Thanksgiving is over, [and] Black Friday is in full swing. Is it too late for your small business to capture holiday sales? No way. A recent study by PriceGrabber shows more than half of consumers expect the best holiday deals between Thanksgiving and Christmas. With the National Retail Federation predicting holiday sales to grow 4.1% this year—the most optimistic forecast since the recession—you can still lure last-minute shoppers right up until Santa loads his sleigh. Here’s how:
- Start with current customers. “Small retailers should target their current customer base—those who already know and love them for their uniqueness,” says Kat Bouchard at small-business consultancy The Simple Art of Business. “Encourage these customers to ‘bring a friend to a holiday shopping party’ or ‘bring a friend and receive 10 percent off.”
- Maximize social media. Shop.org and BIGinsight found more than one-third of shoppers visit Facebook when researching products. “Social-media sites are powerful customer service and sales tools,” says Eddie Machaalani, co-CEO of BigCommerce, which provides online retailers the tools to launch a store and sell more. “Monitor social channels for customer inquiries, and track keywords for possible sales opportunities. Have your social profiles updated with the most current links, photos or videos of featured products, plus contact information to make the engagement experience for current and potential customers as simple as possible.”
- Reach out with email. “Small businesses can compete with big-box retailers around the holidays using their email list,” says Michael Wolfe, President of social media marketing company WAM Enterprises. “These are people who have opted into your updates. If you can create a catchy subject line and provide real value inside your email, people will open it and take action.” For maximum results, optimize your emails for mobile viewing.
- Don’t sweat “showroom-ing.” The thought of consumers using smartphones to search for cheaper prices on in-store merchandise strikes fear in the hearts of small retailers, [b]ut Deloitte data show[s] shoppers who use smartphones in-store are actually 14% more likely to buy in-store than those who don’t. When you see someone whip out a phone, quickly engage to answer questions and highlight the benefits of buying from you, whether that’s free gift-wrapping or simply getting the item immediately.
- Get moving. Mobile-influenced sales will account for 5.1% of retail store sales this holiday season, reports Deloitte. You don’t have to offer m-commerce—or even e-commerce—to benefit. If customers have opted in to receive text messages from you, use texting to attract them with limited-time offers or last-minute sales. [You can also] reach out to prospective customers near your store with location-based “geo-fencing” technology. “Geo-fencing allows retailers to target customers within a set radius and deliver special offers directly to their mobile device,” explains Dan Dufault, EVP of sales and marketing at payment solutions provider Merchant Warehouse, whose Genius Customer Engagement Platform, due out in January, will help small businesses accept payments and engage customers via mobile. Moasis, Yowza and NCR Silver are other location-based marketing options small businesses can implement affordably and quickly.
- Drive offline purchasing with online marketing. PriceGrabber says nearly 90% of shoppers will go online to research products and prices before heading out to stores. Even if you don’t sell online, take advantage of this trend by making sure your store is listed on local search directories and ratings-and-review sites. Use relevant keywords so your business ranks high in search results, and consider bumping up your budget for pay-per-click ads or Facebook ads.
- Offer free shipping. If you do sell online, free shipping is a must, says Mitchell Harper, co-CEO of BigCommerce. Harper cites data from lab42 that 79% of shoppers prefer free shipping to discounts on products. You can make it contingent on a certain purchase level, such as over $50.
- Host events—online and off. “Retailing is theater, and customers love to be entertained while shopping,” says Marc Joseph, founder of DollarDays, an online wholesaler catering to small retailers, and author of The Secrets of Retailing…or How to Beat Walmart. In-store live music, “meet the designer” events, fashion shows, children’s story hours or special shopping nights for loyal customers are just some of the events Joseph suggests. When planning an event, he cautions, weigh the costs and benefits, and be sure it won’t take up too much floor space or distract from actual shopping. For example, All American Clothing Co. is getting into the spirit with its “12 Days of Christmas” sales event online starting Black Friday. “We’ll also incorporate a ‘secret Santa’ on our website, where shoppers can find Santa for free prizes and giveaways,” says Logan Beam, Marketing and Communications Director at the family-owned company. “The 12 Days of Christmas event keeps shoppers coming back to shop for 12 straight days, while the secret Santa feature gets them looking around our website. We’ve had great success with this last-minute shopping event.”
- Milk the media. Tap into your connections with local newspaper reporters, radio and TV stations, and bloggers, advises Joseph. They’re hungry for holiday content, so promote yourself as a go-to spokesperson with a menu of holiday-themed topics to discuss. For example, if you own a gourmet cooking store, offer to discuss holiday menu ideas, hot cooking-related gifts, holiday tabletop décor ideas or the best gourmet gifts under $25.