8 Steps to Get Ready for the Holiday Retail Season

holiday retail

Smart retailers are already thinking ahead to Thanksgiving Day, the official kickoff of the holiday retail shopping season, and how to prepare for a successful year.

If you own a brick-and-mortar store, preparing early is more important than ever, in order to compete with online retailers and their 24/7 storefronts. Plus, this year there are only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, six fewer than last year, cutting almost a week out of the core holiday shopping season.

Prepare for Holiday Retail Season of 2013

How can you get ready to squeeze the most possible sales out of holiday 2013?  You can start with the tips below.

Get the Skinny on Your Industry’s Trends

Peruse your industry publications and websites to get experts’ insights on what products are likely to be hot sellers this year so you can make sure you have an ample supply. Hit gift-oriented trade shows too. You can find relevant shows for your industry at TSNN.com.

Tap Into What Customers are Talking About

While holiday shopping probably isn’t a hot topic on most consumers’ minds just yet, keep an eye on social media to see what’s bubbling up. In particular, Pinterest can be a great resource to see what customers are craving.

Track the Pinterest users that follow your business (or your competitors) on Pinterest. Watch what they’re pinning and who else they follow. This can help you spot trends. You can also start holiday themed Pinterest boards and ask your followers to share what they hope to give and/or get this year.

This is a great way to localize the bigger trends you learn about in #1.

Focus on Your Loyal Customers

How will you make sure your best customers visit your store more than once? Reach out to them early in the season (or even before the season).

For example, invite your best customers to a special shopping night before Thanksgiving to offer a more stress-free shopping experience.

Perfect Your Local Presence

Customers went mobile-mad last year, using their smartphones like never before to research products, compare prices and find stores.

Make sure your business is listed on local search directories like Local.com or Google+ Local and that your listings are updated and optimized with things customers want to know. Things like driving directions, store hours and a phone number.

Watch Your Reviews

When customers find you on a search site, they might also see ratings of your store.  If you’ve got two stars while your competitor has four, guess who’s going to get the business?

Pay special attention to online reviews of your store this time of year. If any negative feedback has driven your ratings down, deal with it now so your score rises before the holiday shopping season starts in earnest.

Review Last Year’s Holiday Marketing Plan

What did you do last year? What worked and what didn’t? Did certain marketing activities attract the type of customers you want more of this year?

Figure out what you should do more of and less of this time around.

Create a Calendar

One of the biggest mistakes small retailers make with marketing is planning at the last-minute.  Then they can’t accomplish their goals.

Take some time to think ahead about all the marketing activities you want to carry out this holiday season. Whether it’s an email campaign, special in-store events or some blowout sale days, mark the dates on your calendar and plan backward from there.

This ensures you aren’t scrambling at the last minute to find a party rental company or caterer, merchandise the store for the big sale day or get adequate gift wrap supplies on hand.

Time it Right

For small retailers, the line between when customers like to shop and when they get offended at seeing holiday décor in the stores is a blurry one. The National Retail Federation reports that every year, about 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween, and more retailers are beginning to put decorations and greeting cards on the shelves in September.

If you’d rather wait until after Halloween to start decking the halls, consider offering a “secret” early holiday sale only to loyal customers, or advertising it via direct mail or email so customers who are interested can participate.

Holiday Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.