By Pam King
For the Wyoming Business Report
Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – aka Thanksgiving weekend – are just a few weeks away. Consumers everywhere are already busy checking out websites, marking up sales circulars and conferring with friends and family on joint and solo shopping strategies that almost always include standing in line for hours in freezing temperatures for the opportunity to be one of the first to get electronics at steep discounts, designer duds for next to nothing and toys at prices that even Santa’s elves can’t match.
In fact, the average shopper will spend $750 on gifts, décor, food and greeting cards this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation’s holiday consumer spending survey. NRF is forecasting total holiday sales at $586.1 billion, a 4.1 percent increase from 2011.
There’s no reason small business owners should feel left out during what is often referred to as the biggest shopping weekend of the year. Oftentimes, where a consumer shops depends on how well business owners let their customers know about their stores, products and services.
Is your business ready for the holidays?
Have a strategic marketing plan. Is your message clear, understandable and to the point? Does it differentiate you from your competitors? Although it’s the holidays, you don’t want to start making advertising claims that can be misleading (“Best fudge in Wyoming”? Oh yeah? Prove it!)
Use social media. Engage your customers in conversation on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, even LinkedIn. Keep them informed of special offers and discounts. Let them know you’re serving apple cider and cookies or that you’re offering free gift wrapping, even free shipping. Consider sounding an alert when inventory on certain must-have items begins to dwindle.
Excel at customer service. Does your store exude a friendly, welcoming ambiance? Are all customers greeted as they enter your store? Do you have enough employees to cover busy times? The only long lines consumers prefer to stand in are those to get into your store – not to pay for items. If long lines are inevitable, are there ways to make it an event? Could you bring in holiday musicians, for example? Or maybe have one of Santa’s elves pass out cookie samples?
Post exchange/refund policies. It’s a given that not everyone is going to like – or even want – what’s waiting for them under their Christmas trees. To ensure there are no misunderstandings, post your refund and return policies where they can be easily viewed and read. How many days after purchase can gifts be returned or exchanged? Is a receipt required? Is there a restocking fee?
Protect customers’ personal information. Your customers trust you to keep their personal information safe. If you haven’t already done so, consider obtaining a third-party seal that verifies your small business uses an appropriate level of security to protect your website and Internet transactions.