It's baaaack! The holiday peak season for retailers is almost here.
In 2016, holiday sales represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales nationwide for the year, according to the National Retail Federation.
Businesses that have their act together stand to do well in what most prognosticators say should be a healthy year for holiday sales. Those that don't may spend January wondering what went wrong.
One of my first jobs was managing retail point-of-sale systems. While visiting brick and mortar stores, I got a lot of exposure to the preparations people were making -- or failing to make -- for the holiday rush. Many of the same lessons also apply to online retailers.
Ten key suggestions:
1. Start today.
Some strategies take time. You might have all the right ideas, but if you don't start immediately, you won't have time to implement them before the holiday rush.
Given that more than half of holiday shoppers are done shopping by Dec. 10, you only have a few weeks to capture their business -- so start targeting them now!
2. Follow the latest trends.
Sure, you know your market and how to appeal to it, but don't get overconfident.
Look up and see what trends are hot. Do your research. You may have missed something.
3. Leverage Small Business Saturday.
It comes on Nov. 25 this year. As a small business, you should be able to rock this.
American Express and a number of other organizations can help drive business to you with their Small Business Saturday campaigns.
4. Take any form of payment.
American Express, Discover, gift cards -- and cash works too! There are more vendors than ever for processing credit card payments, from Square to PayPal Here, to QuickBooks GoPayment, to Stripe.
Adding local payment or coupon options (such as the coupon books my daughter's school has me sell every year) can also provide leads and co-marketing for you. And gift cards can easily be done with services like Gyft or Clover. Love 'em all!
5. Work with Groupon.
Groupon as well as Amazon Local and other similar sites are great for driving business, much in the same way that traditional coupons books can.
Just be ready for a potential torrent of new business after the holidays (after all, you have to earn that revenue to recognize it).
6. Start a loyalty program.
Loyalty programs can be small and low-tech. Or they can be a service such as the Belly loyalty rewards program. You can also use the good, old-fashioned punch cards and stamps -- the buy 10, get one free type of stuff.
The great thing about a program like Belly, though, is you get an online presence driving business your way. Also consider loyalty programs that include a bunch of different businesses.
7. Rev up your PR machine now.
If you operate in a local market, it's a great time to look for creative ways to get your story out through social media.
8. Personalize the customer experience.
This can be as simple as remembering a customer's name and what they like.
The fact is, consumers are willing to pay more for a better experience. Automate as much of the experience tracking as you can, but not in a creepy way (like bombarding customers with multiple emails every week).
9. Partner with a non-profit.
Don't do it to make money, but because it's right.
This can be as simple as tithing a percentage of profits for a limited time to a charitable organization. Or you can get out and do something in person that's meaningful, such as leading collection drive.
10. Be smart with promotions.
This doesn't mean merely holding a "20 percent off sale."
You could hold a photos-with-Santa event. Or give double the loyalty points for a limited period.
A smart holiday season strategy can yield benefits long after the wrapping paper is discarded. But planning all of this doesn't start in November. It starts now.
Good luck this holiday season!