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6 retail planning tips to help you prepare for the holiday shopping surge

Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Oct 6, 2021 min read

The holiday shopping season is right around the corner, which means increased sales volume as customers clamor to get must-have gifts for family and friends. According to the National Retail Federation, about 20% of annual retail sales occur during the holidays.

So, it's important to be ready.

We know that as a small business owner, you don't have an unlimited supply of resources. But that doesn't mean you can't be prepared to take advantage of this all-important time of the year. Here are six retail business planning tips to help you meet the increased demand of the holiday shopping season.

1. Hire extra staff

Holiday readiness starts with having enough people on staff to meet your customers' needs. The number of job openings in the United States reached a record high at the end of July. Entire industries, including retail, are struggling to find candidates to fill vacant positions — and that's before the holiday season starts.

If you need to ramp up staffing, it may take longer than usual to find the extra help you need. You might want to start preparing now.

Jeff Moriarty, marketing manager for Moriarty's Gem Art, his family's jewelry business, recommends bringing on extra staff before you really need them, so they have a chance to learn the ropes before the big holiday rush begins.

2. Prepare a holiday marketing plan

If you want a slice of the holiday shopping pie, you need to attract new and existing customers to your store. The type of marketing that's right for you will depend on your business and your customers. Here are some ideas for your holiday promotions.

  • Run a social media campaign where your customers "hang out" (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.).
  • Offer product discounts.
  • Pay for online, print or radio advertising.
  • Sell product bundles.
  • Offer giveaways or start a rewards program.

One of the most effective ways to reach existing customers is through email marketing. But if you want to have a successful holiday campaign, you need to start collecting information now.

Moriarty estimates that about 25% of their company's sales each holiday season are from people who visited their website earlier in the year. "It's so important to think about the people that were coming three to four months before the holidays," he says.

3. Stock up on inventory

If you don't want to tell your customers the gift they were shopping for is out of stock, merch planning is essential. Place orders for holiday inventory early to avoid disappointed customers later. Look at your budget, past sales and currently in-demand items to decide what and how much to order. Be careful not to over-order seasonal items you can't sell year-round. 

4. Optimize your website

Online sales increased by 32% in 2020 and show no sign of slowing down. While you don't need a major website overhaul to take advantage of this trend, a few minor tweaks can make a big difference to your customers. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Shipping. Customers shopping for the holidays want to make sure their gifts are going to arrive on time. "They want to know if they're going to get it by Christmas," Moriarty says. "We have supporting language that shows how long it takes to ship and when they're guaranteed to receive it by." Consider following his lead and add language to your site that lets people know the last day they can order to receive their gifts in time for the holiday.
  • Payments. Credit card payments are standard for online orders. But customers like to have options. Allowing them to use digital wallets like ApplePay or Google Wallet or peer-to-peer (P2P) services like Venmo and Paypal offers flexibility and lets them shop on the go with their mobile devices.
  • Create a holiday gift guide. Sometimes customers visit your site just to look around. They won't know the perfect gift until they see it. Consider adding a holiday gift guide to your website that highlights the most popular items or merchandise you want to promote. It will give your customers ideas for the perfect gift and may help you increase sales.
  • Streamline checkout. Keep it to one page and don't require customers to create an account or save their contact and payment information to your site to make a purchase. If they start checking out but don't finish, send a shopping cart abandonment email to help convert more sales.

5. Select packaging, shipping and delivery options

Once those online sales are complete, you need to package, ship and deliver them. Retail planning in advance helps you decide if you need to change your strategy before the holiday rush hits.

  • Packaging. Make a plan for how you'll package merchandise. There are lots of materials to choose from, including boxes, envelopes, poly mailers and more. Different items may require different types of materials. Remember, shipping costs are often calculated by weight. So, it's important to use as little material as possible while ensuring the package arrives safely.
  • Shipping. Depending on the volume of orders you need to ship, you may be able to handle packaging and shipping internally. If it’s too much to handle on your own, working with a third-party logistics partner or dropshipper can free up time if it’s too much to handle on your own. You and your employees can manage other more pressing aspects of running your business.
  • Pick-up and delivery. Some customers don't want to wait a week or two to receive their order or pay for shipping. For those customers, consider offering same-day delivery; buy online, pick up in-store; and curbside pick-up options.

6. Adjust your return policy

People shopping during the holiday season often buy gifts they won't give their loved ones for weeks. A 30-day return policy might deter someone from shopping at your store this time of the year. Consider adjusting your policy to allow a longer return window for items bought between November 1 and December 24.

How NEXT helps retail businesses

At NEXT, you can choose from multiple types of retail insurance to get coverage that fits your unique needs. Our customized insurance packages are "right-sized," so you never have too much or too little coverage. This flexibility is especially handy when hiring extra holiday help.

With our online application process, you can review policy options, see pricing and purchase the policies that are right for you — in less than 10 minutes. After you pay your premium, you can access your certificate of insurance online.

If you have questions, our licensed, U.S.-based insurance professionals are ready to help.

Get started with your free quote today.

Kim Mercado image
By Kim Mercado
Kim Mercado is the managing editor of NEXT's small business blog.
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