What To Do Now to Prepare for the Holiday Shopping Season
If yours is like many other retail businesses, the upcoming holiday shopping season will be crucial to your success for the entire year. Many retailers depend on increased sales and profitability during the holidays to push them into the black for the year - hence, the "Black Friday" shopping day on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
The good news is that National Retail Federation is forecasting a five percent increase in overall holiday sales this upcoming season, and a 15 percent increase in online sales. It also reports that the beginning of the holiday shopping season continues to creep closer and closer to Halloween: About 40 percent of consumers now say they start shopping for the holidays before October 31╣.
This means that now is the time to be finalizing your preparations for the holiday shopping season. Here are four steps to consider:
- Make sure all your systems are up to date. This includes your inventory management (see below), online shopping (if you do e-commerce) and merchant card processing systems. On the e-commerce side, your online store should be built out and tested by now, with all of the bugs and kinks worked out. The height of the holiday shopping season is not the time to be dealing with website downtime and snags in your online ordering, payment and fulfillment system.
When it comes to merchant card processing, make sure that all of your point-of-sale (POS) equipment is current and up-to-date. Using outdated and inefficient equipment can end up costing you sales if frustrated customers see long checkout lines due to slow registers and abandon their purchases - that's money literally walking out the door. Consider adding new POS equipment (like a PIN pad) or additional terminals to boost efficiency at the point of sale and possibly decrease your card acceptance fees.
- Devise an inventory plan. Managing inventory is always a delicate balancing act, and this is especially true during the holiday shopping season. Carry too few top-selling items and you run the risk of shortages and lost sales and profits. Carry too many and you might have to unload them at big discounts after the holidays.
Look carefully at your sales patterns throughout the year and try to project these for the holiday season. Better still, look at sales patterns from past holiday seasons and make educated assumptions about whether they will hold for this year. Do some research into consumer buying trends to try to determine what will and won't be hot for 2013, including asking your customers what items they think will be in highest demand.
- Fine-tune your marketing strategies and budget. According to many retail experts, the holiday shopping season is the worst time of the year to skimp on marketing and advertising. But you want to make sure you're spending your marketing dollars wisely. Carefully measure your marketing efforts to gauge Return on Investment (ROI) - and stick with the marketing vehicles that provide a proven return, whether print, broadcast, online or other. If you haven't implemented a social media strategy yet, now might be a good time to try to connect with your customers online.
- Plan your promotions. Holiday promotions are critical to boosting traffic and sales for many merchants. To be most effective, they must be carefully planned out in advance - not just thrown together haphazardly. Decide which promotions (e.g., free shipping, buy-one/get-one free, half-off, etc.) will run when and which products each promotion will feature. You can adapt your promotions plan to deal with unexpected surges or drops in customer demand for products once the season hits, but having a plan going into the season will help you stay focused on your seasonal sales goals.
Contact PNC Merchant Services« at 800-742-5030 if you have specific questions about preparing for the upcoming holiday shopping season, or if you need to update or order an eCommerce platform or POS equipment.