A busy shopping season is approaching. Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 23 this year) — is regarded as the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Cyber Monday is its close kin — the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend, when online retailers tout big bargains. The National Retail Federation predicts a banner Black Friday for 2018 — consumers say they will spend an average of $1,007 this year, up 4.1 percent from the $967 they thought they'd spend last year.
Conventional wisdom has it that small businesses can counter the clout of large-scale retailers by nimble responses to changes in the marketplace. In addition, small firms may be more adept at customer service, including post-sale returns and transaction support, beating the capabilities of big competitors.
Here are some tips you can leverage to make the most of these holiday sales opportunities.
Make holiday sales pitches before the holidays
You've already done your promotional pushes, right? You used the preceding months to build excitement about holiday shopping via teasers on your website, a focused email campaign (perhaps with special offers: eye-catching gift suggestions, invitations to store events, and exclusive purchasing opportunities) and mailed advertisements. Black Friday updates generate interest. And clearly identifiable calls to action prompt online purchases and shopping in your brick-and-mortar outlet.
Presumably, you're maintaining a healthy presence on the social media platforms most often visited by your target audience. Prior to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, get the most from paid and free promotions on Twitter and Facebook. Keep inviting people to follow you on Twitter and "like" your business Facebook page. Put up fresh, informative content that engages your followers and motivates them to share your posts. Facebook and Twitter have analytics tools that reveal when your content gets the most views. Consider sharing and posting new material during these high-traffic times.
Optimize your business website
Today's shoppers often go online to scope out particular items and the best deals. It's critical that your website offers accurate information and operates glitch-free. Test your site page by page for load times, complete product descriptions, broken links and ease of shopping cart functions. There's no point in attracting customers and guiding them through the buying experience if they get jammed up at the moment they try to purchase your product or service.
Keep in mind that today nearly $1 in every $4 spent in the U.S. is on a mobile device. Notably, mobile shopping rates vary by product category. E-commerce spending ranges from 58 percent for toys and hobbies to 13 percent for computer hardware. Ensure that your website is structured for easy use by shoppers on cell phones or tablets: big buttons, prominent contact information, as well as minimal steps and customer information required for checkout.
Consider your staffing situation
If you anticipate needing additional staff, now's a good time to review your hiring and training processes. Look for qualified temporary workers who can provide reliable sales and customer support and assist in other back-end operations. During busy days, put your most talented, customer-friendly employees on the sales floor, so you can be reasonably assured your business is represented as competent and pleasant.
Maintain strict cyber security
On Cyber Monday — and any other day of the year — you need to stay ahead of the ever-present threat of cyber crime. Businesses of all sizes can fall prey. In fact, hackers and other online thieves often target smaller businesses, assuming they're less protected than their larger counterparts. A 2017 Paychex survey found that 68 percent of small business owners weren't concerned about cyber threats. Despite this, many respondents admitted that they’re not immune to a potential cyber attack.
To protect your company and your customers' information against digital thievery and vandalism:
- Stay updated on changing threats: Understand security risks such as malware, phishing schemes and networks compromised by vulnerabilities in mobile devices, public Wi-Fi, etc.
- Establish and enforce a strict password policy: All employees (including the owner or CEO) should use lengthy, complex passwords for all devices, at all times.
- Provide ongoing employee training: Constant cyber security training ensures employees can identify current and emerging threats, and know procedures to mitigate a potential security breach.
- Back up data regularly: Replicate all pertinent company data on a frequent schedule. You may want to back up sensitive data both in the cloud and on an external hard drive to moderate damage from a successful data breach.
Never let your guard down when it comes to protecting invaluable business information.
Make things easier for customers
Customers will appreciate your business all the more if you simplify the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping experience. You may consider:
- Setting up a register just for gift-card sales;
- Giving discounts or providing free gift-wrapping for items over a certain dollar amount; and
- Offering free shipping to entice current and prospective customers.
Partner with other small businesses for maximum ROI
Many small companies find strength in numbers for Black Friday/Cyber Monday promotions. Enlist the help of a complementary small business and explore opportunities to:
- Share expenses for a focused marketing campaign;
- Host a joint shopping event;
- Promote an exchange of coupons and marketing material; and
- Post Black Friday signage in both stores to boost interest.
Just a few examples of complementary business pairings may include bookshops and coffee shops, nightclubs and takeout food, and gyms and athletic apparel stores, to name a few. This partnership should emphasize to customers how your companies' alliance can benefit them.
Don't delay in readying your online or physical retail store for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Doing things right could translate into sales sufficient to carry your business through the rest of the year.