Just like people decorating their houses for Christmas, there are countless ways of preparing your business for the festive season, depending on the type of operation you run. For instance, if you’re a plumber, it might simply be a question of finding a reliable means of managing any calls that could come flooding in (no pun intended) if there’s a cold spell and pipes start bursting.
On the other hand, if you’re a retailer, then there are many opportunities to make those cash registers jingle more than ever.
Here’s my guide to the 12 days of Christmas planning for SMEs. You may not be able to afford £7 million for a Christmas TV advert like John Lewis’s “The Bear and the Hare” — a lavish animation with Lily Allen trilling Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know in the background — but there’s still a lot you can achieve even on a tight budget.
All businesses need to think about communication with customers who may call over the festive period. While you’re enjoying some stress-free time with family and friends, will people be able to leave messages for your business, can someone else in the organisation field any calls or would it be easier to make use of a telephone answering system?
Online sales are still rising as a proportion of total sales. Have a look at your website and make sure it’s fighting fit. Are there any broken links? Does it provide all the relevant information in a simple, readable format? Make sure it’s updated it with sufficient information about when you are closed and when you will be back at work.
Use your website and social media presence in an engaging way and be sure to add value for your customers. Remind them about your special offers, products and services and think about hosting exclusive competitions, special discounts, awards or giveaways.
Whether it’s a huge sale, an in-store event, a brand new product or service, make sure you use all the channels available to you including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and your own direct channels such as email and database marketing.
Localised, seasonal pay-per-click can help you reach new potential customers online. Consider increasing your bids on relevant keywords — and rewriting your ads to emphasise things like free delivery.
“Out with the old, in with the new” is not the best approach to Christmas marketing. Getting more sales from existing customers can be a better bet than searching for new ones — they’re already your fans! Think of ways of capitalising on this, such as discounts for existing customers and cut-price upgrades to newer/better versions of things they’ve bought in the past.
Go the extra mile for your customers. They need a reason to come back to you rather than your competitor. Giving great service is among the best ways to achieve this. Give some thought to how you can achieve this for your business.
Competing against the big boys is a major challenge. If competing on price is difficult or impossible, be sure to highlight the fact that yours is an independent business and therefore unique. Look at ways of emphasising what’s special about you — for most small businesses it’s the level of service they can offer.
If the items you sell have to be delivered to the customer, make sure you’re offering as wide a range of delivery options as possible. Are you able to offer next-day delivery immediately before Christmas to accommodate late buyers?
Remember that returns usually increase after Christmas. Customers will want to know that the recipient of a gift will be able to change the item if necessary. Think about how you can make this as easy and economical as possible.
Everyone needs elves at Christmas. It’s a good idea to consider temporary workers as a means to be more agile and scale your staff in line with business requirements such as extended opening hours.
If you have staff, they will be under extra pressure during the festive period. Consider running refresher training to ensure they are up to speed. Above all, ensure they have full information about any new offers you are running. The same applies if you take on additional staff to help out over this frenetic period.
It’s like having your Christmas cake and eating it — you’re going away, but you want the business to carry on perfectly. If you have reliable staff to cover for you, there should be no problems. If not, you might want to think about outsourcing your operation temporarily by using one or more of the many business solutions available to SMEs.
We were told that Monday 3rd December 2012 was Mega Monday (or Cyber Monday as others call it). Apparently, on this single day, up to £10,000 per second was being spent online.
There are always forecasts like this, and always on the first Monday of December. I’ve never seen a retrospective analysis to determine if it’s true or not, but what I do know is that once Cyber Monday (or mega Monday) has been and gone the focus of Christmas shoppers begins to move away from online and toward physical shop-based retailers.
With two peak shopping weekends to go before Christmas, retailers need to stock up, spruce up, get festive and bring in extra staff.
The next two weekends are likely to have the highest footfall (especially since few online retailers will be guaranteeing delivery by Christmas on orders placed after 15th due to the overload on couriers and postal services) so you need to be ready to make the most of it.
Here are a few top tips:
So, lots of ideas and I am sure you have plenty more too. The key is to make the most of those two big weekends when footfall should be noticeably increased. And make it a very merry, Indie, Christmas!
Clare Rayner is the author of The Retail Champion: 10 steps to retail success.
Each year, the Christmas retail floodgates open with November’s Black Friday and December’s Cyber Monday and the festive shopping season continues with sales of epic proportions. In fact, Adobe Digital’s Online Shopping Forecast for the United States and Europe estimates that the online retail sector will make approximately $2 billion on Cyber Monday alone.
But the Christmas season is not just a time for big brand advertising — smaller merchants can also make the most of the festive retail fever. Below are some practical tips for retailers of all sizes looking to profit from the Christmas shopping rush.
Finding an original gift at Christmas can be hugely challenging, especially in an online landscape crowded with big brands offering discounts on bestsellers. However price isn’t the only consideration — originality can be a huge selling point. The old adage “it’s the thought that counts” is still true today; people want to know their loved ones have thought about what they would like to receive. Data analyst group Experian predicts that Monday December 3rd 2012 will see UK consumers spend 15 million hours shopping online. And throughout the month, time spent making e-commerce purchases will reach 375 million hours. A lot of this time browsing will not result in a purchase, as people are unsure of what to buy. The success of retailers like Notonthehightstreet.com prove the value of originality and inspiration.
With a vast content universe just a few clicks away from a retailer’s online shop front, it’s easy for shoppers to get distracted as they consider their seemingly endless purchase options. 21st century shoppers like to make an informed choice, so providing them with rich content will be critical to converting sales. Merchants should consider engagement tools such as videos to demo key products for Christmas, or interactive images that let you see how an item of clothing would look as part of an outfit.
Savvy merchants should look at Christmas from a shopper’s perspective. Most of us are faced with a raft of uninspiring Christmas lists from indecisive family members each year. What do you get your Dad apart from another pair of socks, and how can you think of an original gift for a partner you have been giving birthday, Christmas and anniversary gifts to for many years? Rather than taking a product-led approach, merchants should consider taking a demographic or price-led approach and curate Christmas collections, such as “under £10” or “for the in-laws”. This way they can engage and inspire shoppers, taking some of the legwork out of the illusive present hunt.
Shoppers will be actively hunting for promotions and interesting gifts on social platforms (and not always in their free time). VoucherCodesPro.co.uk recently found that the average Brit in full time employment spends up to 1.5 hours per day on social network sites during work hours. That equates to 7.5 hours per week. The most common times for switching on to social networks at work is between 10am–11am and 3pm–4pm. Tap into festive offer hashtags in the run up to Christmas, or run Christmas-themed competitions with the chance to win a gift bundle.
Christmas is a stressful time for shoppers, but it’s a huge opportunity for a merchant to make a favourable brand impression. This should include everything from the basics of offering good customer service and speedy delivery to added extras, such as gift wrapping, personalised notes or tailored free samples. While all these things should leave customers with a warm fuzzy feeling, retailers also want to ensure shoppers come back again and again, so you could consider providing existing customers with special offers to reward their loyalty on an ongoing basis.
Throughout the year, Monday has highest conversion rate for online retail. Data from Rakuten’s Play.com reveals Brits combat the Monday blues with an evening of online retail therapy — indeed, Play.com clocks its highest browsing and buying figures from 8pm–10pm every Monday, while mobile browsing surges on Monday morning from 7am–8am. Time your Christmas communications to hit when shoppers are more likely to make a purchase, whether this is through offers, suggesting items, or even limited edition products that will only be available for a short period of time.
Make the most of the Christmas shopping rush by extending these tactics across all your channels, from your website to social, and from email marketing to mobile communications.
Happy Christmas shopping season!
Adam Stewart is marketing director at Rakuten’s Play.com.