As Black Friday fast approaches, U.S. retailers are preparing for their busiest time of the year. But huge holiday sales may not come easily: The National Retail Federation predicts marginal sales gains in November and December over the same months of 2012. What’s worse, the political climate and buyer confidence are also signaling a disappointing year.
To make sure you get the most out of the 2013 holiday shopping season, avoid these four common mistakes.
1. Failing to plan ahead — “Small-business owners are busy, and the holidays can really creep up on you,” says author and serial entrepreneur Susan Solovic. “[Yet] throwing together a last-minute campaign … can damage your brand.” Ron Cates, director of new market development for Constant Contact, agrees, pointing out that taking time to develop a marketing plan can reap dividends.
Already behind? Solovic says it may be prudent to bypass the 2013 holiday season and gear up for the next one: “Successful holiday campaigns should be well-thought-out and, therefore, planning should begin late summer for the best results. If you find you’ve started too late, it’s better to take your time to get it right than throw something together just to get it out the door.” Cates adds, however, that it isn’t too late to offer incentives, such as “an exclusive discount, a special giveaway, or a complimentary service to help ease the stress of the holiday season.”
Some entrepreneurs may intentionally skip marketing themselves during the holiday season, thinking they can’t benefit from it. But according to marketing communications consultant Caron Beesley, “Even freelancers can use this time to look for ways to make life easier for their clients.” For example, even if you don’t sell anything holiday-specific, you could package your services to make them more appealing to clients looking to use up year-end budgets.
2. Being “discount happy” — In an attempt to attract holiday shoppers, store owners may slash prices too deeply at their own expense. Although discounts can draw new customers, the additional sales with little or no margin may not contribute to your bottom line. In addition to not being profitable, you may be giving customers ”the sense you are really overcharging them on a regular basis,” says Solovic. Instead, he adds, “be smart about the actual cost of the product or service. Many times business owners look at the hard costs of providing a product and forget about including other cost factors such as general overhead and manpower recourses.” In the end, cheap deals may attract new customers that want to save a buck, which may initially boost your clientele, but you’re unlikely to see an increase in profits long-term. To encourage more repeat customers, generate discounts that require return visits, such as a buy-one, get-one-free offer.
3. Focusing on short-term sales instead of long-term relationships — Yes, it’s important to drive holiday sales. But it’s more important to focus on building customer loyalty. “We see small businesses that put their focus on bringing in new customers at the expense of nurturing existing customer relationships,” Cates says. “There has to be a balance between the two efforts. By engaging existing customers and turning them into loyal fans, a small business is creating an invaluable referral network that leads to new customers.”
To reach a happy medium, he suggests that small businesses encourage word-of-mouth advertising. “Your customers tend to network with people like themselves. Make sure all of your marketing messaging is easy to share and easy to forward.”
4. Ignoring technology — Small-business owners have a multitude of ways to reach clients and customers, but many don’t take advantage of it. And that’s a shame. In fact, by not making your products and services accessible online via a company website, social media, or mobile devices, you’re potentially losing a huge percentage of holiday sales. By taking advantage of social media sites, you can attract new customers, cross-promote other small businesses, and reach more people, Solovic says.
Cates adds that “small businesses can use Pinterest to show off some of their great products or post a special offer to their Facebook page and on Twitter.” Remember to post content that is fun, entertaining, and useful at least 80 percent of the time — and tout special offers and promotions the other 20 percent, he says.