Define Your Holiday Strategy
This is a holiday season like no other. While each holiday season always brings unique challenges, this is the first in which the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will be felt. For SMB owners, the season, therefore, presents major challenges and maybe – just maybe – some opportunities.
This is because some aspects of this holiday season (such as showing employee appreciation and preparing your business for the holiday season) will be much the same as in "normal" years. Others will be radically different but, crucially, you should recognize that all retailers, of all scales and types, will be struggling. Ultimately, this could give you a chance to make up some ground on your rivals, and perhaps even steal some of their customers.
The key, as we will see in this article, is agility.
First, though, let’s get the basics out of the way. Adapting successfully to a holiday season dominated by a pandemic means, first and foremost, making sure your customers can buy from you safely and with confidence.
The approach you take to ensuring this will depend on the specifics of your business, but don’t be afraid to get creative with your approach. While the natural approach might be to offer delivery options for your customers, that might not be right for everyone: you should also investigate the possibility of curbside pickup.
Moving to online retailing doesn’t mean losing the festive spirit, either. Some stores are experimenting with the idea of holding parties and retail events online – these can drive sales in much the same way as in-person holiday gatherings, but without the risks involved.
If you are pivoting to online sales and events, you should also make sure that you pivot your marketing approach. Small Main Street stores have been hesitant to get into the world of digital marketing, but this holiday season you can’t afford to ignore this powerful tool. If you do, you may be left behind, as a recent survey reported that 70% of companies have invested more in content and social media marketing than they did last year.
If you’re not sure where to start, then start by making a budget for digital marketing. You may be surprised how far a little investment goes because online marketing is so much cheaper than traditional media.
Starting Early, Finishing Late
When it comes to making a success of this holiday season – or, for many SMBs, merely surviving it – one-factor matters above all others: maximizing sales. Given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, it might not be immediately obvious how to do this, but you can take inspiration from some of the biggest brands in the world – Visa and Amazon.
One of the most ambitious ways in which huge companies are seeking to maximize their profits this season is to extend the season itself. Amazon, for instance, moved it’s biggest annual shopping event – “Prime Day” – from July to October, in what seems to be an attempt to drive early holiday sales. The company also recently said it would invest over $100 million as part of a promotion for third-party sellers, helping out many SMBs who use the platform.
For smaller, independent businesses, replicating this approach might mean encouraging shoppers to make their holiday purchases earlier, or making it clear that holiday sales will run well into the new year to avoid dangerous crowds in retail outlets. Given that, the CDC issued new guidance classifying shopping at heavily populated stores over the holidays on a list of activities that are higher risk and therefore best to avoid.
Another way in which companies are seeking to maximize sales this season is to make sure that consumers have as diverse a range of payment and delivery options as possible. To encourage holiday sales, many credit card companies are offering lower processing fees for their services, and SMBs can benefit from this. Research indicates that accepting credit card payments allows businesses to get paid 2x faster than with other payment options, and therefore help increase your sales.
There are indications that this holiday season could be a very good one for small businesses. This is because shoppers are more than aware of the difficulties that SMBs are facing this holiday season as a result of the virus, and are keen to help out by spending their money where it will make the most difference. This means that, if local businesses can stress the fact that they are genuinely engaged with the local community, they could benefit from increased sales.
In principle, this trend should benefit almost every SMB out there. In practice, however, consumers may need to be encouraged to order from them. This is because, especially with many physical shops closed, it can be difficult for consumers to find “local” shops, even if they are looking for them.
A major expansion of local marketing efforts is therefore in order for SMBs. If – as we’ve mentioned above – you are using this holiday season to start a digital marketing campaign, this should be done with a stress on how engaged you are with your community, and how much you have given back to it over the years.
In the context of the pandemic, people are pulling together and supporting each other as never before, and ideally, you want to be a part of this without taking advantage of it.
Agility and Adaptability
Ultimately, this holiday season will be a testing ground for SMBs. Those that are agile, adaptable, and able to rapidly shift their stance to deal with changed market conditions could do very well, especially as their less well-prepared competitors drop off.
In other words, by far the most important element in your holiday planning for this year is to embrace change. Rather than trying to scale your existing operations in the hope of bringing in enough revenue to survive, you should take this opportunity to radically rethink your business.
It’s very evident, in the intelligence emerging in the upcoming holiday season, that successful SMBs are those that have successfully updated their business model for the age of Covid. A recent survey by the nonprofit National Main Street Center found that over 40% of businesses added curbside services since the pandemic began, and these are also the companies that have maintained their profit margins in the last few months.
Similarly, innovative approaches might work for other SMBs. For instance, you can use the time your physical store is closed to launch your first email marketing campaign, or to complete all those tasks that you don't get round to in a normal year.
One of these, undoubtedly, will be starting a website for your SMB if you haven’t already to sell products online. Something to remember is that even local small businesses, and not just large companies, can benefit from having a website these days to market their products and tell their story as a company. In that capacity, you should note that the most common website builders cost just $13 a month on average, and can quickly generate much more than that in sales. Starting a website can therefore be a very lucrative investment even for smaller local businesses that traditionally relied on brick-and-mortar stores for their sales.
For retail businesses – which are those most likely to be hit hard by this Covid holiday season – it might mean a total suspension of in-person retail activities, in order to focus on delivery options. If done correctly, this can broaden your potential customer base, and mean that at the end of this holiday season you are in a better position than when you started.
So there we have it: four broad approaches to dealing with the challenges posed by this pandemic holiday season. Follow these, and add a few novel approaches of your own, and your SMB might end up stronger and more resilient than ever before.
Just ensure that, whichever approaches you to deploy, you keep your customers in the loop. Remember, after all, that we are in this together, and that your holiday newsletter is a powerful tool in stressing this fact, and ultimately generating more sales.