6 Tools & Tactics to Stay On Top of Holiday Small Business Trends This Year

Business.com / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

The holidays are in full-swing. Which of these must-use strategies is your business taking advantage of, and which are you missing out on?

It’s finally November, and if you’re a retailer, you know this means it’s time to start planning, strategizing, and capitalizing on the flood of shopping and sales expected for Black Friday.

Or has the shopping spike already started?

According to the latest “Google Post-Holiday Shopping Intentions Study,” 48 percent of holiday shoppers confirmed doing most (or all) of their shopping on or before Cyber Monday in 2014 – and 25 percent said their shopping was done before Halloween.

The same study also discovered that over $1 trillion of all retail sales last year were influenced or done via shopping-related online searches on a mobile device; that’s a 12 percent increase year over year in mobile-influenced sales (2014 vs 2013).

A lot of this can be attributed to the spike of millennials—who are far more reliant on their smartphones—now entering the picture.

As a small business owner, staying on top of these consumer trends is essential to own your target market, stay competitive with bigger retailers in the space, and to better connect with the modern online shopper; and the same goes for offline shoppers as well.

Related Article: Earlier Every Year: Get Ready for the Holiday Shopping Season Now

In the upcoming 2015 season, consider the following tools and tactics to help you stay on top of these types of shopping trends and maximize sales.

1. Go Mobile or Go Home

If you couldn’t tell from before, mobile is on the rise – and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping anytime soon. Reaching your audience where they spend most of their time is the backbone to any successful strategy, and right now they’re all on their phones. Here is how to meet them there:

  • Loyalty Apps – Shoppers no longer want to carry around a stack of store reward cards. With apps like Collect, retailers can save space in their patrons’ wallets with the option to earn rewards from their phone.

However, traditional “point” reward programs don’t have as much impact with newer consumers. Be creative and stand out – grab peoples’ attention with rewards such as a free gift or upgrade, gift cards for referring friends, etc. You can also have earning “points” be more than just making purchases. Attribute actions like exercise (with wearable technology integration) to rewards – specifically if you’re a health food, sporting goods, or other lifestyle business.

  • Buy Online – And of course providing the option to pay for your product or service online from the comfort of home is another way to cater to trending habits. There are many options for retailers including a website with eCommerce functionality or through social channels using tools such as Like2Buy. If you’re in the hospitality space, using online ordering app Mobi2Go for customers on the go or being present on delivery services like GrubHub can help give you an advantage and improve visibility to more audiences.

If you’re going to try one new strategy this holiday shopping season, utilizing technology that allows your customers to better interact with you on their phones is the one to pay attention to.

2. Enrich In-Store Experience

While it’s important to be accessible via mobile smart devices, you can’t forget about Brick and Mortar. There is a growing trend of eCommerce brands such as Bonobos and Birchbox opening physical stores – they’ve started to realize that a large number of retail sales still occur offline and it wouldn’t be smart to ignore that if they want to maximize sales.

This just means it’s more critical than ever for small businesses to amplify in-store experiences. You need to give people a reason to go to your store over trendy brand stores or industry giants like Walmart:

  • Make an Experience – Stand out from the others and become more than “just a store.” Let customers control the music with some sort of jukebox app, such as Rockbot or even a physical jukebox if your target audience is into old-school. Or offer refreshments to patrons such as finger foods, brews, and spirits, or something that is relevant to them or the local market. If your primary service is offering food and drink already, offer some sort of entertaining “fun area” for before, during, or after a meal.
  • Localization – On the topic of local markets, your physical location you should cater to the environmental and cultural needs of the local resident customers. For example, if you’re offering beer as a refreshment you should go with a local brewery. Or if you’re located in a heavily urban environment, alter the in-store experience to cater to those with a faster-paced lifestyle.
  • Connect to Online – The digital realm is still an important piece, however, even with Brick and Mortar. In another Google consumer survey, up to 50 percent of shoppers (mostly younger) made mobile purchases while waiting in line at a store last holiday season. Allowing to check store inventory, request a store to order a product, or to purchase online helps bridge the gap between offline and online. Yelp also offers “incentivized check-ins” that provide discounts or goodies to users who check-in to your location. They are later reminded to review you – and we all know reviews are a huge part of the online research process.

3. Visibility Online & Search Marketing

Speaking of online research, after stealing people away from bigger retailers by becoming the next trendy hangout it’s time to focus on growing visibility online – especially during the holidays. There are a variety of ways to do this:

  • Local SEO – Make it a priority to claim your location in all major local business directories on websites like Google and Bing. Then ensure the listings have as much of your business information (hours, phone number, etc.) as possible, link to your other digital properties, and are consistent (especially with spelling/grammar in the address) across all listings and websites. Most people start their path to purchase with a search on Google; with the local personalization of search engine results, ensuring you’re investing in Local SEO is a sure-fire way to gain visibility and ideally getting the upper hand on the Walmarts out there.
  • Paid Search – During the holiday shopping season, it would also be smart to invest in Paid Search – especially on the actual Black Friday or Cyber Monday. You can geographically target the ads to ensure you’re only investing in clicks/impressions of those relevant to your service area on both traditional and social search engines.
  • SEO & Content Marketing – While a solid SEO and Content Strategy is beneficial year-round, it’s especially critical during the holidays. Connect with your customers by releasing timely and/or local-focused content – from industry insights to timely information about shopping during the holidays to your involvement at a local charity event.

Related Article: How to Create an Amazing Direct Mail Piece to Generate Holiday Sales

Also, make sure all of the website/digital content is optimized with SEO best practices and the content takes search insights into account. Some of these search insights – specifically Google search volume – also reveal what is being asked online about your business in general or in relation to the holiday (for FAQ, blog, or local listing content). Use a tool like UberSuggest to start finding out what people want to know about your brand or a certain topic – just enter a word or phrase and see what users most often type afterward.

With over 78 percent of shoppers using the internet for holiday research last year (2015 Google Post Holiday Shopping Intentions Study), you want to make sure you’re visible.

4. Use Multiple Channels for a Cohesive Strategy

One thing you’ve likely noticed is that in order for small businesses to be successful, they need to not put all their eggs in one basket. The modern consumer is checking their phone, going into store locations, researching online – they’re everywhere. So it’s your job to be there too.

This doesn’t mean you need to create a profile on every social network and implement every strategy possible. As a brand, you know (or should know) your target audience – who they are, what they like, and what social group/generation/income bracket they fall into. Using this data can help inform where you need to be focusing.

For example, if you have a primarily female customer base or your service/product is related to food then Pinterest is worth exploring; 69 percent of Pinterest users are female and the top category is food. You can create boards related to your target audiences’ interests, your product, your local community, etc.

Choosing the right channels is essential, as is making sure any online (and offline) properties are properly connected, linked together, and all supporting the same goals and message.

What Other Tools Are Available?

Now that you have some places to start for determining your strategy, consider some other tools such as the following to help support your efforts and stay on top the latest trends:

5. Smarter POS Technology

If you’re using a Loyalty App service (suggested above) you’re eliminating the burden of carrying around a physical card to get rewards. Another card your customers will want to leave at home while shopping is their debit/credit card. Many companies such as Apple and Google offer mobile wallets for simpler payments.

Small Business owners can take advantage of programs such as Poynt or Square to provide multiple payment options. Most importantly, you’re more catering to the biggest shopper trend – the dependence on their mobile devices.

6. Beacons

Also commonly known as “iBeacon” (Apple’s version of this technology), these devices communicate with customers’ smartphones in attempts to improve the in-store experience. They use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to detect the nearby devices to send customized ads, content, or coupons based on the user’s location and mobile behaviors. This is useful for retailers because it helps to improve the in-store experience, better connect online to offline, and takes advantage of the ever-increasing mobile trend. And according to InMarket (a company who installs iBeacons in grocery stores), interactions with featured products (via Beacon technology) increased 19 times.

On top of helping support many of the strategies listed in this article and pushing product, Beacons collect useful analytics on consumers as well. These devices work with other apps to collect data on how people are actually moving through and interacting with stores to help better understand your audience.

If you even invest in one of the above tools or tactics, you’re well more on your way to having a competitive edge this season. And while it’s important to ramp up these strategies during the holidays, it would be smart to experiment with potentially less ramped up versions of these tactics year-round to always stay competitive. 

Related Article: Get Ready for the Races: Black Friday is Closer than You Think

At the end of the day, it’s all about the customers’ experience with your brand. The better they perceive their interaction with you to be, the more likely you’ll gain and retain business. Following tools and tactics that take the latest consumer trends – such as these – into account will help you get there.

How do you plan on staying competitive this year?

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