The crucial holiday shopping period from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday was less flush for businesses this year. But, chin up, the season overall is longer than in 2017, with one more weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so there's still time to make your year-end sales strategies count. And you don't need to spend a huge chunk of change on ads to boost foot traffic, even this close to the holidays. 

Here are six tips for reeling in last-minute shoppers, without spending a dime on advertising:

1. Offer daily specials

At Josh's Frogs, an Owosso, Michigan-based online reptile pet store, customers will find a sales event dubbed "25 Days of Frogmas," in which online shoppers will get a special deal on different frog species and other items. People can look at the deals ahead of time, too, in case they have a particular product in mind or feel tempted to get something because it's on sale. "We really wanted to take the 25 days to really point out: 'Here are all the things that we carry,'" says Josh Willard, the founder and CEO. He adds that the marketing tactic also lets him educate customers about the range of products available in his store. 

2. Allow shoppers to buy now, pay later

June & January, an Austin-based e-commerce business that sells colorful baby and maternity clothes, introduced a new layaway-style feature for its online store earlier this year. Founder and CEO Amy Richardson-Golia says she wanted to give her customers--new parents with lots of expenses--an option to stock up on items and spread out the cost over eight weeks. She uses Afterpay, a Melbourne, Australia-based service, which pays her the full order amount up front, minimizing noncompliance risks for her company. In exchange, Afterpay takes a cut of her sales, which, depending on a company's revenue, can be as high as 6 percent. It's worth it, Richardson-Golia says, noting that customers who used this option spent about $125, compared with the $55.23 average order value for other customers during Black Friday weekend. 

3. Right-size your discount strategy

Consider more straightforward discounts, suggests Richardson-Golia. "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," she adds. New customers are typically unfamiliar with her products' price point, she notes, so straightforward deals are usually more appealing to them than discount sales.

4. Give email another shot

Matt DeCelles, founder and CEO of eyewear company William Painter, is getting more eyeballs on his site with hyper-specific email marketing campaigns. "Segmentation is really important," he says, noting he'll send different messages to people who have opened one of his company's emails in the past 100 days than to those who haven't. He also analyzes consumer behavior to focus on what he calls "X not Y campaigns," which basically means he will send out product recommendations based on a customer's last purchase.  

It is also a lot cheaper than increasing your ad budget, says Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Farmgirl Flowers. "Email campaigns [have] our highest success rate," she says, noting that customers are spending about $16 more this holiday season compared with last year. "[In 2018], we tripled what we send out email-wise instead of spending it on social media."

5. Let your inner storyteller shine

"Shopping online doesn't have to be impersonal," says Merrill Stubbs, co-founder and president of Food52, a culinary e-commerce site and online community. Stubbs and her co-founder, Amanda Hesser, market their products alongside useful content, such as recipes or DIY articles, including holiday-themed pieces like "The Best Way to Wrap Any Gift, According to a Professional Gift Wrapper."

"There are brands that people feel great about shopping from, and it's not just about the product--it's about the [whole] experience," adds Stubbs, noting that businesses can use storytelling to give consumers a unique experience and make an emotional connection with them. "It's really about the brand as opposed to getting things delivered in five hours." 

6. Watch out for fulfillment traps

Before orders start pouring in, you have to make sure you're able to manage all of them, says Julien Plouffe, co-founder and CEO of Miami-based Moonglow, an online jewelry site. "We overstaffed to make sure we were able to fulfill orders," he adds, noting that it's OK for business owners to be a little more aggressive during the holidays.

Fail to do this and you'll be dealing with the consequences way into the new year, says Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, a Halfmoon, New York-based online knitting supplies store. "It's not just [dealing] with the high volume of sales and all of your problems magically go away come January 1. You have customer service ramifications, too," she says, noting that usually manifests in the form of online reviews, which you have little to no control over. "If you tick someone off and they call your customer service saying you really ruined Christmas for them, it's extremely hard to win that customer back," she adds, warning that you will probably end up increasing your customer service budget during the first quarter trying to put out fires like that.

"You have to really keep your ego in check and make sure you're making the right decisions for your business," adds Snow. "Don't just focus on the top line. Look at the bottom line as well."

Published on: Dec 12, 2018