5 tips to help retailers prepare their storefronts and websites for the holidays
By Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media & SmallBizDaily.com
Roll up your sleeves, because the 2018 holiday shopping season is going to be a good one. Holiday e-commerce sales are expected to increase between 17 and 22 percent this year, according to Deloitte’s annual retail holiday sales forecast. Overall retail sales (online and in-store) are projected to grow at least another 5 percent over last year, with total holiday sales at a projected $1.1 trillion. Although foot traffic to retail stores continues to “decline,” it remains a relative term: Last year, nearly 85 percent of holiday sales took place in brick-and-mortar stores.
There are plenty of opportunities for retailers to make the most of the upcoming holiday season. Hanukkah is relatively early in the year, and there are 34 shopping days (the maximum possible) between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
So how can you take advantage of the rosy outlook for 2018 holiday shopping?
1. Plan ahead for everything from cash flow to staffing
Review last year’s sales figures, marketing efforts, and staffing needs, so you can make projections for 2018. What worked for your business last year, and what do you need to change this year? Set a budget that includes “wiggle room” for last-minute needs such as rush orders or temporary employees. Have a backup plan (such as a line of credit) in place to get you through any cash-flow issues.
Plan ways to save time, too. Reduce time-consuming processes in your business such as scheduling employee shifts by hand. Cloud-based time tracking and scheduling software makes scheduling and updating easy to do from anywhere.
2. Prep your website for increased traffic
Do a “stress test” of your website. If you sell products online, your site needs to be in tip-top shape. Run tests to ensure your site loads quickly, functions properly, and can handle sudden surges in traffic.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. Last holiday season, mobile traffic grew 25 percent, according to insights from the Q2 2018 Shopping Index, an analysis of 500 million shoppers worldwide. Whether you sell online or in-store, mobile responsiveness matters as consumers use phones to search for physical retail locations, browse e-commerce sites, compare product prices, and more.
If you do sell online, your customers should be able to browse and buy from their phones and still experience great service. With Deloitte’s projected growth, e-commerce sales alone are expected to reach at least $128 billion in the 2018 holiday season.
3. Don’t fall behind your hiring needs
If you need extra hands on deck, start hiring now. (Kohl’s has been hiring seasonal help since June!) A tight labor market means finding good workers will be more challenging than ever, as employees can pick and choose their seasonal workplace. Good candidates are likely to receive more than one job offer, so make your decisions quickly and contact chosen candidates right away, before they have a chance to accept a position elsewhere.
Unfortunately, you also need to prepare to be “ghosted” by seasonal employees who simply don’t show up for their first day of work. Keeping in ongoing contact with seasonal workers prior to their first day can help keep them from ditching you for greener pastures. You can also protect yourself by working with a temporary agency that can provide backup staff quickly if needed.
Having trouble finding enough seasonal staff members? Offering additional hours to existing employees is one option for manning the store. The right time tracking software can alert you when employees are close to overtime, though paying overtime may be worth it if it means you don’t have to hire and train someone new.
If you have an e-commerce website, get your customer service staff ready to roll. Customer service ticket volume rises significantly in November and December, ZenDesk reports. As more businesses add multi-channel customer service options, such as chat and social media, it’s more important than ever to have enough hands on deck to handle the volume of tickets.
4. Start marketing early — marketing is a marathon, not a sprint
Consumers have grown accustomed to Thanksgiving sales, and many now start shopping as early as August. Early shoppers are often looking for deals, so try launching a month of deals with a different offer each day.
Know what shoppers are looking for at different times during the holiday season and tailor your marketing accordingly. For instance, Black Friday shoppers are usually seeking to knock the biggest items off their list at a discount price. As Christmas gets closer, bargain-shoppers come out to hunt for deep discounts and smaller items, which can make them more susceptible to impulse buys.
And if you sell products online, update your SEO strategy. Search engines are still a key driver for both in-store and online shoppers. Physical retailers should use local search directory listings, online reviews, and location-related keywords to drive traffic to their listings (and into the store).
5. Don’t underestimate last-minute shoppers
Yes, the “Cyber Five” (the days between Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday) are what everyone talks about, but successful retailers also make the most of the last week before Christmas. Last year, 14 percent of holiday transactions took place in those last seven days, said Hitwise Senior Analyst in a recent webinar. So how should retailers handle it?
If you own an e-commerce business, do your best to extend your shipping cut-off dates as late as possible. That might require offering employees overtime or getting extra hands on deck to ship orders quickly. Some 91 percent of holiday shoppers are concerned about gifts being delivered on time. Over half say they’re more likely to buy gifts from retailers that offer same-day delivery during the holidays, according to Dropoff’s annual holiday survey.
If you’re a brick-and-mortar retailer, make sure you’re adequately staffed for a last-minute rush right before Christmas. If your shift scheduling software has a mobile app, it’s easy to alert employees to schedule changes or ask workers to fill shifts at the last minute, on the fly.
By following these tips to prepare your website, your team, and your marketing ahead of time, your retail business will be on track for a holiday season of record-setting sales.
Rieva Lesonsky is the CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at email@example.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for free TrendCast reports.