Sari is an in-demand publicist who offers guidance in public relations, communications, and marketing services in a variety of industries.
This year has been a tough one for small business owners. Early in the pandemic, I saw my clients — in retail, restaurants and professional services — adapt their operations and think of new ways to connect with their communities, both in-person and online. Shoppers responded as if they were family by ordering takeout, buying gift cards and saying, “We’ll get through this together.”
It’s time for that sense of solidarity again. The holiday season is upon us, which can be a make-or-break quarter for businesses to survive the winter months. This year, consumers may be more apt to turn to their computers and shop online, easily filling up their carts from big-box stores in an effort to reduce stress and complete their holiday to-do list. However, independent and local businesses can step up their in-person and online strategies to fulfill their customers’ seasonal wishes and provide an exceptional customer experience.
Here’s what I’m advising small businesses to do right now:
1. Refresh your website and content.
Forget a total website overhaul — a simple refresh is all that’s necessary. Update the latest listings, add new photos and refine the text for your online channels. This sense of “newness” creates excitement and discovery as customers look at fresh information. Plus, website updates encourage search engines to crawl the pages again and lift them in search rankings.
Beyond that, businesses can promote these changes on their social media channels and newsletters, which creates a positive feedback loop and provides another avenue for engagement. Customers may forget that their favorite local boutiques can fulfill online orders, or if not available online, can ship or deliver locally, which is convenient and quick.
2. Go live.
For those without a website or prominent placement, live videos on social media can be key for audience awareness and sales conversions. Once a week is a “must,” and more often is even better. Share new products, personal stories and tips for a successful holiday season.
Throughout this year, my clients saw major success when they shared live previews of new merchandise and personal connections with their favorite customers. Show off the wide array of unique gifts, custom arrangements and local flair. Consumers enjoy the experience, and the “live” portion allows them to ask questions and make on-the-spot decisions to purchase.
3. Make it personal.
It’s no secret that small businesses provide better service and a custom experience, and it’s time to highlight that during the holiday season. The local clothing boutique, for instance, can provide guidance on proper sizing and fit, and they’re willing to take extra steps to make sure people are happy with the styles they’ve chosen. Whether on social media or by phone, they can easily answer questions about shipping, returns and various options that may fit the customer best.
In addition, small shops can schedule private appointments, provide one-on-one consultations, and specially package their products for curbside pickup or home deliveries. That personal touch makes the shopping experience fun and adds the holiday spirit back to the process.
4. Host an event.
In one of the best pivots I’ve seen this year, my clients have held virtual events on Zoom or other video-based platforms to allow customers to shop as if they were there in person. This creates the added bonus of having a personal shopper who can advise on products or services in a low-stress environment.
Numerous virtual events can be scheduled with little additional setup, which can include holiday-themed demonstrations or customer-focused days, such as “gifts for her” or child-friendly events that allow young ones or teens to pick out presents for parents and grandparents. With a little fun and creativity, the options are limitless.
5. Create new gift card options.
Holiday gatherings are guaranteed to look different this year, and people are on the hunt for new ways to send seasonal greetings to their loved ones. Virtual gift certificates and customized gift card delivery options allow loyal followers to treat their out-of-town friends and family to a local surprise. Think ahead about the biggest seasonal winners and develop new gift card ideas around those.
Restaurants, in particular, could benefit from a major gift certificate push this year. Where I’m based in Michigan, customers will soon only sit at a cold outdoor patio for so long, but they still crave their favorite dishes for a cozy takeout night at home. Discounted gift cards or gift card deals could encourage them to buy in bulk — or save an extra special treat for themselves for later.
If anything, this year has shown how small businesses can adapt and thrive. One of my favorite local boutique owners has hand-delivered gifts to customers’ doorsteps, and she knows that extra step in customer service will pay dividends for the future. Unique, proactive ideas like these will allow small businesses to anticipate their customers’ needs and make it through the winter months ahead.