- Many businesses experience a decline in consumer spending after the holidays each year.
- Starting Q1 off slowly is not an ideal situation for most businesses.
- These tips can help improve your post-holiday sales and keep some of the momentum going into the New Year.
- This article is for small business owners who want to maintain strong sales after the holiday rush.
For businesses large and small, the annual holiday season really is the "most wonderful time of the year," to quote the classic tune. Customers looking to spread a little cheer among their loved ones come out in droves to get the newest toys, try out the latest services and end the year spending more money than they did the previous year.
Yet, when the holiday sales surge is over, companies start the new year with waning sales. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that January saw the largest decline in sales at retail and food services in 11 months. Data going back to the 2008 holiday season shows January consistently bringing a decline in customer spending.
With this data in mind, there are things small business owners can do to extend the holiday surge into the new year. With a little forward thinking and some reflection, what could be considered a slow time of year can propel your company into a better position moving forward.
1. Embrace creative marketing.
The end of the holidays doesn't mean your business has to suddenly return to the way things were before Black Friday. Find other reasons to celebrate that make people want to become recurring customers.
"Right after the holidays is the time to go big and go creative," said Kathleen Sheehan, social media strategist and managing partner at IndieSocial. "You have to keep up the momentum ... it's not the time to take a break; it's the time to do something really innovative."
To that end, Sheehan said businesses should find other holidays to celebrate. There's a litany of holidays in January that could give your customers some unorthodox reasons to shop.
"If you have a customer list, do something special to engage your current client base," Sheehan said.
2. Offer special post-holiday promotions.
Though January generally sees a downturn in sales, that doesn't necessarily mean your business will experience less traffic online or in person. Gift cards are popular Christmas presents that can help drive interest in small businesses after the holidays.
Starting in November and December, give your customers a reason to come back in January. You can do this by offering special post-holiday coupons on some other item after the initial sale.
If your business has a decent following on social media, using those platforms to engage with customers and incentivize a future visit could be one way to go.
"Doing things like offering incentives on Yelp and Google for your most loyal clients, like offering special discounts to people using certain hashtags, are meaningful post-holiday," Sheehan said.
3. Consider post-holiday clearance sales.
One effective post-holiday promotion is the clearance sale. The holidays are a time to bulk up on inventory to meet the heightened, busy demand of your customer base. When the holiday season has come and gone, you may be left with more inventory than you need. Clearance sales allow businesses to earn back money on that extra inventory quickly. Slashing prices will attract more customers, as some often wait to make big purchases until after the holiday. So long as you keep your sale price above your overall unit price, you'll be able to turn a profit. The increased sales volume may help your business in ways you never expected, as it will bring even more customers in the door.
4. Don't go overboard.
Discounts and coupons may seem like the best way to combat the January slump, but Mike Chirveno, CEO of ClearVision Consulting, urges small business owners to use those tactics sparingly.
"The minute you decrease the monetary value of a good or service, then you signal to that customer, 'This is what I can afford to sell it for,' so I recommend figuring out a way to add more value rather than lowering prices," he said.
It may be best to employ other tactics, such as running a contest or offering other perks to entice customers to return to your business at the turn of the year. Offering bonus loyalty points on January purchases or extending warranties on certain items throughout the month not only gives customers a reason to trust your company, Chirveno said, but also makes them more likely to return.
5. Optimize your online presence.
If the January doldrums do come, it may be easy to throw up your hands and consider riding out the downturn until things pick back up in a couple months. That kind of thinking, however, could hurt more than help. According to experts, January is the perfect time to start engaging your customer base online and changing your business for the better.
If your business has an online presence, whether that's through your official site or various social media channels, the start of a new year could be a great time to dust off your search engine optimization skills and get to work.
"A lot of small businesses put up their website 10 years ago, and they just don't keep up with things like Google changing their algorithm or considering that people sometimes use Bing now," Sheehan said. "The website becomes a one-shot investment, but it's a piece of living and breathing media that has to be maintained."
In addition to your website's SEO, social media's importance in today's increasingly connected world can't be understated. You want to make sure your social media profiles are doing the best possible job of promoting your brand.
Sheehan says you should consider your company's audience and bandwidth before jumping into multiple online platforms.
"Not everyone needs to be on Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter," she said. "Pick the channel that makes the most sense for your business. Don't feel the need to be on every [social media] channel and spread yourself thin."
6. Set up email campaigns.
With the influx of shoppers during the holiday season, you have an opportunity to keep sales going in the months afterward: email. E-commerce marketing experts recommend small business owners harvest email addresses from customers through rewards programs, business memberships and other aboveboard means. After the holiday season, if you've been collecting email addresses, it's time to reach out to customers and invest in email marketing.
Work with your staff, and maybe a marketing company, to flesh out your messaging and build an email marketing strategy. Oftentimes, pushing your fresh, new-year outlook can be a good way to get started as a new email marketer after the holidays.
7. Start retargeting customers.
Another valuable digital marketing strategy to keep sales up after the holidays is retargeting. By reengaging with former customers, you can flesh out your brand's voice while maintaining a relationship with valued customers. The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for online shopping; you can build loyalty by connecting with first-time and former customers after this period. According to Wishpond, the average click-through rate for a retargeted ad is 10 times that of a normal ad. Discuss retargeting with your marketing team to establish a retargeting strategy so you can keep sales up during winter's final months.
8. Make the most of social media.
It's understandable to want time to recharge after the busy holiday season, but your customers are still out there, open to what your business has to say. Social media is a great tool to reach customers, develop your brand voice, and stay top-of-mind for potential buyers.
Social media should be used to bolster your overall digital marketing strategy. It should feed into your other strategies, like email marketing and retargeting. By taking time out to develop a social media brand voice for after the holidays, you can stay on your customers' minds.
One great post-holiday theme to highlight is new-year goals and perspectives. By sharing your business's growth and philosophy, you can connect with your customers on a personal level, building brand loyalty and boosting customer engagement as the new year begins.
9. Strengthen your staff's service skills.
Whether your company works on a business-to-business or business-to-consumer model, January is a great time to give your team's customer service skills a boost. One way to do that is to survey your customers after the holidays to see how your staff performed. A "holiday postmortem" can allow your company to ask hard questions and get honest responses.
"That requires getting ego out of the way and really putting the best interests of the company and the customer at the forefront," Chirveno said. "It's about what you can do better overall."
Once you have feedback on how your business can improve, use the downtime to boost the effectiveness of your team, whether that means training your employees further or refining processes to provide a better customer experience.
"Instead of worrying that the goose isn't laying the golden eggs, let's work on strengthening the goose for the next year," Chirveno said.
Matt D'Angelo contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.