9 questions to help your small business prepare for the holiday rush

Canada Post

Some small business owners are so busy handling day-to-day details that they push holiday preparations aside. Shoppers, on the other hand, aren’t dealing with the same distractions. Google Trends shows people start thinking about holiday purchases as early as August, and are revved up and ready to buy once Black Friday and Cyber Monday hit, in late November.

This year, make sure your small business isn’t struggling to handle seasonal stress by asking yourself these nine questions.

1. Is your website ready?

Freshen up your website before the holidays arrive. Include a dedicated page for Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals. Make sure your hosting service is equipped to handle a potential surge in site traffic.

Tip

Get an impartial third party to surf your site and experience the ordering process to ensure everything is accurate, understandable, and easy to navigate.

2. Is your website optimized for mobile use?

Want proof shopping habits have changed? Cyber Monday now generates more e-commerce traffic through mobile devices than from desktops and laptops. As such, it’s essential that your site is fully responsive. Last year, research by software company Oracle revealed that 55% of millennials felt that a poor mobile experience would turn them off of buying that company’s products or services.

Tip

Need to build an ecommerce website? We can help make it easy.

3. How straightforward is your sale?

Don’t make your sale too complicated – customers are likely to become skeptical about how good a deal really is if there are too many terms and conditions.

Pick a few products to focus on, generally no more than five, and make them the central plank of your marketing efforts. Once you’ve settled on your items, feature them all on your holiday homepage for ease of access – it’s like putting them near the front door of a brick-and-mortar store.

Tip

Know what’s been selling well throughout the year and what the hot holiday trends are, and include those products. To keep things simple, consider offering a flat-rate discount on all other items.

4. Have you thought about your social strategy?

The holidays are a great time to connect with customers on social media, and those interactions can help build loyalty and awareness. Before a sale, tempt customers by providing a sneak peek on deals in exchange for an e-mail address. Offer coupons or discounts in exchange for email addresses at checkout, like this example from clothing retailer Loft.

Social media strategy

Tip

Use social media to target shoppers who abandon their shopping cart before purchase, and see whether you can turn browsers into buyers.

5. Do you know your keywords?

Figure out what keywords bring customers to your site, and use them to craft copy promoting your holiday sales. Before your sale starts, send teaser e-mails to customers in your mailing list, and consider buying ads on Facebook, or paying for search promotion through Google Adwords.

Tip

Get started on keyword research with free tools such as Wordstream, Ubersuggest, or Keyword tool.

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6. Will you offer free shipping and other choices?

Shoppers love free shipping: research has shown it can increase volumes by more than 60% during the holiday season. With sales potential like that, it’s worth doing whatever you can to provide free shipping. One way is to offer it on purchases above a fixed dollar amount, say $50 or more. This encourages shoppers to spend more to reach the threshold, consolidating their buying with one business.

If you sell unique products that aren’t widely available, consider building the shipping cost into the overall price of each item. If price competition is tougher with your products, you probably can’t afford to do this.

Free shipping

Tip

Shoppers appreciate having a say in how quickly they receive their purchase. Consider providing a basic free shipping service with expedited options at additional cost for those who want their purchases sooner.

7. Are you keeping your shipments as small as possible?

Optimize your packaging so you’re not paying to ship excess space. Keep dimensions as small as possible while still protecting the items inside. Rather than putting everything in boxes, save money and space by using polyethylene bubble mailers whenever possible.

Tip

Reducing the size of a shipment by as little as 2 centimetres in each dimension could reduce your shipping costs by 8%. Check out our advice on reducing shipping costs for more information.

8. Have you stocked up on shipping materials and hired staff to handle packing?

The best shipment is one that gets out the door quickly and efficiently. Buyers always feel better once they receive that notification e-mail telling them their item is on its way. What you don’t want is several days to pass by before an order gets packed and shipped.

Ahead of Cyber Monday, stock up on the boxes, bubble mailers, labels, and other materials you’ll need to get shipments on the move. If necessary, bring in additional staff to help fill the influx in orders.

Free shipping

Tip

Lay out clear guidelines on how purchases should be packed and presented - you don’t want customers complaining about damaged or dishevelled deliveries.

9. Do you have enough stock to fill all your expected orders?

Besides having the materials and people in place to get shipments moving, you’ll also need to have the products themselves  ready to go. Focusing on your featured items, make sure you’ve got more than enough stock on hand before holiday sales start ramping up. If necessary, arrange for additional warehouse space to store it all – you want to be able to sell as much as possible and avoid running out.

Tip

If you do happen to run out of a particular item, send an automated notification to any customers who previously expressed interest in purchasing that particular product. You might even consider offering them a discount to make up for the inconvenience.

Don’t get caught unprepared

The more you prepare, the better equipped you’ll be to reap profits from the all-important holiday season – when orders come in more often, and eager buyers spend billions.

The one question you don’t want to ask yourself is why you went another year unprepared.