A small business guide to successfully navigating the Christmas season

The biggest shopping spree of the year has just passed. Once an American habit, retailers this side of the Atlantic have been quick to jump on the pre-Christmas sales bandwagon, with consumers delighted to bag a bargain or two.

Beginning the Thursday before Black Friday and stretching through Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, this four-five day stretch is a commercial gauntlet that can make or break a small to medium enterprise’s (SME’s) year. The combination of online shoppers and in-person foot traffic represent a massive opportunity for commercial success.

That said, the Christmas season is also a long haul for business, stretching through late December. The influx of shoppers both online and in person presents logistical challenges – from keeping track of inventory assets, to securing and ensuring smooth point-of-sale transactions.

Where retail giants have entire divisions devoted to innovating the retail experience, SMEs leave small teams or even just a sole proprietor grappling with not just how to handle the Christmas rush but how to raise enough profit to float the business through slower winter months.


Prepare a checklist

The first thing SMEs should do is make a checklist to ensure they are prepared for the Christmas rush on all fronts – from the warehouse and storefront to the website. Include items like stocking up on inventory, hiring part-time employees for the month, and testing your website for high user loads on both desktop and mobile to ensure it can handle the St. Stephens’ Day and New Year traffic spikes and prolonged traffic loads throughout the month.


Batten down the e-hatches

Is your website prepared for a sudden increase in traffic? It doesn’t matter how unlikely it is that several thousand people will suddenly decide they want to buy their Christmas presents from you. You need to be sure that, if there is a surge in traffic, your website won’t curl up and refuse to do anything.

Fraud is rampant during times like this, so you also need to ensure your security is up to scratch, to protect both your website and customers’ information and payment details. It’s unlikely that you will be hit by attacks if you are a small business, but it would be prudent to check out your website’s host – find out how prepared they are for dealing with these attacks, how long they generally take to get affected websites back up and running, etc.


eCommerce sales strategy

Your holiday marketing and sales strategy should also take changing consumer commerce behaviours into account, such as the growing shift toward mobile shopping. Small businesses can drive holiday sales by leveraging the online technology at their disposal.


Run a social media contest

This is a cost-efficient way to engage with customers; a business might decide to give away gift vouchers to lucky followers who post the best Christmas-themed images via social media that feature something relative to the business’s product or service.


Promote sales online

Your website and social networks should promote sales throughout November and December to create awareness. Shoppers will be seeing countless deals online, so SMEs cannot afford not to do this.


Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising

Create small ads that promote your holiday specials and place them on search engines. Each time the ads are clicked, you are charged a set price. When users click your advertisement, they’re directed to the relevant page on your website.


Send Christmas-themed emails

Send holiday-themed emails that invite customers to take advantage of special Christmas sales and offers. SMEs that use email marketing must give recipients the option to stop receiving emails, so they should consult with an email marketing company or small advertising agency to ensure that best practices are used.


Back on the shop floor…

Host a festive kick-off event: Businesses of all types can start the season in style with an event that attracts shoppers from their local community. It can involve festive décor and signage, live music, a local press release, and promotion or discount for attendees.


Christmas it up

We’re sure your website (and/or physical shop) is just lovely, but have you considered giving it a temporary redesign? It would be unwise to go over the top at this stage and completely redesign the site, change menus, headers, etc., as you don’t want repeat customers to get confused or put off by the sudden change.

However, if you can give your shop – online and offline – a theme that instills a real sense of something special, of that bit of Christmas magic that we all want to feel at that time of year, then your browsers will become customers.


Wrap it up

Christmas is a particularly good time to offer gift wrapping, where applicable. Teach yourself how to nicely wrap and offer it either as an extra or included in the price. Plenty of people are too busy or so bad at wrapping that they will look out for a gift wrapping option and will usually be happy to pay a little extra for it.


Gift packs

A popular thing for smaller retailers to do is put together their own gift packs. This means taking products you already have and packaging them with complementary products. An obvious example of this is if you sell things like soap, bath bombs, candles, etc., put together a gift pack for beleaguered parents who will need some relaxation once Christmas is over. In this way, you can offer gift-like stuff, but if you don’t sell out, you can just unpack them and sell them individually again.


Free gift with purchase

Most big retailers offer aggressive promotions during the Christmas season to entice shoppers, and small businesses can do the same without breaking the bank. Offering a free gift with purchase can help drive sales for specific items, while providing a nice incentive to customers. A good strategy is to offer a free gift with purchase that works with the product that is being bought.


Keeping a balance

Find a balance in which you are prepared for Christmas shoppers without finding yourself out of pocket come January. Choose your own purchases carefully – if this shipment of products doesn’t sell at Christmas, can it be sold afterwards or is it too seasonal; if these don’t sell, will they keep until next year, etc. Also check with suppliers to find out how quickly they can restock you if necessary.


Watch out for shipping dates

Be prepared for shipping. Costs may go up and delivery schedules may change. Stay on top of your shipping options to ensure that not only do you not start losing money on it, but that customers’ purchases actually reach them in time for Christmas. You don’t want to find yourself inundated with complaints, returns, and social media fury over something this simple.


Be a people person

If you work in retail, you may need an extra pair of hands. If you are rushed off your feet most normal shopping days, it’s probably a good idea to bring in some help for Christmas. And don’t forget to ensure every staff member knows about the deals you are offering, the extras such as wrapping, and so on. The calmer you and your staff are, the smoother you all operate and the more likely your customers are to return after Christmas.


Be merry!

Lastly, no matter what your business is, you need to be prepared for people wanting to take Christmas off work. This means any employees, but also outside entities you work with such as suppliers, manufacturers, freelancers, and your clients and customers.


Small Business Advice

Small Business Advice is a free and confidential advice service offered by Ireland’s business community to help businesses grow. 1,250 small businesses have benefited from the Small Business Advice Programme. For more information, call 021 421 1433 or Apply Online today.

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