More than half of US retailers haven't started planning for the 2020 holiday season yet. Here are 5 ways to prepare your business.
- The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to businesses in 2020, and the holiday season will be critical for merchants.
- The earlier small business owners start developing a plan for holiday, the better, experts advise.
- There are many ways businesses can prepare, including prioritizing e-commerce initiatives and “pay later” options, and publicizing efforts to create a safe, in-store experience for customers and employees.
The COVID-19 crisis has created uncertainty for business owners across industries, but one thing is for sure: Pandemic or not, holiday sales can make or break a business’s bottom line — and this Q4 will require more proactive planning than ever before.
Yet an online study of 1,000 merchants, commissioned by PayPal and conducted by Netfluential in August 2020, shows 57% of businesses had not started planning yet for the holiday season.1 That, despite the fact that nearly one-third of merchants have no intention of changing their spending on holiday shopping season preparations compared to last year.
Though it’s natural to want to take the wait-and-see approach, experts caution there’s no time to waste. In fact, the National Retail Federation’s 2020 winter trends survey shows that retailers expect consumers to start holiday shopping as early as October. That means if you haven’t started your holiday sales prep, you should start ASAP, says Suzanne McGrath, a small business counselor and SCORE mentor in the Washington, DC-metro area.
And despite the current environment, consumers may be more open to spending than you think, says Dan Jablons, owner and retail consultant at Retail Smart Guys, a Los Angeles-based retail business consulting firm.
“After going through the nightmare of this year, people are going to be willing to make sure everybody has a great holiday, and one way might be through gift-giving,” he says.
Here are some ways business owners can prepare for a successful holiday season.
1. Make e-commerce a priority
With COVID-19 forcing people indoors for several months, many businesses have found it critical to pivot to digital strategies to stay afloat. And if you haven’t refreshed your website to include online sales or developed another e-commerce strategy, now is the time to do so, says Jablons, adding that customers are going to continue to demand it post-pandemic.
“Business owners are going to have to make sure their technology is set up to handle online purchases, deliveries, returns, and all of those things we’re seeing more and more of,” Jablons says. “Brick and mortar will continue to be an important component, but e-commerce is going to become a larger part of the mix.”
McGrath agrees, adding that it will be product and market specific. “Many people who were resistant to buying online are now online for all kinds of products. Some will stay there, and others will go back to in-person buying when they can,” she says. “Businesses need to assess their own target markets to predict future behaviors and what portion of their business should be online vs. delivered in other ways to meet these demands.”
2. Consider flexible payment options
If you’re having trouble converting window shoppers into actual buyers, you may want to try offering different types of payment options. This could translate into implementing cashless payment systems in store, which one-third of merchants from PayPal’s survey say they’re doing, or offering “buy now, pay later” financing options, something 26% of merchants say they’re likely to do this holiday season.
Unconvinced? More than 45% of merchants who already offer “buy now, pay later” financing options expect to see an increase in sales this holiday, and 42% say it can combat shopping cart abandonment. Explore options, such as PayPal’s new Pay in 4 offering, to help reach more customers.
3. Perfect curbside fulfillment
Any good digital strategy should include an option for curbside pickup, but not all businesses have been successful at implementing it. For example, failures include requiring payment at time of pickup, failing to answer phones, and long wait times at the storefront. McGrath has these recommendations for making the process easier and more effective:
- Allow the customer to pay in advance.
- Have a system to notify the customer when the order is ready.
- Provide clear instructions as to where customers go to pick up the order and how they communicate with the store.
- Provide adequate staffing and training to locate the order and bring it out to the customer quickly.
- Include clear processes and training to make sure delivery of the product does not involve getting too close to the customer (like having to look at their phone or receipt).
Further, if you must accept payment at the time of pickup, use a touch-free payment option such as QR codes to keep employees and shoppers safe.
4. Prep for safe in-store shopping
According to the National Retail Federation survey, roughly two-thirds of retailers expect to be open for in-store shopping experiences starting in October. At the top of everyone’s minds, of course, is how to make shopping in person not only safe for customers, but for workers too. Strategies include making contactless payment available, limiting the number of customers in the store at one time, putting down tape markers to help with social distancing, and regularly cleaning high-touch areas.
“All these practices are not only good but critical. The key, though, is marketing them,” McGrath says. “The environment must not only be safe; customers must know it is safe. Referring to objective standards like CDC guidelines can give customers confidence that the business is going above and beyond to ensure safety. Interestingly, many customers also like to know that the business is as concerned about employee safety as it is about customer safety.”
5. Invest in marketing
This is one expense you shouldn’t cut too deeply. Get those email newsletters and social media campaigns ready. “Email marketing, more than anything else, is a driver of sales in retail,” says Jablons. “Be sure to focus on improving the open rate and click-through rate by making those subject lines more interesting. No one’s going to open an email that says, ‘Our Monthly Newsletter.’ But someone will open an email that says, ‘The Most Amazing Sweater for Fall.'”
In addition, make sure to spend some of your advertising budget on thanking your customers. “The fourth quarter is always a good time to solidify and personalize customer relationships. Now, more than ever, customers want to support businesses they know and like. They know that their favorite or local businesses are struggling, and they don’t want them to go away,” says McGrath. “Thank them for that support.”
And as catastrophic as the pandemic has been, there will be good to come out of it, she says. “Businesses who can survive these challenges will emerge with better technology, more channels through which to sell their offerings,” she says, “and be more in tune with their customer bases, who will hopefully be even more loyal.”
This post was created by Insider Studios with PayPal.
1. An online study commissioned by PayPal and conducted by Netfluential in August 2020 involving 1000 U.S. PayPal merchants selling products directly to consumers through a website or e-commerce platform. The sample is made up of merchants in different verticals, 200 in fashion, 200 in cosmetics and 600 across home-goods, furniture, garden electronics and sport.
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