How to Lure More Holiday Shoppers

Americans will spend an average of $737.95 each on holiday gifts, decor, greeting cards, and more this year, according to the National Retail Federation’s latest consumer spending survey. Shoppers will also get started early rather than wait until the last minute: More than a third (38.8 percent) said they’ll begin buying in November, and nearly a fifth (16 percent) said they’ll do so in the first two weeks of December.

For small-business owners, the holidays present an opportunity to draw attention away from big-box retailers and increase sales. Here are a few tips for luring shoppers to your store.

1. Don’t make buying from a small business feel like a sacrifice. You can’t always compete on price, but you can (and should) give customers the same convenience as a larger retailer. For example, NRF’s survey data indicates that the average consumer will make at least 40 percent of her holiday purchases online this year. If your online checkout process isn’t as simple to shop, edit, and complete as that of a major retailer — including having well-defined price matching, exchange, return, and shipping policies — make the appropriate changes before Thanksgiving.

Tip: You don’t have to spend a fortune (or even be all that tech-savvy) to have a site that sells! For less than $30 a month, tools like Shopify and Wix allow you to turn you standard website into an e-commerce optimized shop that includes clean and chic design templates optimized for mobile users. Our own Intuit Merchant Services also equips sites hosted by Homestead, GoDaddy,, UltraCart, IA Modules, or PDG Software to offer a secure checkout that accepts all major credit and debt cards.

2. Step up your gift card game. NRF’s data suggests that six in 10 Americans want to receive gift cards for the holidays. Promote your gift cards on your website, in your marketing materials, and at your points of sale. Design campaigns that leverage the timing of gift card purchases, too. For example, a 2012 NRF survey shows that last year 81.1 percent of shoppers planned to buy at least one gift card and spend an average of $156.86 on gift cards (the highest amount in the survey’s 10-year history). Because gift cards are often a last-minute purchase, small businesses could drive sales by promoting gift cards online and via email as shipping cut-off dates for Christmas delivery near.

Tip: If you’re still selling paper gift certificates, boost your professionalism (and your ability to capture customer data) with a branded plastic gift card that looks similar to what you’d see in any major retailer. For example, allows you to sell branded gift cards right from your store website or Facebook page (even if you don’t use a shopping cart on your site). Customers can request the card for delivery by mail, email, or text message, and add a personal gift message.  If you’re a QuickBooks Point of Sale user, its Gift Card Service equips your business to sell professional gift cards that include balance tracking.

3. Do the thinking for them. Rob Toledo of online-marketing firm Distilled suggests making holiday shopping a no-brainer by producing targeted online gift guides that you tout on your website, on social media, and via email. Prospects who seem hesitant to buy, for example, might respond to an “Under $25 gifts guide.” Promote unique items that customers may not know you offer in a “They’ve Got Everything But They Don’t Have This” gift guide.

Tip: You don’t have to spend a fortune on design. Simply use clear images, and clearly call out the features and benefits. Keep the price and promotion easy to understand, and most importantly, relevant.

4. Produce a steady stream of content. Although getting your company’s name to appear in the first three pages of search results is a long-term game, you can boost your ranking by understanding what types of things customers searched for and bought from your website last year and developing a steady stream of relevant content that features those keywords and phrases, Toledo says.

Tip: Make sure that your listings with online map and directory services are current. This will help you attract out-of-town visitors who are searching for products like yours, as well as shoppers who are unfamiliar with your business and using a mobile device while in the neighborhood.

5. Be a part of the community.  Embrace the fact that you’re a local business by giving back to the very people you want to attract as customers. Deanna Ayres of the Marketing Zen Group suggests sponsoring a local event, such as a “toy drive” or “turkey drive,” which can serve to benefit your community, boost your exposure, and help you build connections with nearby stores and businesses that may also wish to participate.

Tip: Build buzz around the effort in social media, and reach out to local media outlets for promotional coverage.

About Stephanie Taylor Christensen

Stephanie Taylor Christensen holds a master’s degree in marketing and has 13 years of marketing management experience for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses. She is a regular contributor to sites like ForbesWoman, Real Simple, Mint, Minyanville, and SheKnows, and writes for several private business clients. Her work is frequently syndicated and sourced by Yahoo! Finance, SFGate,, and The New York Times. She is also a small business owner, having founded, and Om for Mom Prenatal Yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter @WellnessOnLess.
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Great tips. I especially like #1. I agree that if a website is a real hassle and is not easy to get around on, I will not shop on it. It has to be easy and convenient or I won't waste my time.