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How to prepare your business for Christmas in a pandemic

While you’ll no doubt have been trying to prepare for Christmas demand (in this completely unpredictable climate) for a couple of months already, the shift into another lockdown will have presented yet more challenges.

The new restrictions have forced 500,000 shops, restaurants and pubs to close their doors so there’s a high chance your business will be doing all its marketing and selling virtually.

So with online sales set for a boom, how can you make sure your business is best placed to deliver? We asked a range of business owners and experts for their tips on how business owners can stand themselves in good stead for the festive period.

Adapt to changes in consumer demand and behaviour 

Jerome Brustlein, COO at jewellery business Fenton, suggests: 

“During the critical Christmas period for retail, businesses need to think of ways to adapt to changing customer behaviours. I think our Concierge service through WhatsApp is particularly innovative and a great example of this, especially in the often entrenched jewellery space. 

“We are appointment-based, so if prospective customers would like to see some of our rings in person, they can contact our concierge to book in a suitable time. We can also book them in for a video appointment at their convenience using the app of their choice (Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp).”

Rick Smith, Managing Director of business recovery specialists Forbes Burton, concurs:

“It’s best to set out a plan now, find out what is going on in the market and your business and see what you can do to adapt. 

“It may sound obvious, but boosting sales could prove difficult if the high streets are still locked down and quiet, so look into online sales tactics more deeply even if you are just a small high street retailer. There’s more potential than ever to adapt to the changing consumer habits we are seeing as this year continues to be limiting and restricted.”

Evaluate your online journey 

Unsah Malik, leading entrepreneur and social media expert, says:

“Of all holidays, Christmas is the time of year people quite enjoy having a shop in physical retail stores. There’s a warm feeling in the air, Christmas playlists are on replay and all the wonderful displays and decorations go up in stores. It’s a different experience compared to shopping throughout the year and I imagine most people will miss the feeling this December. 

“Businesses need to embrace digital while being equally empathetic about the current pandemic. You need to remember that although the spend from online shopping will increase, people losing jobs and feeling financially stressed has also increased. You don’t want to come across as a money-hungry opportunist. I sense many customers shopping locally for this reason alone. 

“Start by looking at your average customer’s online customer journey. Think of ways you can attract them with discounts and rewards they haven’t seen from you before. Maybe you’ll decrease the price of a best-seller, put something on sale you haven’t before, or create a whole new product just for a limited edition Christmas period. If you’re a small business and struggling to make ends meet yourself, think about collaborating with another small business to create a better offering.”

Evaluate your opportunities

Erica Wolfe-Murray, business expert and author of Simple Tips Smart Ideas, adds:

“Number one priority is to ensure your mailing list is up to date – keep your customers advised of new offers, new services, how you are working. 

“Get across the five areas of opportunity – what can you offer past/present clients, how could you adapt this for future clients, is there anything you could offer to your competitors – an often overlooked area, and what about new buyers coming into your market for the first time? All of these offer great ways of spinning and pivoting your business. 

“Then finally what can you offer the person walking past in the street now. In the lead up to Christmas, you can’t overlook any of these areas.”

Keep a closer eye than ever on your numbers

Smith also stresses the importance of knowing your numbers: “Christmas this year will be different for a lot of businesses. Often known as the ‘golden quarter’, this Autumn/Winter might prove difficult. In order to make the most of it, it’s best that you know your business’ figures.

“Make sure you have a thorough understanding of what is coming in and what is going out, otherwise, fundamentally, you will struggle in what will be an even tougher start to the new year than many will have foreseen.

“Also, seek out where costs can be saved. Treat it like a review of your overall business plan and be more brutal with your cost-cutting than you usually would.”

Maximise your social media efforts 

As well as focusing on your online journey, Malik stresses the need to ramp up social media:

“Now is also a great time to really maximise your social media efforts. If you have the budget for Facebook Ads, use small amounts and test different audiences. If you want to focus on solely organic attraction, start weaving Christmas-focused content into your strategy.

“Plant the seed in people’s minds that they should come to you when they’re ready to shop for their loved ones. You don’t need to go all out with expensive productions either. Your smartphone and an app from the App Store can make really great content. 

“Lastly, don’t forget that social media can be on both ends of your sales funnel, too. Right at the beginning, when they first come across your brand, and then right at the end when they return to your social feeds as a (hopefully) loyal customer. 

“It also helps to ensure you have the right customer services practices in place on social media. It’s one of the first places people go to ask a question or share a complaint. Be polite and don’t ignore anyone. Have readymade answers for FAQS, or just pop these in a highlight (especially anything about delivery in time for Christmas). The last thing you need is a poor reputation taking over the intended Christmas spirit and potential sales!”

Think outside the box when it comes to stock or incentives 

Finally, Wolfe-Murray suggests product ‘promises’:

“If you’ve left ordering stock too late, or you are hit by cashflow shortages, develop gift products that sell ‘promises’. 

“A gift voucher for business advice, a brand/personal stationery refresh would make a great present, an online training session – all of these can be bought now and claimed in the new year.”

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