you’re an online-only retailer or have a physical space open for business, this is the one year that businesses can take a no-apologies approach to declare an earlier than usual start to the holiday shopping season.

Customers are planning to shop earlier too, given the onsite store restrictions on capacity and hours as well as mail delivery delays. So, waiting until the traditional November timeframe to launch your holiday season could mean lost potential sales.

Instead, create your holiday marketing and sales around a shopping season that starts in October – give them a reason to shop at your business as soon as possible for gifts.

2. Outdoor pop-up sales. Pop-ups have long been a popular marketing tool for businesses wanting to kick up sales during the summer, holidays and otherwise. In the same vein as sidewalk or district-wide sales, a pop-up event gives you a chance to showcase your products. Right now, they especially appeal to customers who prefer in-person experiences over online shopping.

It’s been critical to build up your website for online sales, but analysts also say businesses need to find ways to safely accommodate consumers who want to browse and buy in person, says a Washington Post story by Abha Bhattarai.

“Pre-covid, there was a lot of real world discovery: People would go to stores to browse and make a mental note of things they wanted to buy, either for themselves or others,” says Liad Agmon, chief executive of Dynamic Yield, in the Post story. “Now that discovery is going to have to take place differently.”

More than 65 percent of consumers in the Google survey said they plan to shop local small businesses this season, yet there remains a hesitance by many customers to do that shopping inside. An open-air pop-up event could reach that group.

Find potential sites near your business, i.e., a sidewalk, parking lot, or look for a community location like a park or a farmer’s market area conducive to a pop-up experience that allows for customer browsing (and sales!) while following capacity and mask requirements.

3. Expect and plan for strong holiday sales. The good news is that despite the pandemic conditions, it seems customers are looking to do plenty of shopping this season. In fact, as much as they did pre-COVID.

A majority of consumers in a survey by Radial say they plan to spend the same amount as last year on holiday gifts. Retailers should expect similar or higher order volumes as previous years and be prepared to respond, said Radial, an omnichannel commerce technology and operations.

“The pressure is on for retailers to meet the demands of the holiday season,” the company said in a press release about the survey.

4. Create new versions of holiday cheer. Come up with ways your business can bring the fun part of holiday shopping to those customers who enjoy shopping during the holidays.

If you’re offering curbside delivery, consider decorating the parking area to reflect the holiday season through the new year, according to a post on Mobquity, which provides end-to-end omnichannel digital consulting services to businesses. This way customers may bask in the holiday spirit atmosphere they wait for their orders, it says.

“But if you wanted to take it a step further, maybe your store could partner with a nearby coffee shop to offer seasonal beverages to guests waiting for their order? The possibilities are endless and could go a long way toward helping your store stand out and brightening your customers’ days,” writes Brittany Mills in the Mobquity article.