Preparing SMBs for the holiday season

Sale sign
SMBs need to begin prepping for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

It's coming … and sooner than you may think. Cyber Monday and Black Friday are just around the corner, and SMBs need to prepare for the most important of shopping seasons. In 2016, Cyber Monday sales hit an all-time high of more than $3.45 billion in one day, and Black Friday traffic was up 220%. 

With the heightened competition, stress can be high, especially for SMBs that are not normally prepared for an influx of traffic. Plus, SMBs need to be ready for the larger role that digital and mobile will play now than in the past.

"This year, there will be more mobile device traffic and mobile device customers than before," Corey Ferreira, content marketing at global commerce company Shopify, told FierceRetail. "For the past few years, more and more customers have done their Black Friday / Cyber Monday shopping online, and there’s been a growing trend of traffic and purchases coming from customers on their mobile device."

Therefore, Ferreira says it's very important for retailers to think about their online store and digital marketing campaigns as mobile-first.

He warns that while many retailers will optimize the online shopping experience for desktop because that's easier, a mobile strategy is critical to ensure that an online store is fast and easy to shop using a mobile device.

With that in mind, Shopify is sharing its top 10 tips for SMBs this Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

1. Two words: Start now.
According to the National Retail Federation, 40% of customers begin researching and doing their holiday shopping as early as October.

2. Plan and organize your sales.
Begin to plan your campaign at a high-level, noting any assets, apps, inventory, etc. you might need to pull it off. Look at all of your products and plan your sales ahead of time instead of putting on a sale last minute.

3. Do you have enough inventory to get through the holidays? Look at your sales from last year—do you need to produce or order more?

4. Make sure you’re running at the right speed.
Page speed optimization may be the single biggest factor in SMB’s Black Friday-Cyber Monday performance. A one-second delay in page load time has been found to yield 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and a 7% loss in conversion.

5. Consider creating abandoned cart emails.
One of the easiest ways of keeping cart abandonment low is by setting up appealing abandoned car emails. This way, when a customer adds a product to their cart but leaves your store, you can use a compelling email to bring them back to complete their purchase.

6. Build buzz around your upcoming sale.
Tease your customers with emails of what’s to come, post sneak peeks of upcoming sales on social media and start piquing the curiosity of your customers. A great way to create buzz is by using a countdown clock. Install Powr’s Countdown Timer, available in the Shopify App Store.

7. Start your email marketing campaigns.
This year, email marketing will play a larger role in the success of store’s holiday sales. Begin planning, creating and scheduling the emails you’ll be sending out during your Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Here are some ideas for email campaigns you can put together: Announcing Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale; Last reminder before sale ends; Exclusive sale for email subscribers.

8. Reward loyal customers.
This is a great time to build relationships with your previous customers and get them to come back. Send emails to (and retarget) your previous customers with the best deals. Give existing fans and customers the opportunity to access a sale earlier or give them exclusive sales just for being a subscriber on your email list.

9. Offer easy and hassle-free returns.
Be the online retailer that goes above and beyond the call of duty for their customers. It might just get those who are on the fence about purchasing your product to pull the trigger since you're showing confidence in your product and removing the risk from the customer.

10. Track everything.
Set up Google Analytics, a free traffic tracking tool that every e-commerce business owner should be using.  

RELATED: Black Friday to break records

Although all of these tips should make for a smooth holiday transition, Ferreira notes it is still critical to have a contingency plan in case something goes wrong. 

"Established SMBs need to ensure their suppliers can handle demand or have enough inventory for the holiday season. And if anything does go wrong, there are backup plans or a team that can be counted on to scramble and fix any issues," he said. 

And for newer brands, the challenge will be how best to budget the channels for the holiday marketing campaign. Without data from previous years, many newer SMBs go into the holidays blind. 

Still, being prepared is just as important as being unusual or unique in order to capture shoppers during the holiday season. Ferreira gives the example of REI. The store closes on Black Friday with their #OptOutside campaign, encouraging employees and customers to spend time outdoors. 

Another example is Everlane donating all of last year's Black Friday profits to their factory workers in Vietnam. What both these campaigns have in common is that they attracted a lot of press. 

"I think being very creative with your marketing and brand during the holidays can have a big payoff," he added. "There’s nothing wrong with having the traditional storewide sale and doorbusters, but if you’re looking for something high risk and high reward, there’s a lot of potential in doing something out of the ordinary during the holiday season."

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