Melissa Zehner, Lendio
After the twinkle and bustle of the holiday season, first-quarter sales can be notoriously lackluster. It seems like customer traffic stops as soon as the Christmas music does.
The eggnog may not be flowing, but you can use a few smart moves to maintain your cash flow and kick off 2019 with strong sales revenue.
Pause and plan
Instead of twiddling your thumbs and waiting out the first-quarter slump, use the downtime to get your business in better shape. The most successful small business owners use sales plans and financial forecasts to analyze trends and make adjustments to keep a steady stream of revenue coming in.
Take some time to assess last year’s performance and identify areas of opportunity.
- How do you plan to increase sales this year?
- Can you cut costs to maximize your revenue even more?
- How do your prices compare to your competitors’ prices?
- Are you seeing lots of abandoned shopping carts in your online store?
- Is your point-of-sale software up to snuff?
Executing on a few short-term goals can help you see quick wins during the first quarter and set you up for even more success throughout the year.
Maintain the holiday momentum
The party doesn’t have to stop in January. They may not garner the same gusto that Christmas does, but there are plenty of holidays in the first quarter of the year: Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, Presidents Day, and Saint Patrick’s Day. And although Super Bowl Sunday isn’t an official holiday, many Americans celebrate it the same way.
Encourage your customers to shop by creating buzz around these holidays. Offer some “sweet deals” for Valentine’s Day or a series of lucky raffles for Saint Patrick’s Day shoppers.
And have a little fun with Lunar New Year if you sell food items. 2019 is the Year of the Pig, so you could discount your pork products and share recipes for traditional Chinese dishes like pork dumplings or barbeque pork belly.
You can also use holiday themes as a clever way to offload all that extra inventory you have sitting around. The red gloves that made the perfect Christmas gift could easily be rebranded as a Valentine’s surprise.
Optimize the return experience
‘Tis the season for returns. The National Retail Federation (NRF) revealed almost two-thirds of holiday shoppers made at least one return in the 2017 season. Having a plan for how you’ll handle returns could put that money back in your pocket.
For starters, remember that returns don’t have to be a negative experience for you or the customer. If you process each return with empathy and efficiency, you’re more likely to retain that customer and, hence, your chance at future sales. On the other hand, the same 2017 NRF study found that 64 percent of customers who “experience friction in the return process” say they would hesitate to shop with that retailer in the future.
If you sell products online, add a free shipping policy for returns. According to the NRF study, 57 percent of shoppers who back out of a purchase do so because return shipping isn’t free. Just this one simple change could result in an overall lift in your sales revenue.
And don’t forget about the option to exchange. If an item is being returned because of an issue that’s easy for you to resolve (such as fit, color, or another personal preference), ask your customer if he or she would like to exchange it for another item.
Start the year with a bang
New year, new you. If you’ve been planning to add a new product or service, schedule the launch for the first quarter. Voila! You now have a brand-new reason to reach out to your customer base — and court a few new customers too. Raise interest by offering pre-orders, introductory discounts, or demos. You might try bundling your new product or service with one or two of your most popular sellers to really boost sales revenue.
The first quarter is also an excellent time to launch a new promotion. Bonus points if you can tie the promotion into gift card redemption, as customers using gift cards spend, on average, $38 over the gift card amount.
Remember that your customers are also feeling a sense of newness as they embark on 2019 with a list of resolutions. Align your strategy with their mindset and highlight any products you have that are related to goal-setting, fitness and nutrition, or getting organized.
This could also be an excellent time of year to make small upgrades to your store, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar or a website. A fresh look and better user experience could encourage would-be buyers to linger a little longer on your website, while new fixtures or a colorful coat of paint could have the same effect in-store.
Melissa Zehner is a writer and editor who specializes in finding and telling the most compelling stories about American small businesses, from grassroots movements to game-changing tech to government policy. She’s written for more than 40 small businesses and currently serves as the editor of Lendio News. When she’s not playing wordsmith, you can find her reading, cooking, or hiking with her dog Spencer.