Thanks to COVID-19, holiday shopping is going to look a lot different than it has in years past.
As we enter a holiday shopping season in the middle of a pandemic, consumers are concerned about shopping in close proximity to others and shopping indoors and businesses are adapting rapidly to meet their needs.
- 75% of U.S. shoppers said they will shop online more for the holidays than they did in previous years. A similar number said they would browse for gift ideas online and not in-store.
- More than a third of U.S. shoppers who normally shop in store for Black Friday say they won’t this year, according to Google.
- 47% of shoppers said they plan to use options to buy online, pickup in store, or use curbside pickup.
However, given the year-over-year growth of online holiday sales, and the increase in ecommerce because of the pandemic, this shopping season might seem a little familiar.
Because we’re dealing with a COVID-19 holiday shopping season, small businesses need to be prepared to not only offer online shopping, especially if you’ve had a brick-and-mortar retail experience up to this point, but also to get in front of more customers earlier than ever before.
There are steps you can take, with online and real-world promotions, extra security measures, and even the way you process and accept payments to be safe and successful this year. Here are eight ways that merchants can take to make sure their COVID-19 holiday shopping season is still profitable.
1. Start letting your customers know NOW what you’ll be doing for the holiday season. If you have an email list, contact everyone on it. Better yet, set up a regular email newsletter that announces weekly specials. (And if you don’t have an email list or newsletter, now is the time to start.) Also, spread the word on your social networks about any specials, sales or restrictions.
2. Utilize social media advertising. If you have a small brick-and-mortar store, consider Facebook Advertising to people within a certain radius of your store. If you specialize or have a targeted audience, you can target them on Facebook as well. And if you do ecommerce fulfillment, target your customers with special offers and free shipping.
3. Work with a direct mail company to mail postcards to a very targeted mailing list, especially if you have a small shop or specialize in a particular field or line of products. For example, if you sell running shoes and clothing, a direct mail company can get you a list of everyone who subscribes to a running magazine or has expressed an interest in running in other ways. Then just send them a postcard or catalog. But you may want to do it after Election Day, since our mailboxes are likely stuffed with postcards during this time of year.
4. Look for alternatives to your suppliers. It always pays to have a backup, but it will be especially important if one of your regular suppliers suddenly has a shortage or has to shut down because of a COVID-19 outbreak during the peak holiday shopping season. If you have your suppliers already in line, you won’t have to make a mad dash to fill orders. Use a retail sourcing system to find those suppliers now, rather than waiting until you need them.
5. Add drop shipping companies to your ecommerce lineup. You can find suppliers who will handle drop ship your orders for you. You just have to send them the shipping information, and they’ll pick, pack, and ship the orders on your behalf. This gives you an “endless aisle” of inventory without actually stocking products in your warehouse.
6. Get educated on credit card fraud. Be aware that credit card fraud has increased and will continue to do so. Credit card fraud is already on the rise because of the pandemic. Ecommerce already suffers from fraud, and more ecommerce means more fraud. So, if we have even more online sales during the holidays, that means — you guessed it — more credit card fraud.
This means, among other things, that you should start having your cashiers check IDs for all credit and debit card purchases. Make sure your credit card terminals are EMV compliant, which means shoppers insert their cards into the chip readers, rather than swiping. And, find out how you can increase ID verification for online orders (such as requiring the CVV code on all purchases).
7. Talk to your merchant services provider about what kinds of fraud detection and prevention plans they have in place. Also, check out Verifi’s Rapid Dispute Resolution and Order Insight programs. (Verifi is a Visa-owned company.) These programs help small businesses deal with disputes and chargebacks that occur because cardholders don’t recognize a charge on their credit card statement, as well as cut down on “friendly fraud.”
8. Make sure your online security is beefed up and information is backed up. Make sure your customers are using hard-to-break passwords to avoid account takeover. Make sure your own login credentials and security use the same. And, make sure you have cyber security insurance on your business. This can all help prevent data breaches and identity theft, or pay for the losses and damage if a breach does occur.
There are plenty of other measures and steps you can take to grow your business, reach more people, and protect yourself and your customers. Check out OpenWeStand.org for more guidance and strategies you can use to get through the COVID-19 holiday shopping season.