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5 Tips to Help Prepare Your Business for the Holidays – Starting Today

5 Tips to Help Prepare Your Business for the Holidays – Starting Today
Image credit: Sofie Delauw | Getty Images
By Staples
Find more articles from this series here.

The holiday season presents a huge opportunity for business owners. The U.S. retail industry generated more than three trillion dollars during the holidays in 2013, which accounted for approximately 19.2 percent of total retail sales that year.

It’s important that you start putting together your holiday season strategy in order now to reap the benefits. This means more than just training your staff and coming up with a clever marketing strategy or promotion. Sure, you need to find creative ways to benefit from the behavior of holiday shoppers, push beyond what’s typical in order to truly stand above your competitors.

Here are five ways to get a jumpstart of the fast-approaching holiday season, starting today.

1. Keep your eyes glued to the trends.

Following the trends isn’t typically great business advice, but it can come in handy when developing your holiday sales strategy. For instance, Google rightly anticipated that last year was going to be the most connected holiday shopping season on record, with big money being spent on mobile. Expect that trend to continue.

This year, the National Retail Federation predicts that business owners will “employ ‘smart’ technology in the shopping experience." That means business owners will be experimenting with new technologies, such as virtual reality, mobile an alternative payments, social commerce and new in-store experiences.

Two more trends to remember: One, customers have been starting their shopping well before the holidays – as early as Halloween and finishing well before Cyber Monday. Two, shopping online is hug business. The NRF says the average transaction size on a computer is considerably higher than on mobile or in-store.

2. Make changes to your website to improve performance.

Your website is going to experience heavier traffic during the holiday season, so it’s important that it can not only handle the traffic, but also provide your visitors with a pleasant user experience and make them feel confident about submitting sensitive information -- like credit card details and personal information -- through your website. Here are a few things to take into consideration:

  • Switch over to HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) if you haven’t already. There are several benefits, including protecting the personal information of your customers.
  • Make sure your contact information is easily accessible, especially on mobile devices. You want your visitors to be able to identify how to contact your business within seconds of landing on your website. You might even want to consider installing live-chat for the holiday traffic surge, which will help you convert a higher percentage of visitors into sales.
  • Test your website speed using GTmetrix and Google’s PageSpeed Insights. Now is the time to correct any issues that are slowing down your load time. If your website loads slowly, visitors will leave and find another option -- your competition.
  • Consider updating your hosting to a dedicated server. Shared hosting can cause problems due to “bad neighbors” and the last thing you want to experience during the holiday rush is downtime. To give you an idea about the cost associated with a dedicated server, Hostgator’s ‘Standard’ dedicated server, which will easily handle the needs of most websites, runs $219 per month. That’s a small investment when you consider how much revenue you would lose if your website went down during the holiday season.

3. Be where your customers are: search engines and social media.

Online shoppers typically know what they are looking for, so you want to leverage the power of pay-per-click ads on Google to position your products directly in front of those consumers that are actively searching for what you offer.

Facebook ads are also great, because they allow you to market to a very specific target audience and you can also expand your promotion to reach Instagram users, allowing you to take advantage of visual content ads, while still utilizing Facebook’s highly effective targeting.

Simply, ads can be an effective way to increase your marketing footprint during the holidays. Start testing your ads now. But remember, you need to know your budget in advance so you can map out a strategy that delivers the most exposure for your dollar. Flying by the seat of your pants during the holiday rush will result in a lot of guessing and wasted advertising spend. The holiday season also means more advertising competition, resulting in higher costs-per-click and impressions, which is a reason most brands allocate more money for this time period compared to other months.

4. Learn from last year.

You shouldn’t have to re-invent the wheel every new holiday season. If you’re not new to the holiday rush, why not look back at your results from last year and let them guide a few of your decisions this year? 

If you have an ecommerce element (of course you do, right?) you’ll want to examine things like spikes in website traffic (when and why?), shoppers abandoning their carts, did your flash sales load properly? After all, what’s data good for if we don’t use it to influence our strategies for the future?

5. Make sure customer service is ready to rock.

Customer service is important for brick and mortar businesses as well as e-commerce operations. Make sure your customer service team is up to date on current sales and promotions as well as policies pertaining to returns and exchanges. There are a lot of holiday-specific information -- sales and policies -- requiring that everyone is on the same page.

Issues are sure to arise during the holiday rush; a solid customer service team can not only help resolve them quickly and painlessly, but also help ensure your holiday customers turn into repeat customers.

Bonus: Don’t forget about the post-holiday rush.

The few days between Christmas and New Year’s can be some of the most chaotic, yet lucrative days of the season. Have your returns and exchange program streamlined so it’s as smooth as possible. This is already a stressful time for consumers, so the less friction the better -- a bad experience with your business during this time can be a deal breaker in terms of future business.

Also, make sure your staff attempts to convert returns into exchanges or store credit -- processing returns all day and refunding money will end up eating away at your holiday profits significantly.