In the retail world, early fall means holiday prep time. Some shoppers have already begun working through their gift list, and the major post-Thanksgiving shopping days —Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — will be here soon.
A successful holiday sales season depends on early planning and consistent marketing, especially if you're a small business competing against retail giants like Amazon, Walmart and Target. Sales and marketing experts offered their advice to help you make 2016 your best holiday season yet.
In this article…
Shopping day guide
Not sure which days you should focus on for your post-Thanksgiving sales? Here's a quick rundown of each sale day, its history and which businesses it suits best.
According to Visual Thesaurus, the day after Thanksgiving came to be known as "Black Friday" in the early 1960s, when Philadelphia police officers used it as a negative term to describe the city's holiday shopping traffic jams. The name stuck, and in the '80s, businesses put a positive spin on Black Friday by rebranding it as a day for stores to "get back in the black." While larger merchants usually rule Black Friday with midnight (or earlier) openings and sales throughout the day, many small businesses also offer in-store and online discounts. Read our Black Friday tips here.
Small Business Saturday
Small Business Saturday is all about celebrating local merchants. Started by American Express during the 2010 holiday season, this sale day encourages consumers to "shop small," and give independent retailers a fighting chance in between the huge Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales of larger competitors. Small Business Saturday is typically geared toward promoting brick-and-mortar retailers, and continues to grow in consumer recognition and spending each year. Read our Small Business Saturday tips here.
About a decade ago, e-commerce businesses began noticing that sales increased on the Monday after Thanksgiving, when most Americans are back to work after the long weekend. A press release issued in 2005 by the National Retail Federation officially coined the term "Cyber Monday," and by 2010, it had become the biggest online shopping day of the year, The Washington Post reported. Retailers that sell exclusively online love to run sales on Cyber Monday, but those that have brick-and-mortar and e-commerce operations can also take advantage of this shopping day. Read our Cyber Monday tips here.
Trends to watch
1. Online sales will continue to grow. Amit Mathradas, general manager and head of Small Business North America for PayPal, said there has been disproportionate holiday shopping growth from online channels. Deloitte predicts overall e-commerce sales to grow by 17 to 19 percent from last year's shopping season, including mobile commerce growth of 42 percent.
Mathradas said that to capitalize on this growth, merchants will need to focus on reducing shopping-cart abandonment — in other words, when online shoppers add items to their virtual shopping carts but don't follow through to purchase those items — particularly on mobile devices.
"Online sales and an emphasis on mobile are categorical imperatives," he said. "A site not rendering properly on a mobile device, or any hiccups in payment processing, can cause a ripple effect in terms of lost sales."
2. In-store shopping still rules certain industries. In a blog post on FTI Journal, Christa Hart, senior managing director of retail and consumer products at FTI Consulting, said that in certain product categories — appliances, furniture, food and groceries — the majority of consumers prefer to shop in-store. Even for apparel and footwear, more than half of consumers surveyed by FTI prefer in-store shopping.
3. Younger shoppers' habits have shifted. Understanding the shopping habits of the coveted millennial market is crucial to landing their business, especially in a brick-and-mortar retail setting, according to Hart.
"In the past, these shoppers would stroll the mall in groups and go from store to store ... [which] led to impulse buying along with preplanned purchasing," Hart wrote. "Today, shopping is still a social activity for millennials, but it's often more of an offline-to-online experience. Friends text photos and opinions of the products they see or try on to each other before deciding whether to purchase — either on the spot or later online."
Hart noted that millennials also seek a variety of viewpoints from blogs, online reviews and social media before making purchases.
What to do right now
Based on the aforementioned trends, here's what our expert sources say small businesses should be doing today to be ready for the holiday rush.
Market to loyal customers. Acquiring new customers always requires more time and money than getting repeat customers to come back, and this is especially true during the holiday season. Matt Winn, senior marketing communications manager at e-commerce platform provider Volusion, noted that offering highly personalized discounts and promotions to existing customers can be a very effective way to encourage holiday purchases.
Richard Stevenson, head of marketing communications and global PR at cloud-driven e-commerce software provider ePages.com, agreed, noting that special "holiday countdown" promotions can encourage customers to come back to your store throughout the season.
"Each day, [you can offer] a special price or product combination promotion," Stevenson told Business News Daily. "These can be announced on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. This will not only encourage a direct sale but also create engagement and repeat visits from shoppers curious to see what the next promotion will be."
Pay attention to social media and SEO. Use tools such as search and social media, so your customers can find you and stay informed on your products and services when they are ready to buy, Mathradas said.
"On a platform like Facebook, you can target the right demographic and ensure that there is a clear call to action — whether a click or a call to drive towards a sale," he added. "Similarly, investing in search terms via Google ensures that you are easily found by customers looking for similar products. This is especially critical for [niche] businesses … to target the right customer as they follow the path to purchase."
Spreading the word about your holiday incentives also gives you an opportunity to interact with prospective customers who are looking for holiday recommendations.
"Personalize your communication, and offer the type of customer experience — online and offline — that will turn a customer into a long-standing patron long after the holidays are over," said John Oechsle, president and CEO of Swiftpage, a provider of business technology solutions.
Cross-sell on your website. Stevenson reminded e-tailers that shoppers tend to spend more money than usual around the holidays, so there are plenty of opportunities to cross-sell on your website's product pages.
"Set up [related] products that you wish to be shown alongside certain products, he said. "For example, if you are selling china teacups, you could also suggest some nice teapots to match." This can encourage additional purchases and drive up sales, he noted.
Offer in-store pickup. A smart tactic for brick-and-mortar retailers worried about online sales eclipsing their foot traffic this holiday season is to offer an in-store-pickup option for online purchases. Rodney Mason, group vice president of strategy and marketing at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, said that "buy online, pick up in store" (BOPIS) promotions will create a better connection between the online and in-store customer experience.
"Getting foot traffic will be crucial to getting many retailers back in the black this holiday season," Mason said. "The BOPIS promotion should prove to be a helpful one this holiday season. This strategy is a win-win — shoppers get an attractive deal during the holiday season, and retailers gain more in-store foot traffic and increase the likelihood of incremental purchasing."
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.