Profit Minded

How to Handle the Shorter Holiday Shopping Season


Some are suggesting this will be the Christmas that Congress stole, but a shutdown-induced cash flow problem isn’t the only shortage shopkeepers, restaurants, and online retailers are up against in the 2013 holiday season.

Perhaps you’ve already noticed how crowded your holiday party schedule is with only four, not five, weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Black Friday is the first of only 26 shopping days until Christmas this year, making it the shortest holiday season since 2002. Last year, shoppers had 32 days to get through their lists.

Research from Adobe Digital Index suggests the calendar will cost online retailers $1.5 billion in sales this year. And in a survey of more than 1,000 small business owners conducted by Manta only 13 percent indicated they expect to have a better sales season than last year, and half predicted that shoppers will spend less.

To salvage the season that can make or break the year, many small business owners will be doing all they can to get shoppers to start early and shop often.

“Suc­cess­ful retail­ers will off­set losses by help­ing early shop­pers know that they don’t need to wait until Thanks­giv­ing week­end to get the best deals,” suggests  Adobe’s Tyler White, whose research report also predicts Thanksgiving Day will be the fastest growing online shopping day in 2013, and that Cyber Mon­day will break records as the high­est sin­gle online shop­ping day ever with sales above $2.27 billion.

How can your business make the most of a short season? Many small businesses told Manta they will refine their selling strategies and are starting promotions earlier, leveraging social media, and increasing email-marketing initiatives. Business owners are also focused on price, customer service, and online reviews. (Those are the three most influential drivers for shoppers, according to Manta).

Businesses are also paying more attention to mobile shoppers. Millennials, who account for $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending, according to Boston Consulting Group, are the most likely generation to shop via mobile device. Twenty percent of small business owners expect an increase in mobile transactions this year, and many also expect their mobile presence as well as mobile coupons and discount offers to draw customers into the store, according to Manta’s research.

Indeed, Adobe’s survey of con­sumers bears out those predictions: Consumers told Adobe they will shop 40 percent more from their mobile device than last year on Thanksgiving Day and on Black Friday. “Cur­rent trends indi­cate that both mobile and ‘local’ will mat­ter more than ever, but the divide between the best mar­keters and the rest is widen­ing,” according to Adobe.

Small business owners will need to be aggressive this year to increase their holiday success. These suggestions for how to do that come from Manta and Adobe:

1. Use social media savvy

While only 2 percent of shoppers are expected to jump directly from a social network to a retailer, Adobe says retail­ers need to under­stand the value of social media in the pur­chas­ing jour­ney. Thirty-six percent of consumers say their holiday purchases require them to consult social media to make a decision.  Adobe cautions retailers not to look only at direct referrals from social media but to “effec­tively use social to drive online sales.”

The company suggests also that retail­ers who offer “more sophis­ti­cated, holiday-focused mobile apps, geo-fencing, and loca­tion-based pro­mo­tional strate­gies” could motivate in-store shoppers to simultaneously shop with their mobile devices while waiting in the checkout line.

And be sure to push a steady stream of deals, gift suggestions, and updates coming to your social media channels to keep your brand and business top of mind to your mobile followers.

2. Calm customers down

Shop­pers with six days less than last year will be frenetic. Highly per­son­al­ized mar­ket­ing offers can cap­ture their atten­tion. Consider offering free express ship­ping for last minute shop­pers and early pro­mo­tions well before Black Fri­day, Adobe suggests.

The tone of your emails and social media posts can also help customers feel less stressed. Manta suggests developing content and begin outreach early using phrases like "Get ahead of the holiday rush!" and, as holiday deadlines approach, reassure customers that "There's still time," and "It's not too late."

3. Capitalize on being small

Competition with big box retailers and online vendors will be tougher than ever for small businesses. But Manta says shops should leverage their local knowledge and connections by creating targeted holiday content, emails, and social media outreach. Small businesses should also take advantage of their ability to provide personalized service that consumers won’t get from big stores.

Bundling is another tactic small businesses can use better than big competitors to sell more while offering unique holiday gifts, Manta suggests. By offering deals on complementary products and services purchased as packages, you can make customers feel they’re getting a great price as well as a convenient holiday deal.

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