For a Successful Holiday Season, Meet Your Customers Where They Are

This year is certainly something, to say the least. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been counting my blessings each day, but there’s no arguing that 2020 has required some major adjustments.

After a summer of social distancing, you (like me) are probably wondering what the heck the holiday season is going to look like. It’s only natural to get a little concerned about your business’s bottom line, especially since winter holidays were the top consumer spending event last year. Will it be like that again?

Truth is, nobody knows. This is a volatile year. But, here’s something I do know—‘tis the season, pandemic or not. So if you want to have a successful holiday season amidst COVID-19, try meeting your customers where they are. That means paying attention to what they want and need.

4 Tips for a successful holiday season

For a successful holiday season amidst COVID-19, think about consumer needs. Take a look at the following tips to get started.

1. Keep things safe

If you own a storefront, you know the drill by now. Mask up, clean, place sanitization stations throughout, and ask employees and customers to keep their distance.

But, what happens when you throw the biggest shopping season into the mix? How are Black Friday and Small Business Saturday going to look? Will shoppers be rushing to get deals, pushing people over to get the last item on the shelf, and crowding stores?

I would hope not. However, there are some things you can do to prevent a scene of masked shoppers crowding on top of one another to do their holiday shopping.

If you haven’t already, consider limiting the number of people allowed in your store. Use distance markers to indicate where customers should stand in line. Set up arrows so customers follow a path. Reinforce plexiglass barriers. Hand out masks to customers who don’t have one. You get the picture.

Depending on your business, you might also require customers to make appointments or reservations to avoid large hordes of people coming at once.

Whatever you do, promote it on your website, social media, email marketing efforts, and storefront. Make sure your customers know what you’re doing ahead of time so there are no surprises.

2. Tweak your marketing

For many businesses, the holiday season is their “busy season.” In anticipation, you might ramp up your marketing efforts on every channel. From a GIF of a turkey to Christmas e-cards, your first thought might be to remind customers that it’s the holiday shopping season.

But rather than doing your same old marketing tactics, you might want to shake things up this year. Tweak your marketing efforts to acknowledge the pandemic.

Be genuine and honest with your customers about what your business has been through—what all businesses and individuals have been through this year. Express your gratitude for their continued loyalty in helping your business weather the storm. Prioritize personalization so your customers know they’re not just another number.

Rather than marketing a product or service for the holidays, market what the purchase of that product or service means to your business and employees. Market what that product or service could mean to your customers’ friends and family.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

  • You could send an email showing two families eating pie together, connected over video, with the copy: Buy a pie for you, send a pie to someone you care about—so you can celebrate the holidays with your family and friends, no matter how far apart you are.

Again, meet your customers where they are. Acknowledge the things they may not be able to change. Then, show them how you can help them adapt and make the most of it.

3. Take sales online

Business has been shifting to an online model for years. In 2019, online and other non-store sales were up 14.6%. Couple this shift with a global pandemic where social distancing is a must, and you have a recipe for yet another increase in online sales.

Why not meet consumers where they are and do a little e-commerce action this holiday season? If you want to start selling online, your best bet is to get things set up right away. That way, you can work out the kinks and make sure customers know they have the ability to buy from you online.

Here are some critical steps to take if you want to take your sales online:

  • Use an e-commerce platform (e.g., Shopify), join an online marketplace (e.g., Amazon), or both
  • Decide what to sell online
  • Consider must-haves (shipping, credit card, security, etc.)
  • Understand economic nexus laws by state (for collecting sales tax)

Already online? Look for ways to improve

If you already engage in online sales, you might consider seeing how you can improve the process for customers. The online shopping experience all boils down to UX, or user experience.

In terms of online shopping, user experience is how easily a consumer can use the website to navigate and accomplish tasks. Poor UX can frustrate potential customers and send them running to your competitors.

So if you already have an e-commerce store, dust it off and see how usable it really is. Take it for a spin yourself and conduct usability testing with customers to find out how effectively they can use it. Then, make changes.

Pay close attention to things like:

  • Whether users can easily get from point A to point Z
  • What stage customers are abandoning their carts
  • How secure users’ data really is
  • How dated visuals look
  • Site speed

4. Prepare for returns

When the gift-giving season ends, most businesses find themselves with high return rates. In 2019, 55% of shoppers said they would return or exchange gifts within one month of receiving them. And, holiday e-commerce shoppers return goods about 30% of the time, according to another study.

For many shoppers, this day falls on January 2, otherwise known as “National Returns Day.” The time leading up to and after National Returns Day is arguably the busiest period for the USPS, UPS, and FedEx. So if you do offer online shopping, be prepared. Prepare for influxes of mailed-in returns, antsy customers, and saying goodbye to revenue as quickly as you got it.

Add to this annual phenomenon a pandemic, and we have a recipe for hiked up returns … and delays. There’s bound to be frustration among customers who regret spending as much as they did during a pandemic and want instant refunds.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help you prepare for and handle returns:

  • Estimate sales returns and create a reserve (or allowance) for them
  • Create a returns policy that is easy for customers to take advantage of but doesn’t take advantage of you
  • Use returns as a chance to upsell or cross-sell customers
  • Update your books immediately by making a purchase returns journal entry

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Author: Mike Kappel

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