How small online businesses can benefit from post-Christmas sales

christmas salesThink ahead to the post-Christmas sales

Retailers have been predicting very healthy sales in the run up to Christmas this year, perhaps no more so than online where research forecasts a 20% increase year-on-year.

Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas, an increase of almost 20% on last year, while total sales over the festive season will top £40bn, a rise of 3.5% on 2012, according to forecasts from Deloitte where forecast for online sales are up 20%Guardian Business News

In the excitement and frenzy that is all part and parcel of Christmas, it can be hard to think ahead to the post-Christmas sales. However, it is important that small businesses are prepared for the post-Christmas sales period before they go off on their Christmas break. Unprecedented growth and increased access to mobile devices, has seen the traditional ‘January Sales’ shift to December as people go online earlier and earlier to grab a post-Christmas bargain. According to research from Econsultancy,  last Christmas saw Boxing day as the busiest in terms of traffic and sales through mobile phones peak on Christmas day.

Benefits of post-Christmas sales for small businesses

Post-Christmas sales are an opportunity to clear seasonal stock, excess stock and unwanted stock.  It is also a great time to capture bargain hunters and people with Christmas gift vouchers that they are itching to spend!

In addition, research shows that the average order value increases post-Christmas. Econsultancy found that last year people were adding higher priced items and more products to their baskets after Christmas than in the lead up to Christmas. As a consequence they found that the Average Order Value (AOV) increased. Last year January 1st saw the peak with an AOV of £77.69.

Be prepared – plan your post-Christmas sales before Christmas

With the Christmas sales starting earlier each year,  it is important that you are as organised as you can be before Christmas. This way you are ready to press the button to go live as soon as you need to be. Being prepared beforehand allows you to enjoy your Christmas break and not lose valuable shopping hours. So think about:

  • Stock – What stock do you plan to offer deals on? For example identify what stock hasn’t been shifting as well as expected in the run up to Christmas and stock you have excess of that you would like to be rid-of. Think about your pricing. It is important you know what your product margins will be now you are offering products at a lower rate.
  • Website – prepare your website so it is ready to go live for the post-Christmas sales. Make it clear on the home-page that you are having a sale. Your sale items should be listed clearly up front so they are easy for people to find. Many online retailers list their biggest discounted products at the top to entice consumers in. For example see Boden’s online sale where the highest percentage discounts are listed first.
  • Shipping and Delivery – plan your shipping and delivery ahead. Remember you are selling your stock at reduced prices so your profit margins are going to be lower. Factor in shipping and delivery costs when you are working out your discounts.  For example using free delivery or reduced rate delivery as an enticement may not be a viable option as you may end up selling at a loss.

Tips for your promotions.

Just like your website, get your promotional communications designed and ready before Christmas. This way you’ll be able to send out promotions to customers the minute your sale goes live.

Use all your online tools to spread the word to your customers – there is no point in having a sale if your customers remain unaware of it.  Email your customers with news of your sale, enticing them in with a showcase of your top offers. Announce your sale and special offers on all your social media platforms.

Use a ‘drip marketing’ technique for the duration of the sale period. This is where you can plan a series of sequential communications to coincide with the relevant offers you have planned. For example send out a series of strategically timed communications that will pull customers into your website for the entire post-Christmas sales period:

Sale now on

Up to 40% off

New lines added

Up to 50%

Last chance to grab a bargain

Sale extended for a few days only

Sale ends midnight tonight

The post-Christmas sales can be a profitable time for your small business as long as you plan ahead and spend some time thinking strategically about what you are going to do. This way you’ll hopefully be able to increase your sales and AOV, get rid of unwanted and excess stock and avoid any of the nasty surprises associated with lower profit margins.

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at freedigitalphotos.net
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12 days until Christmas – essential tips to help small businesses survive Christmas

12 days of christmasWith just 12 days until Christmas Eve, we thought we’d start the countdown to Christmas by sharing our 12 favourite tips to help you make the most of the 2013 festive season.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation , the average person plans to do 40% of their Christmas shopping online. Online sales are forecast to hit £5bn this Christmas which is an increase of  almost 20% on 2012.    So, clearly Christmas 2013  is shaping up to be a fantastic season for retailers with unprecedented online sales.

So join us in our Christmas countdown and take a look at what we think are the best tips to help you survive the run up to Christmas.

Chritmas shopping trolleyTip 1. It’s not too late to increase your online Christmas sales

The clock is ticking as we speed towards the midway point in December. However, as a good proportion of us are still shopping right up until Christmas Eve, it’s not too late to make the most of the opportunities the Christmas season offers to increase your sales.

Indeed, according to the National Federation of Retailers, 20% of consumers don’t even plan to start their Christmas shopping until December. So don’t worry there is still time  to entice customers in. For example, creating a Christmas feel to your website can get shoppers in the  purchasing mood.  Inspire them with great gift ideas and offer special Christmas promotions such as buy one, get one half price or free delivery.

For more tips on increasing your online sales this Christmas have a look at our recent blog post ‘7 tips to boost your online sales this Christmas’  

british postboxTip 2. Christmas shipping & delivery

Be very clear on your Christmas shipping and delivery dates. Flexible delivery is great but don’t promise delivery in time for Christmas if it’s simply not possible.

Check delivery dates with all your distributors and ensure your last guaranteed Christmas  delivery dates are clearly visible on your website.  This will save a lot of angry calls and bad feeling from the frustrated customers who haven’t received the deliveries they’re expecting. In fact you could  use your last delivery dates as sales tool by reminding customers to make that purchase before it’s too late.

And for your interest, if you’re posting within the UK, Royal Mail’s last Christmas posting dates for 2nd class mail is Wednesday 18th December and 1st class is Friday 20th December. Royal Mail Special Delivery Guaranteed is Monday 23rd December.

NewspaperTip 3.  Spread the word – tell everyone about what your business is offering this Christmas

You may have a lots of great Christmas promotions in place but if you don’t tell your customers about them then there’s no point to all your hard work. You should be going all out promoting all your great products this Christmas. Make the most of your website, email newsletters, social media platforms to tell your customers about all your special Christmas promotions and all the inspiring gift ideas you have.

christmas card season greetingsTip 4. Send out a little Christmas spirit

The last posting dates for Christmas are fast approaching (Tip 2) so make sure you are going to be ready to send out seasonal greetings to clients and suppliers. Sending out Christmas greetings by a card (or if you are past the posting date an e-card) adds a personal touch to your business and shows both clients and suppliers that they are important to you.

small chrismas treeTip 5.  ‘Tis the season to be jolly

If you haven’t already done it then now is the time to get the tinsel out and jolly up your office. Creating a festive work environment is more likely to get you and your staff into the swing of Christmas. And, if Christmas means longer hours due to the heavier workload then it is far more motivating and uplifting to be in a festive environment than in an office devoid of any seasonal touches. And, for those of you one-man-bands out there, this applies to you too. A few festive nods around your workspace can make all the difference to your frame of mind!

social media like imageTip 6.  Make the most out of your social media

Most people are in the Christmas spirit a couple of weeks before Christmas so now is a great time to use your social media platforms to engage with customers. Social media is an excellent, low-cost way to communicate with customers on a more emotional level. It is a great way of  building brand awareness and brand personality. And, since people are likely to be feeling festive at this point in December why not add some fun touches like some Christmas themed quizzes, competition or games?

December calendarTip 7. Plan for a stress free break

Used to wearing multiple hats, it is often hard for small business owners to switch off  over the Christmas period.   However, spending time with friends and family and having the chance to properly relax and unwind is important both mentally and physically –  especially considering that small business owners often have to work 24/7.

To take the stress and worry out of taking a well deserved break, make a plan of what you need to do to enable you to fully enjoy your time off. For example, prioritize tasks in order of importance. What needs to be done before you go and what can wait until you get back? What can be delegated or outsourced? Sometimes just putting your worries and concerns down on paper is a useful exercise in itself as it can help you see the wood from the trees.

If you are unable to take a complete break, then plan a specific time slot each day to check emails and return pressing phone calls – but keep it as short as you can and only deal with issues that really can’t wait.

Man carrying pile of Christmas presentsTip 8.  Santa’s little helpers – be prepared for last-minute rush

Be prepared for a last-minute Christmas rush – there is always a significant proportion of shopping done online right up until the 23rd December. And, with flexible delivery options such as Click and Collect and Special Delivery, don’t rule out last-minute Christmas sales.

“With local services like Click & Collect, people can shop online with confidence right up until 23 December and pick up in store on Christmas Eve which could have a big impact on online shopping times”. Internet Retailing 

It is important to make sure you have enough help to fulfil any last-minute orders that may come in. Have family or friends on standby if necessary.

gold starTip 9. Offer excellent customer service at Christmas – it’s your chance to shine

In previous posts we’ve discussed just how important good customer care is especially for small businesses. December is likely to see increased customer queries and more than likely bring with it a few stressed customers. Keeping your cool by  remaining calm and courteous is essential.  If you have people other than yourself answering phones or replying to emails, make sure they are all fully briefed on the importance of offering excellent customer service. If you can continue dealing with queries efficiently and professionally over the Christmas period then it will only reflect positively on your business in the future.

If you need to free up some time then it is a good idea to put a ‘frequently asked questions’ section on your website and telephone answering service. This should contain information that is regularly asked for such as your last posting date, returns policy and Christmas hours. This will give you more time to answer more time-consuming queries.

Little girl with thumbs downTip 10.  Returns and exchanges – dealing with unwanted gifts

Just as Christmas brings with it a surge in online sales, January is likely to bring with it a surge in request for returns and exchanges. To avoid any confusion, make sure customers are aware of your returns policy when they make a purchase.  Clearly state it both on your website and on any customer correspondence such as on the invoice or  despatch note.

However, as a small business keeping existing customers is far more cost-effective than acquiring new customers so bear this in mind when it comes to returns and try to be as flexible as you possibly can. Sometimes it is better (and more cost-effective) in the long-term to just to accept an exchange (obviously within reason) than quibble with a customer over something minor. If you can do this, the customer is more likely to do business with you again in the future.

we are closed door signTip 11. Out of office

Sounds obvious but make sure you have communicated your businesses’ Christmas plans to your customers. If you aren’t going to be answering emails or calls at all over the Christmas period then make sure you’ve got an out of office message on your website, email and voicemail in place.  Let customers the office is closed and when you are going to be able to respond. If there is someone covering for you whilst you are away, then make sure their contact details are available.

If need be, mobile devices offer the opportunity to touch base with customers and answer any pressing issues whilst you are away from the office but as we mentioned earlier in tip 7 try to set aside specific times rather than letting it rule over your Christmas break.

Tip 12. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas – enjoy your well deserved breakmerry christmas stocking

Finally we would like to wish you a Happy Christmas – you deserve it. Running a small businesses can be hugely rewarding but with long hours it can be all-consuming. So it’s OK to switch off once in a while – in fact it’s essential.  And, since you’ve taken note of Tip 7 and planned you break you’ll be able to rest assured that you can enjoy a stress free break without the worry about your business.

The benefits video marketing can bring to small businesses

videos computer keyVideo looks set to continue in popularity, as consumers increasingly engage with brands visually – think the meteoric rise of Pinterest and YouTube. So what benefits can video offer you as a small business? We take a look at how you can successfully add it into your online presence and make it an important part of  your content marketing strategy.

“We’ve seen a consistent trend in 2013 toward sharing through image and video, rather than text-based content. Visual content will increasingly become a critical piece of any solid content strategy” Forbes – The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014

The growth of video as a marketing tool

We only have to see the massive impact a successful online video can have to realise how video is becoming a more and more important channel for communication. Take for example John Lewis’ Christmas 2013 Bear and Hare video. in its first week it shot to the top of the Viral Video chart with 155,106 shares in just seven days. And, within just one month of going live, it can boast over 9, 787, 194 views on YouTube.  Of course, John Lewis had a multi-million pound budget and the help of a top advertising agency, but it clearly demonstrates how brands are increasingly realising the importance of video marketing.

Benefits video can bring to small businesses

Research shows that a customer who watches a video is 85% more likely to make a purchase . Getting on board with video marketing brings a number of benefits to your small business.

1. Content

Having relevant video content on your website can be an essential part of your content marketing mix.  Creating fresh, relevant content helps with SEO, since search engines consistently rank websites with videocontent higher in page rankings than websites without.  Indeed,  research shows that a website with video content is 53 times more likely to appear in page 1 of Google

2. Cost

Video marketing doesn’t have to cost the world.  You don’t need to rely on a production company to produce a good video – there are lots of DIY options out there. You can make your own video with the use of a decent camera and video editing software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. There are also plenty of online video creation tools available  such as Animoto or WeVideo.

3. Educate and explain

Video can be a great way to convey potentially complex information to customers. For example demonstrating to customers how to use a product visually can be far more effective than to try to explain it by written word alone.

4. Brand personality

Using video is a great way to bring personality to your brand. People like doing business with people so using video is a great way to get your brand personality across. For example showcasing your staff or your premises can help customers feel that there is a real person behind the face of the business.

5. Increase Customer Engagement

Video helps increase customer engagement since video is one of the most popular forms of media content that people share. According to a report by Zuum, video is the most shared content type on Facebook.

Use video across all your online marketing channels

You Tube on ipadThe great thing about video is that it can be effective across all your media channels. It should be up on your website but is also really effective on your social media platforms, your blog, in email communication and, of course on YouTube.

Remember YouTube can boast –

Examples of using video effectively

In order for video marketing to be effective, you need to create content that adds value and enhances your customers’ shopping experience.  For example value added content could include, product demonstrations, video tutorials, customer testimonials, instructions and how to guides. We’ve highlighted below a few examples of how different businesses have used video to generate relevant, useful content for customers.

Useful resources

So now you’ve seen the importance part video has to play in generating quality content, we’ve found some useful links to help get you going.

How to make a video

Tips on using a video camera

Online video production tools

What makes good content for a video

Uploading your video to you tube

Videos Computer Key image courtesy of Stuart Miles at Freedigitalphotos.net

YouTube on Tablet image courtesy of Winnond at Freedigitalphotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment

How Cost Cutting Can Propel Your Business into 2014

Guest Author: Edward Hallinan

This article was written by Edward Hallinan on behalf of employee-benefits specialists, Unum. Edward is passionate about start-ups, having set up his own e-commerce music site and experience working for a digital marketing consultancy from the first day of its inception.

Scissors cutting costs

Infographic: Cutting Costs for Business

Good news! The latest research from Barclays and the Business Growth Fund has found that ‘one in five British companies can now be defined as ‘high-growth’’*. More specifically, the report also showed a 3.4% rise in the number of active registered companies in the first half of 2013 – glad tidings indeed for start-ups and SMEs.

But despite a clear bucking of the economic trend that’s blighted businesses for the last decade, now is not the time to act rashly. Indeed, the slump itself was caused by untamed growth, coupled with companies over-borrowing and over-spending. Indeed, that’s why the folks at Unum have collaborated with Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banks to create the following infographic.

Entitled ‘Cutting Costs for Business’, it goes on to detail just how flippant companies have got with their spending. It found that over 50% of SMEs will go at least 6 months before reviewing costs, with a shocking 14% never reviewing their spending at all! Just in the way you wouldn’t accept a new car insurance quote without consulting a Russian meerkat first, the same applies for businesses – well, perhaps without the meerkat.

As small businesses and start-ups are building from modest foundations, it’s even more pertinent to make sure your company is working at 100% efficiency. For instance, did you know that not only are 75% of all water charges wrong, but also those failing to switch gas and electricity providers could be paying up to 61% too much?

These alarming findings are detailed in the infographic, coupled with strategies to make your business more cost-effective. And while this gives a great insight into the best ways to cut costs, it is by no means a complete list. Just take social media as a prime example. Instead of spending thousands on double page spreads in newspapers which are then thrown away, why not immortalise your marketing and advertising efforts via the world wide web? By utilising Twitter and Facebook, not only can you reach millions in one click (according to Statistic Brain, there were 554,750,000 active registered Twitter users as of July, 2013) but these interfaces are completely free to use!

By employing savvy techniques and updating marketing strategies in this way, coupled with adopting basic cost-cutting principles, you have every chance of rocketing your business into the New Year. Not only that, but keeping stock of spending will allow for steady growth which can be maintained beyond 2014.

Cutting costs for business infographic

References:

* http://startups.co.uk/fast-growing-firms-on-the-rise-in-uk/

Scissors ‘cutting costs’ image courtesy of Patpitchaya at Freedigitalphotos.net

We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment