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Updated Nov 30, 2023

13 Ways to Prepare Your Small Business for Holiday Sales

Here's how to ready your business for a spike in holiday sales.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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For many people, the holiday season is a time to gather with loved ones and relax. However, as a business owner, you can’t afford to cut corners or take too much time off, especially during what is typically a busy time of the year. 

We’ll highlight 13 tips and best practices from retail experts and experienced business owners to help your business prep for the holiday shopping season and maximize holiday sales.

How to prepare for the holiday shopping season

The earlier you can prepare for the holiday shopping season, the better. Consider the following steps to ready your business for holiday shoppers.  

1. Plan and set seasonal goals.

If you own a retail store, you plan for holiday sales throughout the year. However, a crucial aspect of preparation for the busiest shopping season should include a detailed review of last year’s holiday sales strategy and performance. This information can help you manage your inventory, tailor deals, create promotional offers, and set revenue goals for the season.

Here are some tips for setting seasonal goals: 

  • Create reasonable, attainable goals. Set yourself up for success by setting achievable business goals for the holiday season. “Make sure that the goals you set for yourself are reasonable and attainable,” advised Stefan Lewinger, founder and CEO of Sock Fancy.
  • Set goals beyond revenue. Lewinger noted that business owners don’t have to define their goals solely on revenue. “Other metrics, like customer engagement and social media following, are … great tools to measure your success,” he said.
  • Base seasonal goals on data. Your seasonal goals should be based on solid data, not on wishful thinking. Alex Tran, former digital marketing strategist at Hollingsworth, recommended using analytics to manage, distill and interpret all of the information you need to shape your business goals for the holiday marketing season. “There is software that tracks POS [point of sale], inventory, etc. and can help you forecast what your business needs to succeed,” Tran noted. “Without data, you will not be able to make informed decisions.”
  • Research your competitors’ sales strategies. Spend time researching the holiday sales strategies of your top competitors. Their methods can inspire you — or show you what not to do.
  • Create seasonal sales and marketing strategies. Use your data and research to create seasonal sales and marketing strategies to reach your target customers. For example, Lewinger suggested getting your products included in holiday gift guides or “best of” lists. Examine which online sales and marketing strategies worked well for your business in previous years, and see how you can apply them to this year’s plan to help set your business up for success.
TipTip
Set customer engagement goals for the holiday season to help build brand loyalty throughout the year.

2. Secure sufficient working capital.

During the holidays, it may be necessary to have more funds readily available to increase inventory, hire full-time or part-time seasonal staff, or set up holiday displays.

“If pre-holiday business has been slow or you otherwise don’t have sufficient cash on hand to give the season your very best shot, talk to your banker or local community lender about securing a line of credit or short-term loan,” suggested Paola Garcia-Villari, managing vice president at Pursuit.

According to Garcia-Villari, many lenders have reasonable interest rates and repayment terms and quick turnarounds from approval to funding. However, business owners should shop around to ensure they get the best business loan possible and be vigilant of predatory lenders.

“Be sure that you know what you’re signing up for before you agree to any loans or lines of credit,” Garcia-Villari cautioned.

Additionally, business owners should reach out to their payment processor to discuss a potential increase in transaction volume or to negotiate a higher credit limit, if necessary. While many of the best credit card processors consider seasonal fluctuations, most small businesses have credit processing limits written into their merchant account contracts, according to Geoffrey Scott, former associate marketing manager at Taroko.

“While seasonal fluctuations are taken into account to an extent by your processor, a huge spike could potentially freeze your ability to process credit cards during the busiest time of the year,” Scott warned. “The onus is on you to begin this process. Don’t expect them to bestow any early holiday gifts without prompting.”

TipTip
Read our review of Helcim to learn about a processor with no long-term contracts, monthly minimums or fees — an excellent choice for seasonal businesses with high-volume transactions during specific months.

3. Review and upgrade technology.

E-commerce merchants must ensure their technology can handle increased demands. Update your business technology to ensure it’s ready and able to handle the onslaught of online holiday shoppers. You don’t want to lose potential customers because your website is down or you can’t process credit card orders. 

It’s best to take time earlier in the year to upgrade data security software, test checkout and payment processes, check the usability of search functions, and ensure that your website is user-friendly and can handle an increase in traffic.

Your website should be equipped to handle large volumes of shoppers, especially if it’s unaccustomed to high-volume traffic. Run tests before big shopping days, and have plans for what to do if you experience downtime or crashes.

4. Embrace omnichannel customer experiences.

Omnichannel retailing is a prominent retail trend affecting holiday sales. Omnichannel retailing is an integrated sales approach that creates a seamless shopping experience for consumers whether they shop in-store or use a desktop computer or mobile device. For example, some customers may buy online but pick up the item in the store. Or, they may use a smartphone app to compare prices and then purchase through a company’s website.

Omnichannel shoppers are more likely to return to a retailer to make additional purchases and recommend brands to family and friends via word-of-mouth advertising. It’s crucial to increase contact with these customers while boosting the value of that contact.

One way businesses can be responsive to omnichannel shoppers is by honoring online coupons and in-store deals interchangeably. “Make sure that all of [your holiday deals] are scannable for your in-store sales,” said Mike Catania, chief technology officer and founder of PromotionCode.org.

5. Stock up on holiday inventory.

Nothing is worse than running out of the must-have gift and turning away a new customer. To avoid this scenario, ensure that your online store is fully stocked, with plenty of your bestsellers readily available.

“Stock up on your most popular items, the latest trends in your industry, and specially branded or crafted gifts that make your merchandise stand out,” Garcia-Villari advised. “Talk to vendors and see if you can get discounts for buying in larger quantities or extended payment terms.” 

6. Cultivate online sales.

Whether you sell online exclusively or have an online component to a brick-and-mortar store, focusing on online sales is imperative. Cultivating online sales should be a significant element of your marketing plan to maintain consistent sales numbers and enjoy holiday success. 

However, don’t fret if you don’t have time to get your entire inventory online before the holiday rush. “Make a small selection of what you feel will be hot this holiday season, and offer those items up for online purchase and shipping to the customer’s front door,” said Christopher Mohs, vice president of strategy and operations at Cora+Krist.

To further capitalize on online business growth, merchants should focus on reducing shopping-cart abandonment (when customers add items to a virtual shopping cart but don’t complete the purchase), particularly on mobile devices.

“Online sales and an emphasis on mobile are categorical imperatives,” said Amit Mathradas, CEO of Nintex. “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.”

Did You Know?Did you know
Shopping-cart abandonment is an e-commerce business problem that all online retailers experience. To lower cart-abandonment rates, allow customers to check out without registering to simplify the process.

7. Increase your SEO efforts.

Because online shopping is so prevalent today, your business needs to do all it can to get your brand to the top of online search results.

Here are a few easy ways to boost your search engine optimization (SEO):

  • Publish content that’s relevant to your brand and interesting to your customers.
  • Identify and utilize keywords that will help your customers find your website.
  • Update your content regularly so customers have a reason to keep coming back to your site.
  • Use descriptive links, which is when the words you hyperlink describe what you’re linking to.

“Investing in search terms via Google ensures that you are easily found by customers looking for similar products,” Mathradas said. “This is especially critical for [niche] businesses … to target the right customer as they follow the path to purchase.”

TipTip
To boost your SEO, build an effective website that supports high traffic, is mobile responsive and has a quick loading speed.

8. Market to loyal customers.

Acquiring new customers always requires more time and money than getting loyal customers to return, especially during the holiday season. Encourage existing, loyal customers to make holiday purchases by engaging them with exclusive online offers, in-store events, and personalized discounts and promotions.

“Based on their past buying history, you already know exactly what will appeal to them most and can create personalized campaigns that will convert them” into repeat customers, said Jurgen Nebelung, former vice president of e-commerce and digital at Tea Forte. “Loyal customers spend, on average, 67 percent more than new customers.”

9. Use social media to promote your brand.

Use social media to ensure your customers find you and stay informed about your products and services when they are ready to buy.

“Look at every way to build your digital brand — from posting on Instagram to taking out cost-effective ads on social media networks, like Facebook — that can boost online visibility and keep your business front of mind for target audiences,” Garcia-Villari advised.

If you have an email marketing list, consider sending weekly updates highlighting new merchandise and other specials. Here are some other opportunities for interacting with prospective customers:

  • Responding to comments and reviews of your business
  • Posting on platforms such as Instagram
  • Developing targeted promotional campaigns
  • Creating Pinterest boards focused on gift-giving ideas or themes

10. Provide exceptional customer service.

Today’s businesses must perfect the customer experience for both in-store and online customers. Your support team should be ready to address customer issues at a moment’s notice via phone, live chat, email and social media. 

“Using your deep understanding of your customers, you can create an enjoyable and

TipTip
Use customer service solutions to bolster your support efforts. Help-desk services, live chat, social media and mobile support systems can help your small business connect with consumers.

11. Offer competitive delivery options.

You can distinguish your business from competitors and win the hearts of last-minute shoppers by offering free shipping or quick delivery. 

“Free shipping raises the perceived value of your product and simultaneously lowers buyer friction,” said Augustin Kennady, former media relations director for ShipMonk.

Here are a few ways to offer competitive delivery options beyond free shipping: 

  • Outsource your shipping. Businesses that ship large quantities may want to consider outsourcing their shipping needs. “Some companies that ship 500+ packages a month can outsource their shipping and warehousing operations to a third-party logistics company,” Tran said. “There are companies who tailor plans that work for businesses of any size.”
  • Offer creative delivery options. Businesses that operate on a smaller scale can find ways to improve their delivery options. For example, some may offer a local delivery service that caters to their immediate community, or they can tap into the resources offered by e-commerce giants. “If customers place orders on our site and we can’t ship it fast enough to meet a holiday delivery date, we will drive them through to our Amazon store to leverage Prime’s fast shipping,” Nebelung noted.
  • Offer in-store pickup. Brick-and-mortar retailers can offer an in-store pickup option for online purchases. Customers save on shipping costs, and retailers earn an additional form of revenue.

12. Accentuate what makes your business unique.

Highlighting your unique products and connection to the local community can help your business stand out during the holiday season. Consider offering exclusive customer experiences that large retailers can’t easily duplicate. Or, capitalize on the personalization trend by showcasing your customized offerings.

Here are a few other ways to draw in customers: 

  • Offering free lessons and product workshops
  • Curating gift boxes that highlight various products
  • Partnering with other small businesses in the area to host joint events
  • Forging relationships with local charities to show you care

You can also build your brand by getting involved in your local business district or chamber of commerce. “Take part in any Main Street shopping district special events,” Garcia-Villari suggested. “Some areas also have season-long events that provide a wealth of marketing and brand-building opportunities.”

13. Plan for postholiday business.

How you interact with shoppers after the holidays will have a lasting impact and help determine if they become repeat customers. Find ways to maintain the momentum of the holiday season well into the new year. Use this time to streamline your returns process and to develop a strategy for encouraging customers with returns to use their time in your business to make additional purchases.

“Find ways to engage with the new customers you made over the holidays as well as reach out to other potential customers,” Lewinger said. “Planning for the postholiday season can be just as important to make sure you can hop right back into regular sales once the holiday rush comes to an end.”

Setting up your business for holiday success

The holiday season might be busy, chaotic and stressful for business owners, but you can reap its many benefits with proper preparation. There are countless ways to increase your sales and attract customers. By offering competitive delivery options, providing excellent customer service, planning seasonal goals and using social media to promote your brand, you can use the holiday season as an opportunity to boost your brand and bottom line.

Sammi Caramela and Paula Fernandes contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Kiely Kuligowski is an expert in project management and business software. Her project management experience includes establishing project scopes and timelines and monitoring progress and delivery quality on behalf of various clients. Kuligowski also has experience in product marketing and contributing to business fundraising efforts. On the business software side, Kuligowski has evaluated a range of products and developed in-depth guides for making the most of various tools, such as email marketing services, text message marketing solutions and business phone systems. In recent years, she has focused on sustainability software and project management for IBM.
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