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The festive season is fast approaching, but this exciting time can be a stressful time for small business owners. There’s a lot of pressure around that comes with running a business at this time of the year, from heightened customer service expectations, to demands for fast shipping, to any other unknown issues that might arise. Whether you have a brick-and-mortar presence or your business operates solely online, the end of the year represents both a challenge and an opportunity.
The key to meeting this moment is preparation. Being organized for the holiday season is your best chance at reducing stress over this period, while also being prepared for any unexpected events. After all, if there’s one lesson we all learned in 2020, it’s to expect the unexpected!
The echoes of the global pandemic are still being felt to this day, and they’ve had an effect on people’s spending habits and consumer behavior. Technology is growing more prevalent in every aspect of our lives, and when you pair that with the ripple effect from the pandemic, online shopping is more common than ever.
Pandemic aside, the last months of the year are already a crucial sales period for retail businesses. This period kicks off with the all-important Black Friday - the opening salvo of the biggest retail holiday weekend on the calendar – and doesn’t cool down until the ball drops on New Year’s Day. In fact, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has found that sales during the 61 days between November and December make up 20 to 30 percent of a retailer’s annual earnings.
Economic confidence in small businesses is also riding high, signalling a willingness from consumers to gear their spending locally. 2022 surveys indicate that consumers plan on spending around 40% of their holiday shopping budget with small businesses. Monetarily, that’s an estimated $88 billion about to be injected into the small business market this year. In other words, it’s time to rise to the challenge!
Stay ahead of the game and get your small business organized for the 2022 holiday season with our downloadable checklist.
Keep reading to dig even deeper into how you can make the best of the end of this year, a time when holiday spenders will really be hitting their stride!
Study previous year’s sales data & figure out what works best in your store.
First thing’s first, it’s time to take stock of which of your products or services sell best over the holiday period. Review last year’s holidays sales data during the busy months and ask yourself a few questions:
· What was most popular?
· What worked well?
· What didn’t work well?
Use those insights to make sure this year’s inventory corresponds to those seasonal trends, thus helping you to safeguard from any surprises.
Research what people will want to be buying for 2022.
It’s also a good idea to look at trends happening in your industry and the sales that are predicted to be popular in the 2022 holiday season.
Following lockdown after lockdown in the past two years, reports indicate that consumers are becoming more interested in experiences, which is a great chance for entertainment and dining-focused small businesses to make their mark. Aside from experiences, consumers are looking to engage with sustainablility, wellness-focused products, purpose-driven brands. Small businesses are at a big advantage in this space since they’re closer to the customer than larger brands.
See if there’s an opportunity for your business to tap into these trends through your pre-existing offering or by ordering/creating new stock.
Check your inventory levels.
With December very much on the horizon, it pays to review your stock numbers now to get an idea of the preparation that’s needed. Keep in mind the key dates that will be big sales periods – from Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, and Black Friday in November to the lead-up to Christmas – and estimate how many orders you think you’ll receive.
This is a good opportunity to give yourself a buffer, ordering slightly more than you expect you’ll need. You don’t want to be caught shorthanded, particularly if sales are larger than expected due to more people shopping online.
Talk to suppliers or plan your production.
If you rely on suppliers for your products, use your estimates to let them know about increased demands so they’re also prepped for what you need.
If you make your own products, then it’s a good idea to make a timeline for production and what you can accomplish in terms of your output, especially if the pace starts picking up as we near December.
Make a marketing plan.
What’s your plan for communicating with customers throughout November and December? It pays to map out your promotions, social media posts, email campaigns and blog posts in advance on a calendar and see when any branding collateral - such as visuals and content - need to be created and deployed.
Keep key dates in mind (such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and your cut-off dates for Christmas shipping) to tailor your assets and ensure your messaging is consistent across every channel – check out some of our suggestions on that here. Making a plan creates a guideline for you and members of your team to refer back to later so you can tick off each task once you’ve achieved it.
Select your key marketing channels.
There’s a lot of competition in the marketplace for advertising spots around the holiday period, so to get the best value for your money and efforts, do your research on where you’d have the most impact with your customers to figure out which channels you should prioritize. Should your focus be on social media, SEO, email campaigns, content marketing or another marketing avenue?
Depending on your business model, the answer will shift. What works for someone you know might not work for you, so your biggest asset is knowing what has worked for your business in the past. Check back on last year’s efforts ROI (return on investment) and where you could improve on your strategy.
Regardless of your business model, one thing is very important to note: hybrid shopping is now standard. Consumers expect to be able to shop online at the very least, and preferably both online and in-store. If you’re a small business planning to net customers this holiday season, then it’s essential to make sure your website is up to scratch.
Create marketing collateral now to save yourself time later.
If you’re having a reasonably relaxed time in September, take advantage of these quiet moments before the busyness hits by planning your ads and commissioning or creating the graphics and writing blog posts ahead of time. You can always refine these materials later, but getting the planning and conceptualizing out of the way now ensures you don’t run out of time and aren’t rushing any of your messaging.
Create buzz around your brand with an unboxing.
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful tools a small business can bring to bear. It’s essentially free, relying only on your customers loving your products enough to talk about them. With social media continuing to grow as it is – and platforms like TikTok gaining traction for small businesses – this is a fantastic way to show off your products and generate some buzz for your brand.
Unboxing videos are highly visual and give customers an insight into your products, so they’re a great way to drive word-of-mouth marketing online. Plus, they build excitement and anticipation for what your product will look like when it arrives, which encourages a path-to-purchase for your customer.
Not sure how to create a great wrapping or packing video? Check out our guide on how to do it here.
Create a gift guide.
We all have someone in our lives that’s challenging to buy a present for, so why not help shoppers out by creating a curated gift guide for the holidays? This can be broken down by relationship (gifts for her or him) or by a particular theme, such as an earth-friendly gift guide for mindful shoppers. As we’ve mentioned, this year’s consumer trends indicate shoppers are focused on sustainability, value-driven products, and wellness. If your inventory includes products in these areas, highlight them with your guide!
Content marketing like this is a chance to showcase your products in an attractive way to boost sales, while also offering up some expertise to help anyone agonizing over what gift to get. Gift guides also have a long lifespan in terms of content, allowing you to share and reshare as the holidays progress.
Encourage user generated content.
With consumers focusing on hybrid shopping experiences, having a wealth of user-generated content associated with your brand is like having a five-star rating on any ecommerce platform. User-generated content (UGC), such as photos and videos shared on social media, help you reach new audiences while giving you content you can repurpose on your own channels.
Make sharing your customer’s great experience with you as simple as tapping a button. Include a custom QR code on a card or on your packaging that directs your customer to share a photo or video. You can also look at improving your unboxing experience through product presentation and custom packaging for a greater chance of shares.
Revamp your packaging for the holiday season.
Custom seasonal packaging adds an air of whimsicality to your products, making them extra special and encouraging customers to complete a purchase. Switching up the usual colors and themes will excite your customers and make your product feel like a gift in itself.
However, it pays to be organized with seasonal packaging as most providers require a few weeks’ notice. For example, here at noissue, it takes 21 days (three weeks) from approval of design for packaging to arrive, which is different to the date you place your order.
That means that – if you haven’t already – it’s time to place your packaging orders. It’s also a good idea to plan ahead with your packaging if you think there’s a chance of larger sales than normal. Be prepared for high order volumes by requesting a surplus of packaging to take you through until the end of December, as you won’t be able to reorder new packaging last minute and receive it in time.
Don’t forget about sustainability.
Packaging waste accumulates incredibly quickly in the holidays. An estimate from Stanford University places the spike at around 25%, meaning consumers are estimated to throw away a quarter more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than at any other time of the year. This is, in large part, attributable to packaging.
Just take the commonly used poly (plastic) mailer bags used in ecommerce. They only last for a single use before taking hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill and leaching out harmful chemicals in the process. With consumer’s laser-focused on sustainable practices this year, switching out your packaging for a circular option (recyclable, compostable, or reusable) helps you connect to them and reduce your business’ environmental impact.
If you rely on shipping and eCommerce as your main channel, consider adopting home compostable poly mailers. If you’re a brick-and-mortar store or hospitality establishment, our custom recycled takeout containers or custom compostable folded hang tags might be a good fit.
Include some gift-wrapping or giving elements.
After all the work that’s gone into putting together an order, you want to make sure the unboxing experience is one that sparks joy for the customer. Get prepped and stock up on some festive extras to enhance product presentation and celebrate the holidays, such as custom boxes, tissue paper, ribbons or a beautiful illustration on a card. This is another great spot to include a custom QR code, as you can tailor the microsite to lead them to a thank you video! Drive home the good they’ve done by shopping small and let them know they’re appreciated.
It’s possible that they’re planning on passing your product on as a gift, so wrapping it as such removes that task from their to-do list. You can read up on our guide on how to create the perfect Christmas unboxing experience here.
Make sure your product photography looks its best.
Presentation is everything, so the quality of your product photography around this time of year is crucial to encouraging sales. If your product images are low resolution, badly lit, or lacking in personality, you can follow our guide here on how to get creative with your product photography from home.
Consider adding in a few festive props, like fairy lights or some mistletoe, to the mix to give it that holiday focus. Creating some additional photographs also gives you more content in the bank to use on your social media channels over this period to increase sales – win, win!
Review your site navigation.
When it comes to website design, a frictionless path-to-purchase for products on your site is a make or break for sales. Navigation plays a huge part in the user experience of an ecommerce shop, so check whether it’s easy for holiday shoppers to filter through products and whether any new categories need to be added.
An easy way to get a new perspective is to get someone to pretend they’re shopping for a gift on your site and report back on what they liked and disliked about the experience. Similarly to the gift guide, you can make this shopping process easier for people by breaking it down by category or theme instead of product, such as gifts under $50, sustainable gifts, or gifts for kids.
Spruce up your website for the holidays.
You may have a physical storefront alongside your digital one, or you might be an online-only business. Either way, it’s essential to bring your website up to scratch to facilitate a hybrid shopping experience.
If you have a physical store, ensure your stock levels are kept up to date so customers can preview online and purchase in-store. If you’re online-only, ensure navigating your product range is as simple as possible, that you have a site security certificate, and the checkout process feels easy and safe. 84% of consumers are reluctant to make a purchase if they feel they’re dealing with a website that isn’t secure.
Visually, consider treating your site as you would a physical shop and make a plan to decorate it with some festive pop-ups, banners or holiday-themed photography to spread a little joy and get them in the holiday spirit.
Test your site’s response time.
When people are in a rush to buy a gift or feeling stressed about what to purchase, the last thing they want to experience is a slow-loading webpage. Google has also incorporated site speed into the way it ranks searches, so if your site is taking too long, it’s less likely to get noticed when people search for key products.
To get organized ahead of time, check your website’s response time and monitor other key information like page size and improvement recommendations. Websites like Uptrends or Dotcom-Monitor provide a tool that does it, and it’s as simple as entering your site’s URL.
Run a broken link check.
As websites progress in their design, some pages and redirects get deleted or no longer exist. Broken links don’t exactly give off an air of professionalism as a business, so check for them in advance before traffic coming to your site starts ticking upwards over the holiday period.
Sites like Dead Link Checker will analyze your website for any broken links free of charge. You can also use sites such as Fiverr to connect with proof-readers who can trawl your website and get a human to check for typos, broken images, bad links and other inaccuracies.
Highlight testimonials and positive reviews.
Ensure customers are confident they’re buying something of high quality by sharing positive reviews or testimonials on your website somewhere clearly visible. from your landing page to the individual product pages. This will give you credibility for any new holiday shoppers who aren’t familiar with your brand, but want to establish trust before buying from you.
Don’t have a system in place yet for reviews? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking customers in a follow-up email once they’ve purchased, e.g. “Let us know what you think of your new product!”. Feedback on social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook can also be leveraged and cross-posted to your store. Ensure your social channels are connected to your site and vice-versa for clear cross-promotional lines.
Be clear on shipping timelines and deadlines.
It’s important that your shipping process runs smoothly over the holiday period to save yourself any unnecessary stress. To stay on top of order fulfilments, make sure you’re aware of shipping deadlines for peak season with your chosen shipping carrier and whether parcels will arrive by the target day, like Christmas Eve.
Make sure your customers are aware of these dates by stating them clearly on your website, which will incentivize them to spend by a certain date, too. Since the global pandemic, the strain placed on ecommerce fulfilment has grown, so the earlier you ship your parcels out, the better.
Make sure your returns policy for the holidays is clearly stated.
Don’t get caught off guard when products are returned around this busy season. Events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas mean shoppers are prone to impulse buying around this period. In fact, an estimated one-in-three purchases are as the result of an impulse buy. Hence, communication is key.
Simplify your returns policy and make sure you’ve stated it clearly on your website in an easy-to-reach location so there’s no confusion between you and your customers.
Offer eco-friendly shipping options.
The popularity of one-day and same-day shipping and delivery has made customers comfortable with leaving holiday shopping till the last minute, but the speed of this shipping has an impact on the environment. Encourage customers to make purchases ahead of time by marketing the fact slower shipping options are more eco-friendly.
You could promote the slowest shipping option, such as ground-based shipping, and offer it for free or at a reduced cost on your online store to incentivize shoppers. In fact, since consumers are more focused on sustainable practices than ever, highlighting this option as environmentally beneficial can help connect to your customer base.
Check in on your fulfillment strategy.
Time is money, and the holiday season is likely to bring in more sales than usual. Small businesses need to be conscious over how much time they’ll need for fulfilment during these busier periods. If you’re an owner operator and sales were to skyrocket, how many orders, realistically, could you process and send out in a day? Figure out your average day’s output ahead of time so you can prepare accordingly.
If you’re doing fulfilment in-house, it might pay to line someone up to work part-time for you over these months to help with packing and fulfilment and lighten the load.
So there you have it – we’ve reached the end of our holiday checklist! December is on the horizon, so it’s important to prioritize which aspects relate to your business above the others. Remember, each business is unique, so play close attention to what works this year to keep in mind for 2023.
One final bonus tip
Take care of yourself. This can be a gruelling time of year to be running a small business, but don’t let the holidays be a joyless experience. Preparation is key, so as long as you have planning underway, you should be able to make time for yourself, too.
If you’d like to create sustainable custom packaging that gives your brand a seasonal makeover, browse our range of custom packaging options or reach out to talk to our design team.
Get prepared for the holiday rush with our other guides below.
Making the Jump from Digital to Physical: How Online Brands are Selling Offline