Small Businesses, Maximize Your Retail Sales and Profit Margins This Holiday Season

The school season is officially upon us, and with the school season comes the holidays.

Chances are, the holidays are the most lucrative time of year for your retail business: 2016 Statista data (paywall) shows that holiday sales make up about 23% of total e-commerce sales. It goes without saying, then, that you need to be properly prepared if you want to maximize revenue from now until the end of the year.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 17% of consumers surveyed start looking into holiday purchases as early as September.

So, while you might think the holidays are still a long way away, what you do now will make an impact on your bottom line when the end of the season comes.

As the CEO of a finance firm for business owners, I've helped many companies make the most of the holiday season. Whether you’ve already begun making plans for the holiday season or you’re just getting started, these are the steps I recommend you take to get more out of this holiday season.

Analyze trends and gather data.

One of the first and most important things to do if you’re preparing for the holiday season is to gather data to project what the season will be like.

In particular, examine trends from the past holiday season to get an idea of where things are going. This can help inform several important decisions when preparing for the holidays. Examples include: 

• Sales data as a whole as well as data on product categories and specific products

• Efficacy of promotions

• Marketing trends: What’s coming into style, and what's dying out? What worked last year, and what didn’t? What is different this year compared to last that might affect that?

In my experience, it's ideal to gather information on your competitor’s sales or specific promotions. However, general projections on the economy and how big of a season you can expect, as well as related data and trend information, are also invaluable tools if you want to get prepared and stay ahead of the curve.

Once you have this information, use it to design a marketing plan as well as to inform all your holiday preparation decisions to put yourself in the best position possible to capitalize on the upcoming season.

Order holiday office, shipping and other product supplies.

The last thing you want is to do an enormous amount of work preparing the really important things for the holiday season, only to find you don't have enough basic supplies.

When the season peaks, you have less time to make supply runs and you’re more likely to forget things or just not notice them. This could potentially lead to a completely unavoidable headache (like running out of packing tape midway through a busy day in December).

So, take the time now to review all basic holiday supplies, from product accessories all the way down to paper and basic shipping supplies, to give yourself one less thing to worry about.

Map out holiday schedules and plan additional hires.

One of the biggest headaches of the holiday season can be dealing with employee schedules and the additional hires many businesses need to make to handle the increased sales volume.

However, if you don’t plan this out in advance, you risk not being able to handle the sales volume you receive. That can hurt your bottom line and potentially affect your relationship with important customers (particularly if you sell wholesale).

Here are a few suggestions for handling holiday scheduling and hiring challenges.

• Create a holiday schedule now based on last year’s volume, and adjust it for this year’s projected sales volume. That way, you know what you’ll need from everyone in advance.

• Communicate that schedule with your teams, and make sure they know what’s expected of them.

• Estimate how many additional hires you’ll need and get them in early enough to complete their training before the season really kicks off. The last thing you want is for them to still be getting their feet wet when things start to really pick up.

• Consider getting an assistant who can take basic administrative and data entry tasks off your hand for an affordable rate. A virtual assistant can save you time and streamline your process, allowing you to focus more on what matters most: maximizing sales and profit throughout the season.

Generate extra holiday inventory.

Whether you believe your business is in a position to handle the increase in demand or not, I believe it’s critical to generate that extra inventory now.

Things always go wrong in business, no matter how hard you try to avoid them. So while you might look around and think you’ve got everything handled, something could happen in the thick of the season that affects your production ability, sends you reeling and makes you wish you had prepared in advance.

Use the information you gathered earlier on projected sales for the season to calculate how much extra inventory you’ll need over the holiday season and, at the very least, start by getting a head start now so you can adapt to any issues that arise later.

Review your website.

As is the case for most industries, you likely count on your website to function for the holiday season (or depend on major online retailers like Amazon to stay up, which might be a problem if the holidays are anything like Business Insider's report of 2018's Prime Day).

If your website goes down, you’ve got a problem. A big problem.

However, a wonky checkout process and design flaws can be nearly as fatal. So, take this time before the season heats up to review the points below, which can help you make sure you’re prepared to meet a potential barrage of traffic effectively.

• Review your analytics to see how you can further improve checkout conversion and time on site.

• Improve your site speed to retain more visitors.

• Decide how you're going to deliver holiday promotions and coupons. Make sure this system is already in place and tested.

Get festive.

Whether you’re strictly online, brick-and-mortar or both, your consumers will likely look for signs of that holiday cheer, whether it’s a nicely decorated storefront or a few holiday-specific design changes.

It might not seem like that big of a deal, but properly representing the holiday season in consumer’s eyes can affect what they think of you, especially when compared to your competitors.

Resource:Small Business Forbes