No matter what time of year it is, the holiday season is always imminent for small businesses. For many companies, the holiday season comprises the bulk of their yearly sales, so preparing early and thoughtfully can make all the difference.
While the holidays bring fierce competition, they also provide opportunities to capture new customers. According to the National Retail Federation, 2021 winter holiday online sales brought in $218.9 billion of revenue, with in-store sales reaching a record $667.8 billion.
We’ll explore ways small businesses can increase holiday sales and have their best season yet.
Holiday marketing strategies
Follow these 13 tips to maximize the holiday season’s profit potential.
1. Determine the discounts you want to offer.
American consumers are savvy shoppers. They know businesses compete for customers, and they’re always on the lookout for discounts and sales.
Strategize early, and brainstorm ways to appeal to your customers’ desire for excellent deals. For example, offer a single, valuable discount to draw in bargain hunters or plan a series of short-term promotions that change weekly, giving shoppers an incentive to return. You could also use discount codes to boost e-commerce sales.
While they cost you nothing to distribute, digital coupons can boost customer engagement and retention for current and past customers.
2. Provide gift suggestions.
Your customers’ lives will grow more hectic as the holidays approach. Consider making holiday shopping easier by preparing email marketing campaigns with gift ideas. Include a call to action, such as “Buy Now,” and include shoppable links that bring your customers directly to your website’s product pages.
Personalize gift suggestions based on previous purchases, showcase unique gift suggestions, and demonstrate how to bundle multiple items into one perfect gift. As a bonus and incentive, offer a discount on gift bundles.
3. Say thank you ahead of time.
Stand out from the crowd by sending thank-you cards to your loyal customers at Thanksgiving instead of waiting until the traditional Christmas and Hanukkah card-giving season. An unexpected thank-you card can make your customers feel genuinely appreciated – and you’ll be top of mind as they shop for family and friends.
4. Tap into nostalgia.
The holidays are surrounded by a glow of memories of childhood and magic – times when the snow was thick and Santa Claus was real. Why not design your marketing campaign to tap into holiday nostalgia?
Consider using black-and-white pictures, old-style fonts, and nostalgic photos from times gone by. Whether you’re planning an in-store display or an online landing page, nostalgia can guide your campaigns this year.
Evoking nostalgia can deepen your customers’ emotional connection to your brand and build brand intimacy.
5. Focus on customer loyalty.
Although you’re eager to attract new customers, don’t neglect your loyal shoppers. According to Annex Cloud, repeat customers are responsible for nearly two-thirds of your sales, so keeping them connected is worth it.
Take the opportunity to offer a special gift to your best customers, like a valuable discount or an exclusive first look at a new product. You could also send handwritten holiday cards to your loyal customers through the mail, the old-fashioned way. This strategy will garner your customers’ attention and show that you care.
Customer loyalty is valuable: 81% of consumers shopped for specific brands during the 2021 holiday season because they belonged to their loyalty programs, and 61% joined loyalty programs to receive discounts, according to data from Clarus Commerce.
6. Make the most of mobile.
SMS marketing and mobile marketing have become increasingly crucial for e-commerce in the last few years. Adobe found that more than $88 billion of sales were made via mobile devices during the 2021 holiday season. And during six days – Thanksgiving Day, December 18, December 19, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas – more than half of all online sales were made on mobile devices.
Create mobile-friendly email marketing campaigns and optimize your online store for mobile devices. If you decide to use SMS messaging for holiday marketing via text, your customers can easily click on a link and go directly to a product page on their phones.
7. Offer free shipping.
If you sell online, free shipping is the best special offer you can present year-round. However, free shipping is crucial if you want strong sales during the holiday season.
Consider offering free shipping for all holiday purchases, and ensure your customers know about it. Feature your free shipping offer in your marketing emails, and make it prominently visible throughout your online store.
To reduce abandoned e-commerce carts, send an automated email to the customer with an offer for free expedited shipping.
8. Go large on the holiday spirit.
Consumers aren’t just shopping for gifts; they also want holiday spirit. Update your window display, home page and landing pages with warm holiday scenes and plenty of sparkle.
Consider offering a holiday gift-wrapping service, both in-store and online, or market a special, limited-edition product only available during the holiday season. If your company does charity work around the holidays, feature photos on your social media feeds so customers know that you’re not just paying lip service to the holiday spirit.
9. Tap into niche social media channels.
You’re probably already using social media marketing on Instagram and Facebook, but have you considered other channels? Social media networks like Quora, Reddit and Pinterest don’t get as much attention, but they hold millions of loyal users waiting for your content.
For example, users go to the Pinterest social platform to plan or make purchases, so marketing on Pinterest is an excellent holiday strategy. Choose a niche social channel that fits your product, and plan special marketing or advertising efforts.
10. Turn to video marketing.
Using video to grow your brand is on the rise. Consumers love behind-the-scenes videos relating to their favorite brands and businesses.
This holiday season, show your company’s human face by asking employees to share their favorite holiday memories or giving customers a peek into what’s involved in preparing your business for the holidays. A cute or funny holiday marketing video is also an excellent opportunity for non-product-related businesses to tap into the holiday season.
Videos go a long way toward establishing your brand’s authenticity, a requirement in today’s marketing – especially if your customer base includes millennials, who prioritize experiences over goods.
11. Hold in-store events.
Despite the rise in online buying, consumers prefer shopping in-store for the holidays. According to research from Mintel, last year, 94% of Americans who said they shop or plan to shop during the holiday season reported that they were most likely to shop in person, compared to 83% who planned to shop online.
When customers come into your store, greet them with something special, such as free hot cocoa, entertainment and product demonstrations to get them in the buying mood.
12. Take advantage of Small Business Saturday.
Small Business Saturday fell on Nov. 26 in 2022. It’s an opportunity to showcase your wares and demonstrate that buying from you supports the community. CNBC data shows that more than one-third of U.S. adults who do holiday shopping said they planned to shop locally or buy from small businesses to support local communities.
13. Become a holiday planning, hosting and gifting partner.
The holiday season can be stressful as people plan and host festive meals, holiday parties, and more. Relieve some of your customers’ stress by providing content, products,and services that lighten the load.
One example is the alcohol delivery service Drizly, which provided White Glove Service for holiday events, including recommendations and delivery. Even complimentary gift wrapping can take some of the burden off your customers.
When to devise your holiday marketing strategy
Traditional holiday shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday have seen lower sales in recent years as consumers have trended toward shopping earlier in the year. According to the National Retail Federation, there were 179.8 million Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers in 2021, a decrease of 3.5% from 2020 and 5.2% from 2019.
This trend toward early shopping means you should start thinking about your holiday marketing strategy by May. Consider the following tips:
- Decide what you will promote. Take stock of the products you want to promote and how you will promote them.
- Create your messages. Identify key marketing messages that will inform your marketing strategy.
- Determine your sales’ target customers. Outline who you want to target and when you should reach out to them. For example, you may want to target busy parents in September and October because they tend to be exceptionally busy around the holidays. If you’re selling a popular corporate gift, reach out to your target market in late October or early November to avoid missing them while they’re on vacation for the holidays.
- Plan events. Throw holiday-themed in-store events or online promotions.
- Assemble a holiday marketing team. Consider hiring a digital marketing expert to spearhead your holiday marketing charge or assemble a team to create copy and graphics for holiday promotions.
When to implement your holiday marketing strategy
You may have noticed that major retailers start their holiday promotions earlier and earlier. Many stores put up Halloween decorations and displays in August or September, and Christmas decorations go up soon after. This is because the shopping season is lengthening.
Don’t wait for November to start promoting holiday deals, because you’ll be behind the competition. Potential customers may need to see your marketing message an average of seven to eight times before taking action, so build in time for that to happen.
More people than ever are shopping before Thanksgiving and even throughout the year to take advantage of deals. If you’re selling a high-demand product, start your holiday promotions in the middle of the year, around July. Otherwise, start running your promotions in September after the back-to-school season.
Evyatar Sagie contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.