‘Tis the season to prepare for the holidays: What smart businesses should think about now

October 19, 2016

This post is part of our 2016 Holiday Planning series. Read the entire series here on the Clover blog, and check back for more tips and tactics.

The holidays can be boom times for businesses of all sizes, but for small business owners, the holidays are often also an incredibly high-stress time of year.

That’s because preparing to have a great holiday season, and then doing the work necessary to make the season pay off, calls for mindful goal setting, resource assessment and contingency planning.

It also means organizing your equipment, inventory and staff to keep up with demand; promoting your business at a time when everyone is turning up the volume on marketing; preparing for a customer onslaught; and sometimes securing the financing necessary to do any or all of the above.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing separate articles about how to handle each of these challenges and opportunities. But as October winds down, let’s take a tour of the planning categories small merchants need think about so they can begin to organize before the holiday shopping season gets underway.

First, set smart holiday goals

Perhaps the most important first step you can take for your holiday planning is to figure out what you’d like your business to accomplish.

Doing this helps you create a roadmap for a successful holiday season, and has the added benefit of being helpful even if you don’t quite hit all of your targets. That’s because smart goal setting can help you make sense of detours and roadblocks to hitting your holiday business goals, which can help you make better business decisions in the future.

One of the best ways to set smart goals is to have a handle on customer transactions. In addition to being the all-important actions that drive commerce for your business, they also play an important secondary role as highly useful information. Understanding when transactions occur, by whom and for what products can offer merchants useful insight into what makes their business succeed. This can also help you make wise decisions about the actions you should take in order to achieve your business goals.

For the holidays, this can mean stocking what sells best in your location, understanding what customer behaviors are trending with consumers in your area, knowing how to staff up during your most profitable hours and days, and knowing where you should market and what messages to use.

Be prepared to manage customer security

The sheer volume of transactions that take place during the holidays make it an especially vulnerable time both for customers and for the businesses that transact with them. Bad actors can use a number of gateways to defraud consumers, and credit card transactions are one of the primary ones. Breaching merchants is an efficient way for fraudsters to skim money from unsuspecting shoppers. According to a June 2016 report by the Ponemon Institute, more than half of small to medium businesses have had a data breach in the past year.

Protecting your consumers, yourself and your reputation should be a top priority. The holidays are as good a time as any to start forming good security habits, or to give yourself a security health check if you’ve already been diligent about security. Educate yourself and your staff on security best practices, and create a response plan in the case of security breaches. One way to start: make sure that you’re PCI compliant.

Of course, working with a partner that already offers security software and services is a great way to make sure you’re doing the most to secure transactions and customer data. Clover, for example, offers Clover Security Plus, which helps protect the hardware and software involved with customer transactions, in addition to securing the transactions themselves.

Consider offering an online store to increase sales opportunities and grow your customer base

Shopping for goods online has become a part of consumers’ muscle memory. According to a Forrester Research report published in January 2016, online retail will grow by an average of 9.32% every year through 2020. Having an online store is worth considering for retail-focused small businesses.

Just remember: when you create a website, make sure it adapts well to mobile so that customers have a great experience even when using their mobile devices. The same Forrester report predicted mobile would “be a key driver” of ecommerce sales growth. You should also make sure your online system is tied to your brick-and-mortar store so that your inventory is accounted for no matter how you make a sale.

Grow your customer base by offering gift cards

At $100 billion spent on gift cards annually, they are a major part of the shopping economy all by themselves. They’re also a favorite with consumers: gift cards were the most requested holiday gift, according to the National Retail Federation, for nine years in a row ending in 2015.

Offering cards is a great way for small businesses to get onto holiday shoppers’ giving list. They’re also a tactic you can use to better manage inventory through the holidays, as gift cards are typically given at the end of the holiday season, and then redeemed thereafter. Add to that the fact that customers often spend more than the amount gifted, and they become an even more valuable tool in a small business’s holiday planning arsenal.

Lastly, use gift cards as a way to keep dollars circulating within your store. To do this, you can offer gift cards instead of cash spent for returns, and offer gift cards for in-store promotions if customers spend over a certain dollar amount with you during the holiday shopping season.

Extend your holiday efforts with loyalty

Loyalty programs are smart all on their own. Repeat customers spend an average of 67% more than new customers, so creating an incentive for repeat customers is a great way to boost revenue for your business. Having a loyalty program during the holidays carries a specific set of benefits in three distinct ways.

First, launching a customer loyalty program before the holiday shopping season will make it easier for your business to break through the holiday marketing noise when the season gets underway. Being eligible for holiday shopping deals based on their previous spending can motivate existing consumers to spend with you.

Second, loyalty-based events can offer a sound way for you to “make your own luck” in terms of getting traffic through your door for holiday season spending, and small businesses of all kinds can create these types of moments.

For example, a boutique might invite loyalty customers to a fashion show or preview; a coffee shop can invite customers to a coffee tasting to sample and vote on a new specialty brew; and retail businesses of all stripes can offer VIP after-hours sales, or secret online sales if they have an ecommerce store.

Third, starting a customer loyalty program during the holiday shopping season can set you up to bring holiday shoppers back in to spend loyalty points — or get credit for a shopping session — when January rolls around. If one of your goals is to use the holidays to create a bump in your regular customer base, launching a loyalty program during this time is one effective to do it.

Stay tuned to the Clover blog over the next few weeks for more tactics that can help small businesses make the most of the holiday shopping season. Learn more about the Clover Online Store, Clover Gift Cards, Clover Rewards, Clover Security Plus and Clover Insights.

Clover is sold by leading U.S. banks including Bank of America, BBVA, Citi, PNC, SunTrust and Wells Fargo. You’ll also find Clover at our trusted partners including CardConnect, Restaurant Depot, and Sam’s Club. For more information, visit us at