Many small business owners have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. On the one hand, you face long hours, the expectation of employee bonuses, kids home from school, and the season’s general chaos. Luckily, the season also brings major sales opportunities and a chance to attract new customers to your base.
Of course, 2020 is no ordinary year—so the dynamic elements that always make these months so important for business owners will all be exacerbated.
“The holiday season is always a crucial time of year for retailers,” says SCORE. “But with the added financial strain of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that business owners think creatively to maximize sales while keeping shoppers and employees safe. If you have a small brick-and-mortar shop, you’ll likely face fluctuating in-store traffic and unpredictable consumer demand over the next few months. The key to a profitable holiday season is, at least in part, how well you prepare for and respond to these challenges.”
And there are certainly challenges on the horizon. Consumer behavior could be strained due to increased unemployment and the general financial uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. One study revealed that 40% of consumers think they’ll spend less on holiday shopping this year than in 2019. The average year-over-year difference is $100 less per shopper.
But don’t panic just yet. Other experts predict sales growth in many sectors. In particular, e-commerce is set for a massive increase. Research from Forrester suggests that online sales could rise close to 20%. The tradeoff: visits will likely decrease to brick-and-mortar locations.
Now that you know more about how the season might unfold, it’s crucial that you anticipate upcoming challenges and proactively find solutions. Let’s look at some potential remedies to these issues:
1. Supply Chain Disruption
This winter will bring more than just weather-related delays. Rising COVID-19 cases could easily cause substantial issues throughout your supply chain.
You can take proactive steps now by strengthening your relationships with suppliers. Talk to them candidly and ask where issues could arise. Consult collaboratively about solutions.
Another helpful strategy: automate your bookkeeping with Sunrise. By fully integrating into your business management systems, we’ll help you to monitor inventory and keep your operations moving as smoothly as possible.
2. Inventory That Can’t Keep Pace
Assuming that the holiday season truly explodes for e-commerce retailers, you’ll need to ensure that your inventory can handle the demand. Carefully track your order dates so that you aren’t caught off-guard.
You might also need financing to provide a quick jolt of cash to bolster your inventory. One of the most convenient ways to do this is with a business line of credit. This type of financing can provide up to $500,000, with the money typically becoming available in 1–2 weeks.
3. Customers Wary of Retail Locations
This holiday season will coincide with various spikes in COVID-19 cases across the nation, so it’s understandable that many customers will want to hunker down at home and avoid public areas.
You can instill more confidence by implementing safety measures and then clearly communicating them to your customers. For example, you could send out emails to your customer base that highlight how you’ve introduced special shopping hours for at-risk individuals and offer curbside pickup. You could also post on your social media channels about similar safety efforts, like introducing more cashless payment options and offering hand-sanitizer stations throughout the store.
4. Employee Burnout
While much of our focus naturally falls on customers, it’s crucial to remember the members of your team as well. They might be experiencing stress from the pandemic and uncertainty regarding their job status. At the very least, they’re probably not looking forward to the long hours that usually come with the holiday season.
Another issue to consider: conflicts arising with customers over your COVID-19 safety measures. Train your employees how to handle these unfortunate events, then make your expectations clear to customers. If you require masks in your store, promote that fact via email, social media, and onsite signage to reduce the chance of someone being caught off-guard and lashing out in frustration.
5. Shipping Delays and Related Challenges
The holiday season often brings a snarled mess of bad weather and overburdened shipping providers. While you can’t control many of these factors, you can make sure to partner only with trusted delivery services. Be sure to communicate clearly with customers to dispel any unrealistic delivery expectations.
Taking a proactive approach to this holiday season will help to reduce the stress that’s bound to arise. Sure, there will be inventory shortages and delivery delays. And you’ll definitely have to deal with customers irate over one thing or another. But when you combine the dynamic duo of preparation and communication, your business will be better equipped to ride out the storm.