Your guide to preparing for the holidays

October 2, 2018

Tactic #1: Top-Notch Staffing

  • Take stock of existing workforce: Regular employees may not be able to work regular schedules.
  • Staff up: New, seasonal employees can help absorb the crush of holiday shoppers.
  • Maintain full oversight: Use an app to make scheduling easier.
  • Provide extra training: Well-trained employees provide stellar customer service.

Tactic #2: Clear Plan, Full Shelves

  • Stockpile bestsellers: You know what your customers want, so make sure and have it on hand.
  • Optimize: Inventory management apps help small business owners stay on top of their stock.
  • Plan for longer lead times. Use an inventory calendar to track order deadlines and delivery dates.
  • Anticipate pop flies. A product may suddenly become unavailable.

Tactic #3: Creativity + Technology = Smart Strategies for Building Customer Loyalty

  • Busy shoppers: Offer mobile checkout so they’re not stuck waiting in line.
  • Social media devotee: Create a selfie station to encourage user-generated content.
  • Omnichannel shopper: Bring your products online to drive visits to your physical store.
  • Repeat shopper: Write thank yous to demonstrate your gratitude.
  • Researcher: Encourage shoppers to consult review sites while in-store.
  • Impulse shopper: Send email and text messages to boost on-the-fly buys.

Tactic #4: E-Commerce for the Pros

  • Prevent fraud: Already-nervous customers will be lost if their personal information is compromised.
  • Be mobile friendly: Websites must have responsive design.
  • Develop omnichannel experiences: Shoppers frequently move between online stores and physical ones, so merchants need to create a seamless experience.

Tactic #5: No Post-Holiday Blues

  • Maintain temporary higher headcount: seasonal employees expedite the return process.
  • Be transparent: generous return policies can turn first-time shoppers into repeat customers.
  • Plan for gift card redemptions: you need inventory for customers wanting to redeem gift cards.
  • ID slow sellers: markdown poor performing products to make way for full-priced merch.
  • Get smarter: use sales trends analysis to be smarter for next year’s holiday season.


For merchants, ’tis the season to be jolly indeed.

Stores are bustling as customers mill about, selecting gifts for everyone on their list (and hopefully, picking up a few impulse purchases along the way). Eateries are jam- packed, as many shoppers dine out as a means of respite, while others grab-and-go so they can quickly get back to their bargain hunting.

Retail sales spike during the holiday season, accounting for up to 30 percent of annual sales. But while the National Retail Federation (NRF) forecasts that sales in November and December will increase 3.6 to 4 percent over 2016, totaling up to $682 billion, it’s not a given that every single business will profit.

The holiday season can be a make-or-break time for merchants—new ones and veterans like. Those that plan ahead and prepare for the busy time capitalize, growing not just profits, but customer loyalty as well. Those that lack strategy and insight are likely to flounder, limping through the holiday season and losing market share as shoppers forge relationships with other businesses.

Consider each of the following ideas as a gift that will ensure your holiday sales deliver the bottom-line results you need.

Tactic #1: Top-Notch Staffing Plans

Even the most visionary, hard-working small business owner can’t go it alone during the holiday season. Essential to creating a memorable customer service experience are proper staffing levels and well-trained employees.

The earlier you can start prepping for the holiday rush, the better. The additional hours of work you put in now will not only reduce your own stress later on, but that of your employees as well.

Here’s where to start:

Step 1: Take stock of your existing workforce.

Your current employees play a vital role during the holiday shopping season. Anticipate that their work availability may change during your most busy time. Some may want to take time off to visit family or take a vacation. If they’re students, they may want to head home early. Others could get sick. Inquire early about holiday plans, then determine what additional resources you may need.

Step 2: Staff up.

It’s likely that you will need to hire seasonal staff to keep up with the temporary holiday demand. It’s likely that you’ll need additional employees on the floor, as well as behind the scenes to help with inventory stocking, product shipping, and online customer service.

Step 3: Provide extra training.

Frazzled holiday shoppers can take out their frustration and anxiety on your employees. Stellar customer service can mitigate these stressful moments. Findings from Genesys’ Cost of Poor Customer Service Survey reports that better human service is the most requested improvement by 40 percent of consumers. Prepare seasonal and long-standing workers for the holiday rush by offering special training sessions.

Step 4: Maintain full oversight.

With so much to juggle during the holiday season, small business owners may be tempted to let little things slide. Lean on apps, like Time Clock by Homebase, to stay on top of everything in less time. The craziness of employee scheduling won’t seem so crazy since it manages clocking in and out, shift trades, and time-off requests. It also manages payroll so employees working overtime and on holidays like Christmas Eve and Black Friday receive the extra pay to which they’re entitled.

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Tactic #2: Clear Plan, Full Shelves

Much like creating the perfect window display, smart inventory is an art. You want to stock plenty of perennial bestsellers for your regular customers, as well as lots of unique offerings to draw in new shoppers. What you don’t want: tons of items left over post-holiday.

This can be a particularly challenging task for new small business owners, but lots of veterans struggle with inventory levels as well. These tips should help you achieve a perfect balance.

Stockpile bestsellers.

You know what your customers want, so make sure you can give it to them during the holidays. Your tried-and-true products throughout the year should be hits during the holidays as well. Place orders for these items early and make sure to schedule continual restocking throughout the busy shopping season so you don’t run out the second week of December.


The use of an inventory management system is the best way to streamline purchase orders and vendor management. The ideal inventory management system should also provide cost and sales reporting, making it easy to identify which products have the largest profit margins (and thus, could be part of a holiday promotion). Other inventory apps like Wolong Sales and Inventory, Inventory Management, SimpleOrder and Top Up: Purchase Orders can help automate tedious inventory-related tasks.

Plan for longer lead times.

The holiday rush affects all parts of the inventory chain. Vendors receive more purchase orders, so fulfilment time increases. Logistics companies have more inventory to transport and yes, you guessed it, shipping time increases. Working backwards from the holiday season, create an inventory calendar tracking when you need to place orders and merchandise delivery dates.

Anticipate pop flies.

Vendors occasionally run into trouble, leaving them unable to meet fulfilment. Be prepared to ask for (or even suggest) a replacement product if something becomes unavailable or if the vendor can’t promise delivery by the previously agreed-upon date.

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Tactic #3: Creativity + Technology = Smart Strategies for Building Customer Loyalty

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

That adage is particularly true when it comes to holiday sales. Case in point: Last year’s hot selling product is this year’s bargain bin resident. And as technology rapidly changes how people shop, veteran business owners can look to tactics of holidays past for inspiration, but they shouldn’t necessarily replicate them.

Marketing plans must contribute to bottom-line results in a lasting way. They need to target today’s tech-driven shoppers, but promotions can’t cut into profit margins too deeply and they need to be effective at building a roster of repeat customers. Otherwise, a merchant’s hard work may not pay off in the long run.

Target: The busy shopper

E-commerce is fueling the love of the one-click purchase. Forty-three percent of Millennials and 40 percent of Gen Xers say that a fast checkout is a determining factor in where they spend their money, according to AllianceData. To prevent customers from having to stand in line at the cash register, merchants should invest in a mobile POS system, like Clover Flex, Mobile or Go. Each conveniently accepts payments wherever customers are.

Target: The social media devotee

What’s better than effective advertising? Free, user-generated content. A survey by Olapic discovered that 76 percent of consumers believe that content shared by average people is more honest than advertising from brands. Furthermore, the Total Retail customer survey from PwC reports that that 39 percent of shoppers look to social media for inspiration on what to buy. Small business owners can capitalize on this by designating a small area of the restaurant or store for selfie taking. Place a call to action encouraging consumers to post the photos to their social media platforms using a customized hashtag and tagging the business.

Target: The omnichannel shopper

Many shoppers research products online, then head out to local stores to make a purchase. The app Pointy increases your visibility online by creating a webpage of your store’s products. (All that’s needed is a manufacturer’s barcode and a few minutes of your time.) Customers can easily locate your retail location simply by conducting a Google search.

Target: The repeat shopper

A simple thank you can go a long way in building loyal, repeat customers. Personalised email messages, like those sent by the app Abreeze Link for Constant Contact, are a great way to express your appreciation to valued shoppers. For your biggest VIPs, consider sending a handwritten holiday greeting in the mail.

Target: The researcher

A Retail Dive survey reports that two-thirds of consumers research a product online before shopping for it in a store. Savvy merchants can increase the chance of a sale by posting calls to action that encourage shoppers to conduct research while in the store and directing them to online review sites or a brand’s website and social media accounts.

Target: The impulse shopper

On-the-spot purchases are a valuable revenue tool for merchants. Encourage these buys by sending limited-time offers with the FiveStars Integration app. It sends promotions via email, text or push notification that will boost a small business’s conversion rate. To be heard during the busy holiday season, retailers need to stand out: a targeted subject line, consistent volume, and inclusion of applicable links are considered email marketing best practices.

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Tactic #4: E-Commerce for the Pros

E-commerce is integral to the success of any small business. Online sales are expected to be extremely healthy this year, growing 18 to 21 percent during the holiday season, according to Deloitte. Sales could reach as high as $114 billion.

But offering online shopping alone isn’t enough. Pitney Bowes reports that almost half of all online holiday shoppers were disappointed by the experience. How can merchants offer standout online customer service that ultimately benefits their bottom line?

Prevent fraud.

Credit card fraud over the Thanksgiving shopping holiday weekend increased 20 percent from 2015 to 2016. The higher the volume of e-commerce, the more scammers are looking for vulnerabilities. So it’s no wonder that PwC’s Total Retail survey found that two-thirds of shoppers fear their personal information being hacked. Clover Security Plus protects small businesses—and their customers—with the latest in payment processing security, including end-to-end encryption and a PCI compliance wizard that enforces standards, as well as a score for your data security and risk reduction.

Be mobile friendly.

In 2016, 53 percent of Cyber Week traffic and 52 percent of holiday season shopping visits came from mobile. Those numbers are only going to grow this year, so it’s crucial that your website has responsive design. Clover Online does just that: adapting your brick-and-mortar store to an online marketplace that’s equally beautiful and user-friendly on both a desktop and a smartphone.

Develop omnichannel experiences.

Contrary to popular thought, shoppers aren’t necessarily abandoning in-store shopping as online shopping increases. Instead, they’re window shopping online, but making the purchase in-store. They might also be researching an item while standing in a retail location. Or they’re buying online and picking it up in a nearby store. A third of holiday shoppers say that the ability to buy online and pickup in store convinced them to make a purchase, according to NRF’s 2017 Holiday Planning Playbook. Merchants should think about the experience of shopping on their website and shopping in their store and how to unify the two.

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Tactic #5: No Post-Holiday Blues

The official close to the holiday shopping season may be December 25, but retailers know that it doesn’t really end until mid January. In fact, December 26 is rapidly becoming one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Maintain temporary higher headcount.

Product returns are rampant in the days after Christmas. If budgets allow, plan to keep seasonal workers on until the New Year if the budget allows. Superior customer service that processes returns efficiently could help first-time shoppers become repeat customers.

Be transparent.

Create a frictionless return process for shoppers. Lenient return policies that include a large return window, refund of original payment method (as opposed to store credit), and in-store returns of purchases can lead to repeat shoppers. NRF’s 2017 Holiday Planning Playbook reports that more than 6 in 10 shoppers who have a difficult time returning an item are hesitant to shop with the same retailer in the future.

Plan for gift card redemptions.

In 2016, shoppers bought $27.5 billion worth of gift cards. Their ever-growing popularity has led to an increase in the number of shoppers hitting the stores the day after Christmas. Small business owners who were successful with inventory planning, debuting new items in the middle of the holiday season, are more likely to redeem gift cards for this full-priced merchandise, as opposed to discounted items.

ID slow sellers.

Not every item is going to be a bestseller. Use your inventory app to recognize which ones did not sell at full price. These items drag down your bottom line so it’s important to aggressively discount them. Quickly moving them off of shelves frees up space for new, full-priced merchandise.

Get smarter.

That same inventory app can pinpoint sales trends and successes. Catalog your learnings and use them to get smarter for next holiday season.

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