Christmas is a crucial time for independent retailers many of whom earn up to half their annual sales during this busy season. Last Christmas was an especially bumper year for SMEs with sales jumping 24%  year on year, as consumers side-lined the bigger chains. Make sure you capitalise on the 2016 Christmas rush by optimising your online and instore presence to grab shoppers’ attention. Here are some timely tips to help you get ready.

1.) Let customers know what you’re planning for Christmas. If you intend to run any special offers, for example flash sales, over the Christmas period, let people know as early as possible, using all available marketing channels. To communicate your offers:

  • Create festive store windows in your bricks & mortar store and feature offers prominently on your webstore’s home page.
  • Post frequently to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Link your posts back to your site to drive traffic to your site or store. 
  • Send out emails – maybe in the form of ‘drip’ or teaser campaigns.  
2.) Make sure your website can cope with the extra festive traffic. Remember the Christmas season runs from November to January, with the biggest concentration of Christmas sales last year taking place in the week of Black Friday. Ensure your website isn’t liable to crash during these peak times, and that it loads quickly. Otherwise time-pressed shoppers will leave your site and they’ll be unlikely to visit again. So, stress test your website to ensure it can take the strain. Also, importantly, mobile-optimise your site and provide visitors with a good online experience no matter what device they happen to be using. Use Google Webmaster tools to check how mobile-friendly your site it.
3.) Update your site for Christmas. Update content and use Christmas keywords to help shoppers find you in search results. Decorate your site with graphics such as festive banners, colours and Call to Actions, or even add Christmas-themed landing pages. Consider implementing a short-term PPC campaign to push extra Christmas traffic your way to Christmas pages. 
4.) Fine tune your inventory by checking back over last year’s figures to remind yourself what sold well and what didn’t. Did sales of a particular product spike at Christmas? Did some suppliers take longer than usual to deliver over the festive period? If you source from overseas be aware of delivery times over Christmas. Longer delivery times needn’t be a problem – so long as you know about them. Pay attention to items you’re thinking of discounting so you don’t end up underprepared. 
5.) Be flexible and prompt with deliveries over Christmas. Don’t overpromise and don’t disappoint customers at this key time of year. Shoppers want convenience along with the certainty of receiving their products on time. Not everyone expects next day delivery if the price is right, but make sure you indicate clearly and accurately what your policy is and the same thing applies to returns. Most people now expect free returns so try to offer this if you can. 
6.) Make sure you have enough staff on hand to cope with the Christmas rush. Respond to queries as soon as possible and get any problems sorted ASAP. And make sure you have enough people to handle any returns post-Christmas - research indicates customer service requirements are at their highest in January.
7.) Use social media to help you communicate with customers, and be on your guard for negative comments. Should you be the recipient of a negative tweet be on hand to repair any damage before things go any further. Negative publicity is the last thing you want people to see as they’re browsing for gifts.
8.) Extend your holiday opening times. Frazzled Christmas shoppers have to squeeze their festive purchasing into busy work schedules, so make things easier for them by offering extra flexibility when it comes to opening hours around Christmas. You’ll inevitably need to open longer to meet consumer demand – and communicate these times to customers so they can plan their visit or shopping trip in advance. 
9.) Chase up outstanding invoices. Non-retailers tend to wind down as the holiday season approaches so try to ensure your invoices get paid before staff head off on their Christmas holidays. With February historically the worst for cash flow for many SMEs this is an essential. If you anticipate a struggle you could even offer an incentive for early payment. 
10.) A customer’s not just for Christmas. Going into the New Year keep in touch with your Christmas customers and remind them of your presence. Tell them you’re looking forward to continuing the relationship into 2017 and target them with promotions based on their purchasing behaviour. Use this opportunity to encourage post-holiday purchases by cross-selling or introducing them to new lines. 
Christmas can and should be a wonderful time of year for you as a business owner - so long as you go into the festive season prepared. Ensure your operational systems can take the strain and be aware of the new peak times including Black Friday. Start your preparations right away – and have a happy prosperous Christmas 2017.

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