A Five-Step SMB Action Plan to Prepare for the 2021 Holiday Season
The holidays are typically busier than normal and staff has to work overtime. Is your business prepared for the holiday?
After surviving the shutdown-riddled year of 2020, most small businesses spent 2021 trying to regain their footing. It hasn't been easy. Supply chain disruptions and consumer uncertainty have seen to that. But as the holiday season draws near, small businesses are about to have their last chance to close out the year on a high note – and get themselves on firmer financial footing.
To do it, they'll need to prepare for a holiday shopping season that's different than years past. They'll need to plan for inventory issues, altered consumer preferences, and even workforce challenges. And the time to do all of that is running out. Here's a 5-step action plan for small businesses to prepare for the 2021 holiday shopping season.
Step One: Analyze Historical Sales Data
In an ordinary year, small businesses had the luxury of stocking up on all of their most popular products in the runup to the holidays. But this year, supply chain snarls mean that may not be possible. For that reason, small businesses need to look at their historical sales data – paying specific attention to previous holiday seasons - to prioritize their most profitable products.
The idea is to create a list of products to focus their procurement and marketing efforts on. That will give them a roadmap as they work with suppliers to secure enough inventory to satisfy the anticipated demand. And keeping popular products in-stock will be extra important this year, as industry analysts expect holiday sales to increase by up to 9% this year. Running out of product would prevent them from capitalizing on that increase.
Step Two: Contact Suppliers and Find Alternatives
The next thing to do is to start lining up deliveries of the products identified in the first step. Contact each product's supplier to find out if they anticipate any shortages or delays. There are already massive backlogs of shipping containers sitting at US ports, and there's no telling when they'll clear up. And that could be a major obstacle to a small business's holiday inventory plans.
If any key products are unavailable or otherwise delayed, the business has two options. The first is to allow customers to order products in anticipation of their arrival. But doing that runs the risk of creating fulfillment issues if the product doesn't arrive in time for the holidays. The other option is to try and identify alternative suppliers of the needed products. And if there aren't any, it's probably best to move on to other products that are available – because inventory in hand is always better than the promise of future deliveries.
Step Three: Bolster Customer Service Operations
With all of the uncertainty that's built into this holiday season, customers are bound to have questions and concerns. Analysts expect that customer inquiries coming in through social media channels should run about 18% higher during the holidays, compared to the rest of the year. And call volumes are almost always higher than normal around the holidays. That means right now is the time to assign additional personnel to handle those inquiries.
But in today's challenging hiring environment, that may be a tall order. So, small businesses should consider turning to a cloud based call center solution to help them accommodate the rush. Doing so makes it possible to staff up with remote workers, which improves hiring flexibility. And since many such solutions can also integrate social media channels, they're also a way to deal with the expected contact increase there at the same time.
Step Four: Augment eCommerce Options
As noted earlier, retail industry analysts expect holiday sales to increase this year – and that's on top of an unprecedented surge that happened last year. But buried in those numbers is a fact that small businesses should pay careful attention to. It's that much of the increase is expected to benefit eCommerce outlets.
That means small businesses that haven't already made the pivot to eCommerce must do so right now. And those that have should shift some additional resources into their efforts. The small businesses that did this last year – most out of sheer necessity – saw a 110% year-over-year increase in online sales. And with another eCommerce boom expected this year, we may see similar numbers this holiday season.
Step Five: Set Holiday Schedules For Operations, Employees
This year, as most small businesses face a staffing crunch, it's more important than ever to get out in front of holiday scheduling. The goal is to try to align workforce needs with business needs, or to identify the need for additional staff right now. Unlike in years past, finding temporary employees at a moment's notice isn't going to work.
Major retailers are all increasing wages to deal with labor shortages, which will put small businesses at an even bigger disadvantage. So, small businesses need to huddle with their employees to find the way forward this year. Making it work might require adding bonus pay or offering additional paid time off after the holiday. And it's also worthwhile to use existing employees as a recruiting resource if additional help is required.
And last but not least, if staffing shortages make extended holiday hours impossible, small businesses should work to learn more on their eCommerce operations to pick up the slack. It's a pivot they should be making anyway, and one that will likely pay benefits going forward as consumers' shopping habits continue to shift.
Ending the Year on a High Note
There's no doubt that the 2021 holiday season will be a challenging one for small businesses. But it should also be one filled with opportunity, too. With the expected boost in sales that analysts expect, the next few months could go a long way toward erasing what's been a difficult stretch in the small business world. And that should give all of the entrepreneurs out there something to celebrate for the first time in quite a while.