Holiday sales can represent make-or-break opportunities for local retailers and business owners. The money last-minute shoppers spend can be a significant bump in revenue.
When it comes to planning for the holiday shopping season, local business owners are encouraged to start early. “As soon as Halloween is over, it’s time for the end-of-year holiday rush. Retailers put out Santas and start blaring Jingle Bells long before Thanksgiving. Bottom line: The season is coming faster than you think. And it’s time to get prepared,” writers marketing consultant Arianna O’Dell.
If you’re starting a little late or your marketing plans haven’t quite taken off yet, are you out of the running? Absolutely not.
Google research suggests that about 70 percent of shoppers are still searching for the perfect gift in the week leading up to Christmas. Here’s how to get their attention.
Prepare Discounts and Exceptional Customer Experiences
Some local business owners have complete control over everything. Others, including franchise owners, need to stick with corporate plans. Both sets of professionals can take steps to ensure that the in-store experience is as good as it can possibly be for those harried shoppers.
It starts with straightforward discounts, says Amy Richardson Golia, founder and CEO of children’s clothing store June & January, because the way you make the offer is important. “We’ve seen historically that saying something like 5 for $25 or 3 for $30 or BOGO is way more successful for us than saying 40 percent off or 50 percent off.”
New customers especially are not familiar with your store’s prices, so may not be swayed by a percentage discount. But everyone understands what “Buy One, Get One” means.
If you can’t compete with price, wow your customers with exceptional service. Local business owners have an advantage over big box retailers, because their customer service is very personal and so can be extremely effective.
John Rampton, founder and CEO of payment processing solution Due, gives an example of how this might look. “Let’s say that you run a cafe or bakery. Why not hand out warm drinks and samples of your pastries to frantic Black Friday shoppers? It not only gives you the chance to allow potential new customers to try your products, it could be a friendly gesture to help shoppers handle and get over the mayhem they just experienced at Walmart or Best Buy.”
Think about how you can deliver the very best in-store experience to your customers. And ensure you have enough trained staff on hand to provide that experience.
“Run through scenarios that might occur at your store during a busy weekend and give your staff the tools they need and the words to say to solve problems and help customers who might not have visited your store in a while,” says marketer Rose Leadem. That preparation could ensure customers leave your shop feeling happy and ready to come back.
Use Google as Much as Possible
Google is a procrastinator’s best friend. With phone in hand, a shopper can find out where to find the perfect (nearby) gift.
“Imagine you’re a last-minute shopper hustling from store to store in search of gifts. You’re even more likely to have your phone in your hand, swiping through potential options in a frenzy,” says Business News Daily staff writer Adam C. Uzialko.
Google Local Inventory Ads help you put an available product in front of customers looking to make a purchase. “Consumers demand this. In fact, more than 40 percent of holiday shoppers wish that stores would do a better job of sharing inventory information,” explains Google’s Nicole Eppolito Spence.
Make sure your local business is listed properly via Google maps. This is a tricky proposition for franchise businesses that have many stores in close proximity. But it can really pay off. “I found that searchers became increasingly likely to search for both brand and non-brand keywords within Google Maps as the number of days before Christmas shrank,” says Andy Taylor, director of research at digital marketing agency Tinuiti.
Search for your business via Maps, and ask your friends and family to do the same. Search for your company name, and then look for the products you sell. Make sure your business shows up, is listed properly, and make adjustments as needed. Then, nail down those inventory ads, so busy shoppers have a reason to visit you.
Adjust Your Ads Often
Advertising isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. As the holidays get closer, your strategy should shift.
In its Holiday Retail Playbook 2019, Google recommends this tactic: “Increase location bid adjustments around your stores with location extensions across Search, Shopping, Display, and YouTube campaigns during times when you expect more foot traffic, such as on the weekends or after shipping cutoff dates close to Christmas.”
There’s no limit as to how often you can shift when and where your ads are placed. Make sure you’re adjusting with data in mind: Any change you make on a whim with no analysis to back it up could negate your entire strategy.
It’s not just the placement but also the content of your ads that should be adjusted, recommends Cara Salpini at Retail Dive. “While the marketing strategy building up to Black Friday should emphasize exclusivity, during the shopping day itself it should focus on price — and that changes yet again when the holiday is over.”
A little experimentation could help you reach even more shoppers. For example, marketing writer Jason Ankeny says consumers might use products like Google Home to search for local product information. The voice-activated assistant could respond to a question with details about sizes, price and store hours.
To reach those customers, you’ll need content specifically designed for that purpose, which you can accomplish with a Google My Business account. It’s a free tool that shows customers you are a trusted business with verified information and allows you to interact with customers with proactive features like Google Q&A.
Question-and-answer content seems custom-made for voice search, says Ilker Koksal, cofounder and CEO of conversational analytics company Botanalytics. And since so few companies are creating content like this, the field is open for local business domination.
If the thought of creating or adjusting ads fills you with anxiety, remember that there are plenty of vendors that can help. Explain what you’re hoping to do to lure in shoppers this season, and how you’d like your content and ads to fit into that strategy. Ask to stay involved with advertising shifts, so you don’t violate any franchise agreements or branding rules. But let an expert do the heavy lifting if it’s not in your skill set.
Why should anyone visit your local shop or business when they can order online? Here’s where you can really shine. While online retailers rely on shipping, your customers can walk right out of your store with the item they love. That’s a big perk, and it’s worth emphasizing.
“As the countdown to gift-unwrapping ticks down, who wants to risk an online gift order getting lost or arriving late? There’s no better time of the year to get people into your store,” says Small Business Trends columnist Rieva Lesonsky.
Spread the word with Google ads and social media posts. Offer fast, courteous gift-wrapping to make the benefit even clearer. Use signs out in front of the shop to make sure your customers understand what you offer that others can’t touch.
And if you want to combine the best of online shopping with brick-and-mortar pickups, consider a click and collect system.
“Merchants with large brick-and-mortar footprints are offering click-and-collect, allowing customers to order after the delivery deadline but still get their products before Christmas. Walmart, for example, is letting shoppers order online as late as 4 p.m. on December 23 for pickup until 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, Target is offering same-day pickup for orders placed by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve,” says Greg Magana, a research associate for Business Insider Intelligence.
You could take this practice, adapt it for your hours of business and use it to attract those final holiday sales.
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