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Fall weather has arrived in many parts of the country. Even if your weather isn’t autumnal, only a few weeks remain until the “official start” of the holiday season: Black Friday and its increasingly important sibling, Cyber Monday. To capitalize on every opportunity that the holiday season offers, you need advance planning.
The amount of planning and pre-holiday-season preparation varies depending upon your business. Brick-and-mortar retailers require more lead time than service-based businesses. Plus, some actions, such as sprucing up your website or creating an email campaign, many need only a few weeks to ramp-up, while others often require significant lead time.
Long-range planning is particularly important in these three keys areas:
Although every holiday trends vary from year to year, last year’s sales statistics are one of your best sources of information for this year’s stock needs. It’s important to have an accurate sales forecast as possible. This forecast not only forms a basis for ordering inventory, but also helps establish how much you can spend on marketing, extended hours or additional employees while growing your business.
As you run the numbers, you must look beyond the bottom line. You should be looking for what sold well and, equally importantly, what didn’t. Then dig underneath those results to try and understand what made some products sell while others did not. Factor your customers’ preferences into your buying decisions for next year.
Extend your research beyond your own results by talking with your wholesalers and distributors to get to guidance on what seasonal products or products that tap into current trends will be “the big thing” this year. Of course, it’s essential to view all national information through the lens of your community or customer base. For example, in some areas, reasonably priced products that are practical or long-lasting will out-perform luxury items.
As part of your fact-finding process,network with other business owners in your area. Also, reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce. You may also discover opportunities for co-operative promotions that will factor into your inventory needs for the upcoming season.
Now that you have an idea of your inventory needs, work with your suppliers to ensure that you have ample inventory, because customers will .want to have the products in hand for holiday giving.
Although the types of gifts given each year may be relatively stable, the technology used to purchase those gifts is constantly changing. More and more customers are turning to e-commerce in order to minimize holiday hassles. Adobe's 2016 Digital Insights Shopping Predictions indicates that Cyber Monday sales will increase 9.4 percent to $3.36 billion, making it the largest online shopping day to date. And, this trend is likely to continue—if not accelerate.
If you plan to venture into e-commerce or mobile payments, now is the time to get those systems up and running. If you are already in the cyber and mobile sales arena, evaluate if your current technology is up to these year’s challenges. In fact, this is sound advice for any technology systems that your business uses, whether it’s your point-of-sales system or your website. Aim to have any upgrades or new systems in place no later than early November in order to have time to resolve the inevitable issues that occur and to train your employees on the new systems.
Training on new technology is only a small part of the training that you should anticipate during the holidays. Let’s be honest—it is difficult for a small business to compete with a large national chain on price alone. One clear advantage a local or regional business can have is customer service. In fact, it is hard for a big-box store to compete with a well-run small business for responsiveness and friendly service.
Customers expect top-notch service from a small business throughout the year. But, superior customer service can be a real differentiator at holiday time when customers are likely to be rushed, frazzled and stressed. Providing excellent, friendly and efficient customer service can go a long way both in making the holiday sale and in building good-will that will keep customers returning after the holidays.
However, great customer service does not happen automatically. It’s essential that the business owner sets the tone for customer interactions. Plan regular training sessions to convey your expectations reinforce customer service basics. Disney is a prime example of how rigorous employee training translates into brand loyalty and steady revenue. While your business is unlikely to be as far-reaching as the Disney brand, it is impossible to over-emphasize friendly, efficient and proactive customer service.
Don’t just train on customer service. Train on your product offerings as well. Every employee should know your product line inside and out. This is especially important during the holiday season when customers are trying to find that perfect gift. Your employees should be able to provide gift suggestions based on the age, gender, preferences and interests of the intended recipient. Suggesting an appropriate gift can turn a frantic visitor into a satisfied customer.
Finally, consider your staffing needs during the holiday season. (Last year’s sales, this year’s sales projections and promotional plans should help you estimate staffing needs.) Remember, to factor any extended business hours into scheduling to avoid running afoul of state wage and hour laws or incurring unnecessary overtime costs. If you find you will need seasonal help, get started on the hiring process far enough in advance so you have time to find the right individuals and thoroughly train them before the holiday season kicks into high gear.
By examining your inventory, technology needs and staffing needs now, you have time to put plans in place to have your most successful holiday session to date.
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