Is Your Business Ready for the Biggest Shopping Season of the Year?

Holiday ShoppingIt’s too soon to start thinking about the Holiday season, right? Wrong.

Remember last year in 2013, when several companies, including Macy’s, Target and Toys “R” Us announced they would be open Thanksgiving night to kick off the Black Friday deals? It may be safe to assume we will see a repeat of this in the 2014 holiday season. In addition to early starts, this year’s shopping season will be two days longer.

Whether you are strictly brick and mortar, e-commerce, or a combination of the two, taking a look at the anomalies surrounding the 2013 holiday shopping season - compressed holiday schedule and the dreadful weather storms across the nation - should convince you that you have a lot of preparation to do.

Increase Mobile and Online Marketing Efforts

In a battle between brick and mortar commerce and online retailers, it’s tough to crown a champion.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce accounted for 2 percent of all retail sales in 2004. Ten years later, it now accounts for 6 percent of all sales in the United States. While retail sales are also increasing, e-commerce sales are growing at a much higher rate.

On average, one in every five people in the entire world own a smartphone and one in every 17 own a tablet. People are becoming more comfortable with online shopping, or at least gathering information about brands and products on the web before visiting stores.

Internet Retailer reported that foot traffic to brick and mortar retailers dropped 14 percent in 2013 and on average, mall-goers are only visiting three stores per trip. Meanwhile, mobile sales from smartphones and tablets were up 46 percent year over years and accounted for 16.6 percent of digital sales in 4th quarter 2013. Last holiday season, Black Friday was the first billion-dollar-plus online shopping day, reaching a total of $1.2 billion.

Businesses need to find a way to bridge the gap between a consumer’s in-store and online shopping experiences. Real-time marketing and personalization efforts need to be made across all platforms. An online presence through social media is imperative. Pinterest and Facebook are among the top social media outlets that convert seekers into buyers. Although consumers on Pinterest spent an average of $109.63 versus consumers on Facebook who spent an average of $60.48, Facebook’s conversion rates were more than three and half times as frequent as Pinterest’s.

Prep your online presence for the holidays. Add some seasonal cheer to your websites and logos to show consumers that you are, in fact, human. Interact with customers through social media and strengthen your customer support. People want to be noticed and heard. Personalize your brand and give your customers the attention they want. Make sure they have a reason to visit your business over any other.

Put Logistics in the Limelight

Between Black Friday weekend and December 15th of last year, nearly 40 million credit- and debit-card customers were exposed to potential fraud from a data hack at U.S. Target stores. It was later confirmed that an additional 70 million customers were also affected. This is a nightmare that no company wants to have.

Take the necessary steps to protect your business and your customers. Run a security audit to guarantee that your network is secure and be sure to use SSL (secure sockets layer) authentication. A lock icon is displayed on an SSL-secured website and a green web address bar shows on an extended validation SSL-secured website, providing some security and peace of mind to online shoppers.

On top of the possibility of a data breach, holiday shopping is even more chaotic when packages are late or undeliverable or when inventory is incomplete.

Even as more consumers are switching to the online shopping experience, there are still uncertainties among these online shoppers. Consumers may be especially hesitant to shop online during the holiday season after 2013’s weather fiasco and delivery problems from FedEx and UPS, where UPS, alone, had projected 132 million deliveries for the last week of the shopping season, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Same-day service doesn’t always exist in the cyber world.  This is where brick and mortar retailers have an advantage over e-commerce. Retail stores have an advantage because, according to a report from consulting firm A.T. Kearny, it’s easier to build customer loyalty and support financial performance.

This 2013 study reported that 40 percent of in-store shoppers spent more than they had planned, while only 25 percent of online shoppers spent more than planned. The study also showed that the top reasons consumers visited stores were due to instant gratification, trying and experiencing products and socializing with friends and family.

If you can’t provide the instant gratification that consumers want, what else can you do? Let them know when they can expect their items to be shipped. If you experienced success with shipping and deliveries, make that a highlight in your promotions to customers. This can relieve some of the insecurity that they may have. Keep a current inventory, both online and in-store, and implement extended customer service hours. This will allow faster solutions to problems and create a better overall experience.

Now is the time to differentiate your business from your competitors.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography /

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