Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ask an Expert: ‘Tis the season for sales focus

Q: I was hoping you could give me some advice about how to take advantage of the holiday season. I am new to business and this will be my first Christmas where I will have a store. -- Jill

A: You are smart to be thinking about this because not only are people in a shopping frame of mind this time of year (obviously), they are in a shopping frame of mind this year. First sign: The holiday shopping season is beginning earlier than ever this year with ever more stores having sales on Thanksgiving (Boo! Bad call!). Consider these stats, too:

• Buzzfeed says that more than 33% of us will go shopping on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving, and 42% of those people say it is their favorite day of year to shop

• IBM reported that shopping on Cyber Monday (the following Monday after Thanksgiving) jumped by more than 30% last year.

With the economy continuing to chug along just fine (thank you, very much) it would behoove any small business to get ready now for customers who are looking and ready to spend. Here's how:

Have a sale: This is key. If the good news is that people are looking to spend, the bad news is that there is a ton of competition out there hunting for their dollar. So you simply have to play the sale game if you want to be in the hunt.

But let me add this caveat/idea: Don't have a Black Friday sale; concede that day to the big boys. Instead, plan a sale for later in the week, or December. Have a "Super Tuesday" sale or something, but whatever it is, plan it ahead of time and time it for when there is less competition.

Also, be sure to put on sale things people want. The loss leader strategy works because it does in fact lead to more sales if done right. The discount on the cool item they love gets them in the door, and it is your job then to entice them to stick around and buy other items.

Once your sale is planned, get the word out. Have signs in your store announcing it, blast it out via your social media and e-newsletter! , post it on your site and blog, advertise it, etc. Consider too offering a "free gift" in your promotions – people love free.

Finally, order enough inventory to handle the expected rush, and be sure to make returns stress-free: "We have a no hassle return policy!"

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Make it easy: If you walk into any market these days, it is no secret that gift cards are all the rage. That is a bandwagon to jump onto, too. Offering gift cards or gift certificates for your store makes for an easy sale.

Be 'brandtastic': People love brands, they feel confident buying name brands, and they are willing to spend more to get a brand. Moral of the story? You know.

Get your site ready: People are, in increasing numbers, shopping online. That is true for the big box customers and it is true for your customers as well – whether you realize it or not or take advantage of it or not.

So let's take advantage of it. Upload new pictures and content to your site. Put brands on the homepage. Post some testimonials.

Also, if you don't have a mobile version of your site, you should, because the mobile phone is how we all get our info these days, and is also what people use to compare and shop. Creating a mobile website is not difficult either. Do a search and you will find many providers with affordable, elegant solutions.

Say thanks: Finally, the other important way to ring in the holidays is to be sure to thank the people who make your business possible (using gifts, words, or deeds) – customers, clients, employees, partners, vendors, friends, associates, mates, and so on.

And so to you, loyal and new readers alike who make this column possible, my sincere thanks.

Happy holidays to all!

Today's tip: When teenagers at McDonald's ask if you would like fries with that order, are they being polite? No, they are upselling, as they have ! been taug! ht to do. Upselling is a fine way for you to increase your sales this holiday season. Undoubtedly you have plenty of items for sale that dovetail nicely with other items. Kindly ask your customers if they know about the second item – it's good customer service and good business.

Steve Strauss is a lawyer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. His column appears Mondays. E-mail Steve at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com. An archive of his columns is here. His website is TheSelfEmployed.

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