Make sure your online business gets a bite of the apple this Valentine’s day

valentines day image

The days of grabbing some last minute flowers from the local petrol station on the way home from work are long gone. Nowadays, Valentine’s day is seriously big business. According to statistics 180 million cards are exchanged on Valentine’s day and the average annual Valentine’s day spending is a staggering $13.19 billion.

Growth in online Valentine’s s day purchases

For the past few years UK and US online Valentine’s day sales have been grown steadily year-on-year. In the UK alone it is estimated that 1 out 3 shoppers will go online for their Valentine’s day purchase. So if you are an online business offering something that would make a great Valentine’s day gift or experience then you really can’t afford not to tap in to this lucrative seasonal surge.

Valentine’s day is not just for the chocolate and card industries

And, don’t just think Valentine’s day is only of relevance to the card, flower and chocolate industries. These days popular Valentine’s day presents are surprisingly diverse –  from jewellery to electronics, clothing to pets. Yes, pet shops take note, in the US an eye watering $367 million is spent on pets on Valentine’s day.

Take inspiration from other websites

So, what can you do as a small business to get in on the act? A good starting point is getting some inspiration from other websites. There is a great deal that can be learnt from looking at websites that have been established for a while or who have a large marketing team and budget behind them. Assessing other sites can provide you with great insight and is a good way to generate ideas – even if you have to pare them down or adapt them to meet your own business requirements. Here are a few websites that we at ShopIntegrator think do Valentine’s day well:

Valentine’s day up your online business

  • Website: Give your website a Valentine’s day feel and focus by introducing some relevant images and graphics. When customers come to your website they should immediately be able to see where your Valentine’s day selection is. Remember, customers shouldn’t have to think to hard once they’re on your website. Categorise gifts where you can and try and help customers with their purchase by inspiring them with gift ideas ‘gifts for him’,  ‘gifts for her’ ‘gifts under £25’ and so on. And, as with any seasonal deadline, make sure last shipping and delivery dates are clear for your customers to see – shoppers will not want their Valentine’s day purchases turning up after the event.
  • Special Valentine’s day offers: Used sensibly, special offers can be a good way to pull in customers. Perhaps think about motivating customers with a Valentine’s day promotion as an added incentive.  For example a small free gift with every purchase  over a certain value or introduce discount codes and sales vouchers with free shipping and delivery,  percentage off or multi-buy savings. Just remember to factor in all your costs before introducing any promotions.  Although offers may generate more sales, your profit margins could be effected.

“People who receive gift cards often spend more than the value of the card

  • Spread the word: Telling your customers about what you are doing is essential. Use all your available digital marketing tools to spread the word.  Send out Valentine’s day related emails and promote your special offers on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and  all your other social media sites. And if you have a blog then why not use it to entice customers in. Not on the High Street. com have cleverly used their blog to inspire customers and to tap into the whole Valentine’s day phenomenon with fun and relevant posts.

Plan ahead your seasonal promotions

It is important think ahead and plan for seasonal surges such as Valentine’s day. Most industries have times when sales peak. You need to identify these periods in order to ensure you maximise the opportunities they can offer your business. And remember one of the benefits of being an online business is that you have a global audience – so try to think globally and culturally. Once you identify your best seasonal periods and start examining all the possible opportunities, you’ll be surprised at just how creative you can get.

Image courtesy of Claire Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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

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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.