Happy HalloThanksMas, everyone! It's the most wonderful (and hectic) time of the year.

Between balancing an unpredictable sales season and the crunch to line up temporary workers, the last three months of the year is a crucial time for businesses. And like it or not, it's time to get started.

In neighborhoods across the U.S., Christmas lights are already in full view. And for many, the holiday shopping season has officially kicked off. Nearly half of shoppers polled recently said they would begin holiday shopping before November 1, according to coupon and discount site RetailMeNot.com.

Last year, foot traffic for retailers was down, and warmer holiday season skewed sales away from apparel and traditional winter products. But this year, with a colder winter forecast New York City professional services firm Deloitte predicts sales to increase about 4 percent.

Here four tips to help you better navigate this tricky final quarter of 2016:

1. Prepare for a cold snap.

Unlike last year, temperatures are expected to be colder than average over the next few months, according to Farmers Almanac. This means that after a mild start to October, shoppers who stayed home last year might begin opening their wallets to stock up on winter gear.

2. Give customers a reason to come in.

Let's face it, brick and mortar retailers can't compete on price with big box stores like Walmart or Amazon. You can, however, maintain an edge over online-only shops. Some shoppers still prefer an in-store experience, according to a survey by the New York City-based industry group International Council of Shopping Centers. They can try out items in person, make returns and skip shipping fees. So this holiday season, focus on improving the overall shopping/returns process.

As for the off-line big box stores, prioritize customer service and of course show shoppers a good time. Whether it's an event like a meetup or live music, or extra shopping help like gifting assistance or product bundling, give customers a reason to come into the store.

3. Open your virtual doors early.

Eighty-five percent of shoppers said they browse online before visiting a store, . That's why it's important to make sure your website is up-to-date and accurately reflects your brand and in-stock inventory. And since more than half of shoppers browse products and look for deals on a mobile device according to New York City-based professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, retailers must make sure their websites are mobile friendly. And it might be time to look into using mobile payments like Apple Pay and Android Pay--PwC says a quarter of the shoppers it surveyed are paying with their phones.

4. Attract employees like you would a customer.

Amazon says it will hire 120,000 seasonal workers to fill orders, sort packages and provide customer service. Small businesses can compete with the online retail giant by offering employees a unique experience--like events and community involvement--during this hectic time of year. If you're bringing in extra hands to get through the season, it's important they feel welcome and appreciated, so consider inviting them the holiday party, offering discounts on merchandise and scheduling their time off in advance so they can plan personal celebrations accordingly.

Published on: Oct 17, 2016