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How SMEs can prepare for the holiday shopping season

October 14, 2014

With the holiday shopping season approaching, there are several steps that small and medium enterprise businesses can take to ensure that they are ready to capitalize on the increase in consumer activity.

With the holiday shopping season approaching, there are several steps that small and medium enterprise businesses can take to ensure that they are ready to capitalize on the increase in consumer activity.

The first thing that businesses can do is to prepare early. Christmas shopping has expanded to start earlier in many markets and this is especially true in the U.S. The Christmas shopping season now seemingly starts before Thanksgiving. By the fourth week of November businesses should be fully prepared, in terms of inventory, marketing campaigns and sales processes to accommodate for higher traffic. Thanksgiving is quickly followed by Black Friday which is considered the official start of ecommerce Christmas. The Monday after Black Friday is now referred to as Cyber Monday because of the increased ecommerce activity in recent years. Stefano Maruzzi, vice president at GoDaddy commented that these days have become the most active time for an ecommerce business.

“It’s a crucial moment in the retail industry, affecting every type of activity online and offline,” Maruzzi said, according to The Guardian.

Once the preparation phase is fully outlined in the business calendar, websites need to be tested and fully operational. The main goal for small and medium enterprises is that their websites meet customer expectations, explained Maruzzi. Things like delivery capability, inventory checks, and staffing need to be in line.

“Plan ahead and do not over-promise, expect extended hours,” Maruzzi added.

Research online, purchase offline 
A trend that has become apparent over the last few years with consumers is Ropo – research online, purchase offline. Many customers like to conduct their holiday shopping research online. They visit retailer websites and browse products and read reviews. For making their purchases however, they go to the brick-and-mortar stores. To help attract customers, pricing is important. Customers will remember good deals and visit the retailers whose products and prices they liked.

Maruzzi advised businesses not to add a lot of messages to their homepages and instead keep their websites clean so that that customers are not distracted and do not navigate away. Maruzzi also advised that download speeds should be fast as users typically do not have the patience to wait for slow sites to load. While seasonal welcome pages look nice, they may slow down the site.These are all things to keep in mind when preparing for holiday shopping activity.

“All the rules that apply in trade and retail stores happen online too,” said Maruzzi. 

Ivan Mazour, CEO of Ometria, an ecommerce intelligence platform, advised small and medium enterprise businesses to leverage data in order to better understand their customers. It will be helpful if businesses know what customers like, where they are coming from and which products they are interested in. Maruzzi advised that if possible, websites should track products that were put in shopping carts, but not purchased. By paying attention to these items, a retailer can identify problems or trends that limit sales. Also, retailers should be able to see if customers previously made purchases at the store and whether their activity signals any sales opportunities.

“If someone bought during the Christmas period last year and if you spot them on your website this year, then they are incredibly likely to convert again,” said Mazour, reported The Guardian.

Specific customer marketing strategies typically employ email marketing techniques and placing products likely to be purchased at the top of lists and banner advertisements. While personalization is not based on a certain technology, things like Google Analytics and some number crunching can help businesses figure out which products have high margins and are more desirable to customers.

According to Marketing Pilgrim, 41 percent of customers that will shop online this year will spend more than they did last year. In fact, this year’s holiday shopping season is expected to set records in terms of ecommerce activity. In 1994 the purchase of a Sting CD marked the first online transaction ever to take place. Since then, online shopping has become a worldwide phenomenon. Small business need to be part of this vast market and the holiday season is the perfect time to prepare and take advantage of all the benefits that ecommerce provides.

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