Doing something special for the holiday season
SCORE Cape Cod and the Islands
Question: What can I do that is 'special' for this holiday season?
Answer: We all know the pandemic has thrown a wrench into the economy with burgeoning unemployment. Business, especially local retail and hospitality, is suffering.
Digital buying will remain a reality. Buyers just don’t want to be out and about with crowds of other buyers, preferring to shop at their keyboards in the safety of their own homes. When we consider that up to 40% of a business’s annual revenue is generated during this holiday period, local small-business owners need to step up their game to get shoppers to buy from them.
Brands have been planning their holiday strategy for months — we see it every day in the media. But small business has had its head down focusing on the day to day, not the near future. From the outset of this holiday season, businesses should set realistic expectations of what is possible, given COVID-19 limitations. The answer is to start today in being top of mind when buyers are thinking about their holiday shopping.
Up your SEO game: Most buyers start their search for a holiday gift online. They search the idea and see where the gift is available, how much it costs, what delivery issues there are and how it compares to other options. Then they either click “buy now” or print the specs from their online search to take to a local store to see if they can make the purchase there. If you up your SEO (search engine optimization) game, you let Google do the work, since keywords will find you.
Doing a keyword analysis is the starting point. Use online analytics to identify the words that buyers are using to search for your products/services. Understand what words they are using on your competitors’ websites. Then fine-tune your website so that you will be found. If you don’t have a “wish list” or “gift certificate” offering, consider these techniques to get not only engagement, but return visits to review those wish lists.
One other thought about online prep is to consider a unique holiday landing page for offerings that are specific to holiday shopping. This technique avoids having buyers wandering around your website looking for seasonal gifts. What you don’t want is to make the investment in getting buyers to visit your website, then leaving without locating what they were seeking.
Personalization is still important: Social distancing and limited touch experiences have created a somewhat impersonal shopping experience. How can you overcome the masked shopping experience? Make it more personal. In every communication, from emails to postcards to receipts, show your appreciation for their business. If they feel appreciated, they will return and recommend you.
Be empathetic. Don’t reject buyers who lack a mask when entering your store. Offer them a complementary covering. Expand your loyalty programs to get current customers to share more of their buying dollars with you by designing your program to reward multiple visits.
Offer holiday discounts for inventory that is not moving. It looked like a winner when you were at market shopping for inventory. It didn’t resonate, so conduct an assessment of your inventory and price the slow movers accordingly as 'holiday specials.' Do this by personalizing
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the offering using “you” and “your” to connect with buyers. Improve your “you may also like” methods on your website with email and paid media to gain additional attention to “holiday specials designed especially for you.”
Help those in need while you are generating sales. Everyone knows that people are suffering during this pandemic.
What better way for them to stop the search and buy than by offering a donation to a nonprofit organization that provides life-sustaining services for those who have lost their jobs and have no income in sight? You also might partner with a local nonprofit group so buyers searching your website can be directed there with a single click. Linking to mission- centric organizations creates a value statement for your brand.
Replicate the in-store experience: Sean Gunduz recommends that you replicate the in-store experience elsewhere. If you are a brick-and-mortar business, you don’t have to limit the buying experience to that location alone. Replicate it online. Or expand your footprint with sidewalk offerings or tent parking lot locations. Of course, this option is weather dependent. Sturdy tents with heaters make this option more likely, even on Cape Cod with winter approaching. Find an empty retail location and create a pop-up location to supplement your base operation.
Ease of doing business is one of the key reasons people buy from a particular provider. Expand your “buy online, pick-up in-store” offerings. Why? It combines online shopping with supporting local businesses. The key is integration of online offerings with in-store inventory for optimal delivery time. A sales cycle updating system also is a fundamental component of customer satisfaction. An ability for buyers to track purchases from order to fulfilment to availability for pickup decreases their angst about orders being fulfilled. Updating your customers on every step in the process keeps them engaged throughout the experience.
The use of shopping assistants is another level of engagement that did not occur with any regularity before the pandemic. Instacart, DoorDash and Grubhub minimize foot traffic yet make the shopping experience available to buyers leery of in-store shopping.
Similarly, shopping by appointment and using a concierge make the shopping experience available to many safety conscious buyers.
Ease of buying also extends to returns, which are inevitable.
First, analyze your returns. Was your online description inadequate, confusing buyers who didn’t understand features, functions or benefits of the product they bought until they received it? How does a buyer really know whether Uncle Jim will like the Pendleton shirt?
Make your return policy transparent so buyers understand it from the outset. Think about your last buying experience when you had to return the product. If it was easy, then you most likely would buy again from that retailer.
For additional ideas: “There is no such thing as business as usual this holiday season,” USA Today, 11/11/20; 'Five Tips for Retailers to Prepare for the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season,' ensembleiq.com, 9/15/20; '8 Tips to Make the Most of Your Holidays,' psychcentral.com.
Contributed by Marc L. Goldberg, certified mentor, SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands. For free and confidential mentoring, or to form an advisory team, make an appointment today: capecod. score.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 508-775-4884.
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