Saturday, October 4, 2008

Missing Out On Holiday Sales

For the last 30 days or so our economy has been in a state of fluxed stagnation. As a result, many small business owners have gone into what they think is a survival mode when what they have really done is lay the ground work for closing their business doors. All it will take is another week or two of this thinking and they will not make it through the holiday season.

Regardless of what everyone is hearing about this so called economic “Bail Out”, Rescue or what ever you want to call it, one of the major un-told reasons for the rush to pass this bill was the current time of year. Many people don’t know that the holiday selling season will set the tone for the economy for the following year. The government didn’t want the country going into this selling season knowing the fact that it was going to be a terrible holiday selling season because their research was showing that the average person was only planning on buying less than half of what they did last year. That is unless something changed in the economy.

Now with the bill passed, the average consumer, which includes all small business owners, has seen that change and it will affect their thinking. Not as much as we all would like but it is a change none the less. We all know that the true ramifications for the average American of this bill probably will not be seen for some time to come. For now however and for this holiday selling season, some of the pressure has been lifted. This probably will not be the best selling season most of us have seen but it certainly is looking better than it did just a few weeks ago.

One of the biggest questions for many small business owners is How do we take advantage of this change? Considering that most Americans still see tough times ahead, how do we adjust our business models and what should we be doing to maximize this holiday selling season?

John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, recently suggested that the best thing to do in hard times is focus more and focus better. By narrowing your focus, you can concentrate on your best customers, your key market segments and the parts of your business that are most important to you. That seems like very good advice.

Still, entrepreneurs have more jitters than a freshmen on the first day of school. Discover Small Business Watch, a monthly survey from Discover Financial Services, found last month that 73 percent of small-business owners it polled believe "the U.S. economy is getting worse."

"Nearly 42 percent of business owners told us they have temporary cash-flow issues," says Ryan Scully, director of Discover's business credit card division. "We are seeing Wall Street make an impact on Main Street. Small-business owners are very independent, and they're in survival mode."

Some very negative comments by some well established sources but again, what isn’t being said is actually more important than what is. What is not being said is that successful small business will use these types of situations to strengthen their business model and actually increase their business and sales by being aggressive in their business evaluation and in their marketing and advertising efforts.

Look at some very consistent facts that have been established over the years and has been revisited just recently.

Over 33% of US shoppers recently surveyed stated they begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. Black Friday has been the traditional start of the holiday shopping season for many years but the numbers of people making a start on their Xmas shopping earlier seems to be on the increase. For the benefit of non-US readers, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States and usually one of the biggest grossing shopping days of the year.

In recent years, Cyber Monday has also been a big day. Cyber Monday is the the first Monday after Black Friday and marks the start of the online shopping season. The survey from Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI) of over 6400 shoppers also found Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) to be the largest single age group of early shoppers; around 38%.

A tad under thirty-six percent of those surveyed state they begin shopping between Thanksgiving and December 15th. Nearly 26% commence their shopping between December 16th and 23rd. Only around 2% don’t begin their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

These facts clearly suggest that a small business whose primary business is retail related, should be reaching out now to grab as many early shoppers as possible. The problem here is that the small business owner isn’t going to be making those sales if shoppers don’t know you exist. The only way shoppers know you are there is through some form of marketing and advertising. This is true for online businesses just as it is for B&M businesses. Probably more so when you consider a B&M business usually only has competition form other businesses in it local area. On line however, the small business owner has competition from all over the world which makes their marketing and advertising even more important.

Exactly what any given business sells is going to have some impact on when they start their holiday marketing and advertising efforts but in general and for most on line types of businesses, their holiday marketing and advertising should start as close to October 1st as possible. The primary reason for this time frame is that the average online shopper starts searching for those gifts a couple of weeks before they actually buy. If a business wants to be found in that search period, it needs to be visible and if they want the shopper to buy from them, they need to be very visible.

Many online businesses use one form of online selling venue or another and not their own web site. They mistakenly think that the selling venue will be bringing in the business for them and they don’t have to do any marketing or advertising of their own. This type of thinking mistake will doom any business. There isn’t any real selling and shopping venue that is going to be thinking of you individually when it comes to their marketing and advertising plans. The misconception or faulty thinking that “I’m paying them means they are responsible for bringing me traffic” will certainly cause a decrease in your sales.

Just like any B&M store in a mall, you may pick up some walk in traffic just because you are there but unless you are actively seeking new customers and cultivating previous customers, your sales will not be what they could be. This fact hold true no matter what you sell. Unless you hold a monopoly on some product, you better plan and doing some marketing and advertising. Both online and off.

Like I mentioned before, wise merchants have already started their holiday marketing and advertising and are probably seeing the difference in their sales already. Despite the economic situation. They are taking advantage of the 33% or so of the early shoppers and have pre-positioned themselves to maximize their November and December sales by building their internet, online, visibility early. Don’t forget it can take weeks and even months for your marketing and advertising to start showing up in search engines.

Another phenomena or trend these days is for shoppers to rely more on actual Shopping oriented sites like many shopping directories or venues. Instead of spending their time plowing through hundreds or thousands of returns provided by general search engines they shop or start their shopping from locations that have grouped together the merchants of the types of products they are seeking – Shopping Directories.

Not only do shoppers realize that this saves them time but they also feel more comfortable shopping from merchants listed in shopping directories because they feel that the shopping directory itself has certain standards or criteria for a merchant to be listed in that directory. The shopper may not know what these standards are and there may not be much criteria at all but to the shopper, they feel safer anyway.

With credit tightening and consumer confidence shaky, you know this is going to be a tough year for holiday sales. A forecast that came out this morning from Lehman Brothers (now Barclays Capital), puts "Internet sales over the upcoming holiday season growing at just 8 percent, compared to 19 percent growth last year (and 26 percent in 2006). That's still better than the one percent growth in holiday ales expected at physical department stores, but the fourth quarter is make-or-break for many e-commerce sites and the slowdown in growth is not going to help. Despite the trimmed forecasts, the Internet remains the most likely sector to see the strongest growth in both retail sales and advertising. "

If you have been hesitating beginning you holiday marketing and advertising, It’s not too late to start. You should have started already but you can still significantly increase your sales this holiday season by starting now. Just remember to keep you Niche in mind and focus your marketing and advertising efforts to those shoppers most likely to purchase your products.

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