According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2019 holiday forecast, merchants can expect retail sales to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent from 2018. That’s higher than the most recent annual average, which points to a busy holiday season. While a robust holiday shopping season is certainly great news for small businesses, it also requires preparation for the extra customers, orders, credit card processing, and demands on your inventory that come with the season. In this article, we’ll help you run through a holiday prep checklist to get your small business ready for “the most wonderful time of the year.”
1. Make sure your inventory is up to date.
Your first step in getting ready for this year’s season is to review what happened last year. Using the NRF’s holiday forecast as a guide, add about 5 percent to your sales figures from last year to help you figure out how much inventory to stock.
Depending on the type of merchandise you sell, whether it’s more “evergreen” (such as candles, bath products, things people buy every year) or trendy (emoji pillows, for example), you may use last year’s sales volume to determine what you’ll stock up on this year or to plan the types of new items you’ll offer.
Inventory and Sales Questions to Ask Yourself
- What have I sold the most of (particular candle scents or types of bath products) in recent years?
- How can I order my inventory accordingly this year? For example, independent bookstores have to predict what their holiday bestsellers will be, based on a sense of their customers’ tastes as well as external resources like bestseller lists and year-end “best-of” lists. No one wants to be stuck without the books people want to buy, as happened last year across the publishing industry due to a printing bottleneck.
- Did I successfully fulfill online orders last year? Here, you can look at what you spent on shipping to look for ways to save money while meeting customers’ expectations on delivery time.
- Were there any spikes in sales associated with particular marketing efforts? For example, Black Friday promotions. Looking at what worked and what didn’t, you can revise your marketing strategies for this year.
2. If you hired extra help for the holidays, make sure they’re trained properly to use your POS terminal and systems
Whether you sell online, in-store, or both, you need to be ready to accept your customers’ preferred payment method, which increasingly means credit and debit cards. To avoid lost business or irritating delays, make sure all of your employees are trained to use your Point of Sale (POS) equipment such as software and payment terminals. Now is also the time to take stock of your Merchant Services equipment and make any needed replacements or upgrades. For example, a mobile POS can be useful for in-store selling as well. This is what Apple Store employees do to keep things moving and meet customers on the sales floor. The experienced Merchant Services team at Muncy Bank is here to answer any of your questions and help with equipment needs.
3. Update your online and/or physical store with seasonal products and info.
Make it as easy as possible for your customers to find out your holiday hours, seasonal items, special coupons or promotions, and more. Advertise your best-selling products with attractive photos and descriptive copy. As you plan seasonal promotions, look for things that could also double as upsells. For example, a jewelry store could offer a special price on a specific necklace for customers who purchase x amount of additional merchandise.
On a related note, make sure to advertise any special services you offer as a small business. This could include anything customers have to pay for or simply wouldn’t get from Amazon and the big box stores, such as free gift wrapping, a real person to answer the phone when someone calls with a question, free local delivery from your store, and more. Businesses with a physical store and e-commerce platform could offer in-store pickup on online orders.
4. Spell out your holiday return policy.
Many merchants offer an extended return window, such as through January 3rd, so people can buy gifts in advance and let recipients return and exchange as needed. For ecommerce sales, make sure you have a policy in place around shipping costs for returns. As with everything you, the objective here is to balance customer convenience with concerns about overhead costs and your bottom line.
- Make sure any “final sale” items are well-marked. Employees who ring up purchases should also confirm the customer’s awareness that they are buying something that can’t be returned.
- Under what conditions will you accept returns, besides the deadline? For example, with a receipt only, unopened, with tags still on, etc.
- Will you credit returns to the original payment method or only offer store credit?
- What about exchanges?
- How will you handle defective items?
5. Test your website to ensure that payments are processing correctly ahead of the seasonal rush.
Businesses with an e-commerce operation should test their own checkout process to make sure everything is running smoothly. Is there an option for guest checkout? Many online shoppers would rather not create an account, so requiring this could lead to shopping cart abandonment. Check for security updates and PCI compliance so you can assure customers that their card data is protected by the latest security measures.
While you’re there, browse your general website to test the speed. Everyone wants a fast and easy loading experience. Mobile-friendly sites are also crucial to retaining visitors and completing sales.
6. Create gift cards for your business, since these are always a popular gift.
Gift card sales have been rising over recent holiday seasons. Now “e-gift cards” are also gaining in popularity. As a small business, you could offer both physical and digital gift cards. This serves many purposes, from giving people a convenient gift option, to marketing your brand on the card itself, to attracting new customers when someone comes in to redeem the gift card.
Gift card options can also be used as an upsell, like we see in many restaurants these days: When you buy x dollars’ worth of gift cards, you’ll get a free $25 voucher. Tell your customers they can use the extra gift card as a gift or keep it for themselves. People may even keep all of the gift cards; if it is for their favorite coffee shop, for example. Buying a gift card for your own use is a way to pre-pay, budget, and save the hassle of carrying cash. Talk up all of these options with your customers.
7. Test your point of sale systems
Last but not least, it’s time to test your in-store POS system before you’re ready to launch this holiday season. Take care of pending software updates, add any additional features or new equipment you may need, and consider what your backup method will be if the terminal goes down.
Muncy Bank is your trusted Merchant Services provider in Central PA
Looking for Merchant Services this holiday season? From credit card processing to countertop terminals, web-based and mobile solutions, and more, Muncy Bank, in partnership with Approval Payment Solutions, provides personalized and local service to all of our Merchant Services and Commercial Banking customers. Don’t get left out in the cold—when you partner with us for your merchant services needs you receive experienced call center specialists and a 24/7/365 domestically located help desk to help you ring up sales all month long. If you have questions or would like to learn more about our cash management services, contact Muncy Bank today by calling 570.546.2211 or visiting one of our locations!