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Expert Tips to Help Small Businesses Maximize Holiday Retail Sales

Black Friday, Cyber Monday—any sale, really—should be an opportunity to increase sales. Whether you started planning for the big holiday sales during the summer or have done nothing yet, you still have time to generate additional revenue if you act now.

Put serious thought into what you are offering before you launch. Poorly designed offers can damage your brand by really annoying your potential buyers.

First, always protect your brand

This is one time when you do not want to be copying what the  corporate stores are doing. USAToday lists tactics to avoid in its recent article “4 Black Friday Facts Retailers Don’t Want You To Know.”

All of these are common in big corporate stores on Black Friday weekend, and are definitely a bad idea if you want your customers to love you:

Doorbuster deals are few and far between.
Discounts are often inflated.
Price-matching may be exempt.
Fine print is everywhere.

Shoppers will eventually catch on to these tricks, probably sooner than later. This close to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it may be too late to find your own version of a doorbuster to offer. And you probably won’t be doing any 70% discounts.

There are examples, though, of small businesses offering typical discounts and sometimes just regular pricing, but that still benefit from participating in these big sales days. Even if you aren’t interested in that, read on as these retail strategies can be implemented all year long.

Thanksgiving ecommerce spending in perspectiveSource:
Be proactive: ask to be added to shipping sites and posts about sales deals

Reach out to parcel-forwarding companies in countries you ship to and ask to be featured on their sites and in their Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. They already have a target audience you want to reach.

For example, if you ship to the UK, develop a relationship with MyUKMailbox and ask to be added to their Best UK Black Friday Deals for 2017. Search for “parcel forwarding companies” + the country you’re interested in to find more of them.

Also, watch for location-specific post titles about sales events. Many sites are willing to add you to existing content when it benefits their readers to do so.

Check out this slideshow presentation “7 Best Black Friday Marketing Ideas” from Beeketing.

Expand your client base internationally

80% of small businesses that sell globally saw increased sales in 2016. Businesses located in smaller countries can increase their target audience by expanding to other countries. To keep it simple, use these tips to sell through eBay or Amazon.

Shipping internationally can get complicated quickly. Focus on one country at a time. Or skip the complexity altogether by letting your shoppers know about methods for buying internationally.

For example, there are companies that provide shipping addresses shoppers can use to order from other countries. They enable buyers to shop anywhere that ships to a particular country and have their packages bundled and forwarded to them. Do your due diligence as there are far too many parcel-forwarding services to mention in this post.

Parcel forwarding is primarily used by buyers outside the United States, who are served by far fewer e-commerce stores. Most small online stores based in the U.S. only ship within the country. But more are expanding, so always search their sites first for country information.

Make sure the countries where you ship are featured on your shipping information page. If you only sell in one country, put that on the page. The internet is worldwide and even if they’re not your buyers, it will save everyone time if you make this information obvious and easy to find.

Successfully promote without discounts

Kurt Elster from the Shopify Podcast explains in the video below how to successfully promote during the holidays even without discounts. You don’t have to be using Shopify to benefit from his tips.

Video Thumbnail

[Shopify] Your Money-Making Black Friday Email Marketing Plan

Black Friday, Cyber Monday—any sale, really—should be an opportunity to increase sales. Whether you started planning for the big holiday sales during the summer or have done nothing yet, you still have time to generate additional revenue if you act now. Put serious thought into what you are offering

He focuses on email, which is the first strategy to implement. Even people who usually ignore or delete most email during other times of the year are likely to open email messages when they’re doing holiday shopping.

Remember that during the holidays, both organic and paid traffic can be harder and more expensive to obtain. So start with any method you already have in place to reach existing customers. Get your target products onto a custom page and send that page to your customers via email and social media.

When you send email, suggest customers follow you on social accounts. When you post to social accounts, encourage them to subscribe to get special offers via email. Note that using an email subscription tab on Facebook works better for this than sending people off of Facebook to your site to subscribe.

Find a creative way to get shares and interest and pin it on your Facebook page. Threads asking others to share their own stories can increase interactions. Asking followers to post photos or videos works even better. People are more likely to share what they themselves have contributed, which can help spread your offers.

What to feature by season

Look at your store history for what sold well this time last year and throughout the holiday season. Sort by highest dollar value and then by quantities sold. Those are the products or services to promote, so output them to a list. (Get in the habit of doing this all year long to see impressive sales gains.)

Check your inventory or contact your supplier to verify products you wish to feature are available. You might even ask for a special price for featured items based on the quantity you feel you could sell. Make a business case for increasing sales volume by offering a better discount (if possible).

See the image below about what sells well to impulse buyers:

Statista Black Friday Impulse BuysSource:

Now that you have products, decide on pricing. Even though deep discounts are heavily advertised, that does not mean only discounted items will sell. Focus first on getting your chosen products in front of people who have bought from you in the past, as they are the most likely to convert.

Bargain cost-per-click (CPC) PPC ads during the week before Thanksgiving

According to Holiday CPC Research by HYFN, “The week leading into Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday had the second-lowest CPC of any week observed. This could be due to advertisers holding off on ads until a day or two before the actual shopping holidays, leading to a bit of a dead week as advertisers save up their spend for the big days.”

While many small businesses are unable to compete with the high cost per click of ads running on Thanksgiving and after, they might have an opportunity to land some new customers this week if they act now. Be sure to optimize your site to get their email address and encourage them to connect with you on Facebook and elsewhere.

Find free ways to be featured

Everyone and their brother will be publishing Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal pages, emails, and social posts. Research to find any that are highly visible or ranking on search that are especially relevant to what you offer.

Contact publishers of relevant sales and ask to be added to their lists and pages. (Do the same for other holidays and seasonal opportunities.)

Onsite optimizations to increase conversions

There are many ways to increase conversions on your site. Here is a list of tips from this video:

Use a promo or hello bar across the top and change the messages regularly.
Create gift idea collections under a certain dollar amount—your e-commerce platform may have a smart collection option to automate sorting by price range, items in stock, and best sellers.
Source or create gift guide banners to link to your gift idea collections.
Add more methods to pay, especially mobile-friendly methods: ApplePay, PayPal, Amazon.
Optimize for speed including uninstalling services which may not handle increased traffic and image compression.

RELATED: Do Customers Secretly Hate Your E-Commerce Website?

Being very clear about where you ship and what it costs is critical. In nearly every survey, the #1 complaint by online shoppers is shipping costs. Whenever possible, offer free shipping for a minimum purchase of $50, $75, or whatever number makes sense for you financially. (You can exclude particularly heavy products, but make sure the product page discloses this.)

Putting icons for the payment methods you accept increases sales and is appreciated by buyers who do not use credit cards (or just don’t have theirs handy). You do not want to force a customer to go through the entire checkout process only to find out you don’t accept PayPal or whatever payment form they use.

Statista Thanksgiving weekend e-commerce roundupSource:
Are you making your buyers mad?

Pay attention to feedback about your discounts and special offers. Creating a sense of urgency is a common method for increasing conversions, but making the window to buy so short that interested customers miss out will not have the desired effect.

You want sales without making your buyers angry enough to voice their complaints online. Frustrate them often enough, and they may even stop buying from you. Think about how offers affect how people feel about your brand.

I find eBay’s special offers extremely frustrating. They message far too often, and by the time I see the offers they have already expired. When you message too often, those messages will be ignored or left for a later that rarely comes.

An online pet store I visit has a large 30% off banner on their home page. But that deal never applies to pet food, which is the reason I visit their site. After spending hours trying to find the perfect dog food, not finding out the discount doesn’t apply until checking out makes a site memorable—in a negative way. Vary your offers to keep shoppers interested.

Be careful your deals don’t torpedo your profits

I recently purchased a shirt on eBay. The seller wisely included a coupon for $10 off my next purchase. This is an excellent method for increasing repeat sales. However, they did not restrict the coupon to only the price of the product and not the shipping, nor did they require a minimum purchase.

What that means to their bottom line is they not only end up giving away products for free, they are also paying for the shipping out of their profits. Maybe that is a strategy that works for them because they want to either engender loyalty, or buyers rarely only spend exactly $10 on their second order.

In my case, when I got a free product with free shipping, it also came with another $10 coupon. Hopefully, you can see where I’m going with this. Their customers could just keep getting free products as long as they keep sending out $10 coupons.

The only way this could make sense is if the clients were so excited about getting totally free products that they decided to place larger orders, once they knew the products would arrive as described in a prompt manner.

Require a minimum purchase to use coupons and other special deals to avoid this issue and increase your average sales. It is more typical to not have coupons apply to shipping costs.

Avoiding legal issues related to deal offers

Remember the fine print mentioned at the beginning? It is there to protect sellers. Sales banners and ads often have limited space, so it is critical that any restrictions and fine print are available where buyers can find them.

Put an asterisk next to the offer and explain the limitations somewhere on the same page, or you risk more than just making your customers mad. They might even sue you. Never make a public offer without including details to protect yourself. Think “while supplies last,” for example.

This advice also applies to oral promises. Make sure you train anyone manning your chat or answering your phones to not promise what you cannot deliver. Contrary to popular belief, “a contract does not have to be in writing in order to be enforceable,” states attorney John Artimez. Also, if you decide to expand globally, make sure you have all your legal bases covered.

RELATED: 10 Steps to Successfully Expand Your Business Overseas

Planning ahead for future holiday seasons

Now that you have some strategies for increasing income from seasonal sales, plan ahead. Build more connections with your customers throughout the year. Get started on your Black Friday/Cyber Monday as early as mid-summer.

Forget Black Friday - Most Holiday Shopping Happens in DECEMBER!Source:

You could even think about lining up a doorbuster product or two of your own for next year. You could work with a drop shipper able to stock large quantities. Another alternative is to obtain an SBA-backed short-term microloan to cover seasonal inventory costs.

Stop procrastinating—take action now to increase income

No matter how busy you are, there is no time to waste. At a minimum, send your email subscribers an offer. Not sure what to send? Read HubSpot’s “What Are Your Email Marketing Plans for the Holidays?

So many businesses see increases of 10, 20, or even 30%+ from every email they send, yet they do not consistently use their mailing lists. If nothing else, do at least this. Better yet, download the guide and checklist for “10 Marketing Must-Dos Before Cyber Monday.”

10 Must Dos Before Cyber Monday Hubspot ChecklistSource:

RELATED: The 12 Days of Christmas Retail

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