Holiday Shopping is Back: How Small Businesses can be Big

Holiday Shopping Series – Part 2

Holiday shopping is back with Black Friday just days away. Even though things will look drastically different from the pandemic-influenced shopping season of a year ago, it will feature some of the same trends and challenges.  The second part of this series looks at what steps independent merchants can take to make sure they have a happy holiday.  

Small business strategy

While big business got bigger in 2020 – the top 100 online retailers accounted for 73% of all e-commerce growth last year – there are steps independent merchants can take to improve their profits.

Make sure you’re mobile. If you’re already online, great. But make sure your site is mobile-friendly. Nearly half of holiday shopping e-commerce comes from mobile phones. It may seem like a no-brainer, but statistics show that 16% of U.S. internet users use only their phone to peruse the internet and 40% of visitors will not use a website that isn’t mobile-friendly.

“You want to connect with your customers in line and online, so it’s extremely important to offer many ways to buy products,” says Charles Owen, chief experience officer at Paladin Data Corporation, a leading provider of retail technology to independent businesses. “You can connect with your customers better and more often. You cannot only reach new customers, you can connect with your existing customers with sales and offers. It also lets you sell while your store is closed. It’s 24/7 availability.”

Mobile doesn’t just mean mobile phones, either. Worldpay’s 2021 SMB PACE research indicates that mobile point of sale was the most popular form of accepting payments in small businesses in 2020. It allows salespeople to help customers away from the checkout counter and lets customers avoid waiting in lines.

Be sociable. Research shows that sales generated through social media sites represented 11% of worldwide e-commerce in 2020, a whopping $474 billion. While sales are not entirely made on these sites, exploration for, and discovery of, gifts is done on them. Close to 80% of consumers surveyed by AdWeek said they used at least one Facebook service to get ideas last holiday shopping season.

Offer fulfilling options. If your store is selling online, click-and-collect services will be even bigger this year. Adobe Analytics says stores offering options such as BOPIS or BORIS (buy online, return in-store) and curbside pickup experience a 31% higher conversion rate on their website traffic than stores that didn’t.

Hire early for the holidays. It’s no secret that there are more than a few jobs available in the customer service industry. With Walmart announcing in late August that it will be hiring 20,000 supply chain workers, Target hiring 100,000, Amazon hiring 125,000 and Kohl’s adding 90,000 seasonal workers as they ramp for the holidays, staffing a store won’t get any easier.

Many of Walmart’s and all of Amazon’s additions are supply chain workers. Smaller retailers might join that trend and focus on hiring fulfillment staff – taking and filling online orders and delivery positions. Offering flexible shifts, emphasizing company safety measures and success stories, and working with local hiring agencies can alleviate some of the staffing woes.

Small business owners can save themselves a lot of time and headaches in hiring seasonal workers by adjusting their hiring processes.

Write job descriptions directed specifically to seasonal employees

Hire early – especially this year when employees are so hard to find. 

Screen thoroughly. These employees could become permanent. 

The September report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed 8.4 million unemployed Americans. However, that number isn’t enough to fill the nearly 10 million positions that were open.

Be big on Small Business Saturday

One of the positive impacts the pandemic had on retail was that it gave shoppers the desire to support local businesses. A recent marketing study shows that nearly 83% of consumers say they would rather support a local business than a big box or corporate store.

In response to the pandemic closures affecting so many small businesses in 2020, American Express, which started Small Business Saturday in 2004, expanded the program to a year-round effort.

“In our opinion, Small Business Saturday has been phenomenally influential in the buy local and shop small movements,” says Bill Brunelle, co-founder of Independent We Stand (IWS). “I truly believe it has had a major impact on the retail world.

“Now, it’s more than just one day. Small Business Saturday is still huge, but merchants can also go on the Shop Small website to find resources to promote shopping small businesses year-round.”

The National Hardware and Paint Association (NHPA) published a story a couple years ago that offers 10 Wins on Small Business Saturday. The suggestions are even more pertinent in the post-pandemic recovery.

Local marketing is crucial. With so many consumers wanting to shop locally, reaching them has probably never been more important.

Retail Science recently published a story that stressed how important local marketing is for independent businesses. Shoppers have many reasons to support local businesses. Most have nothing to do with pandemic closures.

54% say local goods and services are higher quality

31% say accessibility to local products is key

20% shop locally out of habit

15% say price is their determining factor

Look beyond advertising in the local paper and regional television. Offering products online was once seen as a way to reach customers outside of a store’s market. Now, it’s a crucial way to reach local shoppers. Hubspot numbers say 97% of people learn about local companies from online searches. That means feature local holiday content on your:

Website

Google My Business listing

Pointy by Google listings

Local SEO (search engine optimization) 

Buck Electric Ace Hardware in Ocean Shores, Washington was looking for a way to bring in more local shoppers. The business turned to its technology provider, Paladin Data Corporation, and its integration with Pointy to reach them.

“Because we live and work in a remote area, it seems like everybody today just clicks on Amazon.com to shop and there are a lot of items we have that are the same price. This gives us the chance to get that sale first,” explains Buck Electric Ace Bookkeeper Jody Cadle.

Social media influences shoppers. Adweek polled shoppers and 80% said they had used at least one Facebook app or service when shopping during the 2020 holiday shopping season. So, getting social can bring in more shoppers.

Adweek also cites a Grand View Research estimate that shows social commerce accounted for 11% of global retail e-commerce in 2020.

SantaLove your community.  Shoppers have gravitated toward local businesses for a reason during the pandemic. They support their hometown stores to improve their communities. So, honesty and clarity in sales and service from marketing messages through final sales are more critical than ever. Stores that boost their communities, by doing business with other local stores and supporting local organizations and efforts, are themselves rewarded.

The 2021 Retail Personalization Index Consumer Survey found that two-thirds of shoppers believe a brand’s ethics are important. Also, the 2020 Consumer Culture Reports shows that 71% of shoppers want to shop at stores with ideals aligned with theirs.

curbside pickupBe ready to deliver. If you plan on delivering your customer purchases, plan to do it on your own or plan for delays. Buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup took off last year when shoppers tried to avoid crowded stores. And when they tried it, they liked it. Salesforce numbers showed that stores that offered it saw a 31% higher conversion rate on their websites than stores that didn’t.

Also, 52% of consumers who tried it said they would use the services again.

Because third-party delivery services expect to be so backed up during the holiday shopping season, stores will need to be ready. Adding fulfillment staff, designated pickup parking, and delivery personnel is a good idea to make sure purchases get to customers.

Happy holidays!

Holiday shopping in 2021 will certainly be an improvement on last year. Both stores and consumers will be a bit more experienced about what to expect. With a little preparation and a few new tactics, your store and staff can have a happy holiday.

brian bullock 

Author