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(From Forbes, November 21, 2012)
It’s tough enough for small businesses to compete with big box retailers’ deep discounts and extensive product offerings. But now that Thanksgiving Day is no longer off limits at major players such as Target and Sears, Main Street retailers may be wondering if its time to close up shop for good.
Thanks to Shift Your Shopping and a number of other national and local initiatives aimed at raising consumer awareness to shop at independent retailers, those surveyed by national nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) outperformed the industry, reporting an average increase in holiday sales of 6.7% in 2011. Overall holiday retail sales rose 4.1% in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation.
Small Business Saturday for example, drew 100,000 shoppers to independent retailers last year, according to American Express. For every $1 spent at local businesses, 45 cents is reinvested locally vs. 15 cents or less from non-local purchases, the Retail Merchants Association found.
Beyond raising awareness, there are other ways independent retailers can boost their bottom line during the holiday selling season.
Diversify sales channels
“Create and update your portfolio of e-commerce channels so that your products reach the broadest audience possible. If you’re selling through your own online store, consider adding social selling on Facebook, or flash sales to your channels,” suggests Nate Gilmore, vice president of Shipwire Order Fulfillment.
A study by the University of California, San Diego and Facebook’s data-science team found that the social network quadruples the effect of a retailer’s message offline. 75% of the 100 most active “offers” claimed were from individuals who saw the offer after it had been shared by a friend.
F-commerce platform Payvment just launched a new “Weekly Deals” function that’s free to use and lets smaller online merchants run special promotions similar to their larger e-commerce competitors. The special Black Friday feed will run from November 23rd – 27th aimed at boosting the browsing to buying conversions.
Gilmore also offers these tips:
Free shipping or free upgraded shipping promotions
Aside from Free Shipping Day on Dec. 17, offering free shipping during the whole season will increase your sales and make your customers happy. Free or discounted shipping is one of the top things buyers look for when comparing different sites for the same products. The availability of multiple shipping options is also a strong conversion tool. Give your customers peace of mind by letting them feel like they’re getting a great deal, and sweeten the deal by guaranteeing shipping to arrive before Christmas day.
Think globally – customers are everywhere
Don’t limit yourself to domestic sales. Open your own warehouse in another country or work with an order fulfillment partner that already has locations in many international regions. Your partner would help you package, handle, and (inexpensively) ship your products to your customers wherever they may be. This way you don’t have to lease a warehouse, buy equipment, or hire personnel.
Refine your checkout and automate returns
A hassle-free shopping experience is a happy shopping experience. Make sure your checkout is easy to use so customers are less likely to abandon their carts. Review your return policy to make sure everything is up-to-date, seamless and straightforward. Automate your returns if you can, your order fulfillment partner should be able to handle your returns management for you.
Lower your prices by lowering your shipping costs
In their 2012 report on e-commerce FitForCommerce found that leading retailers are using warehouse operations to drive additional growth and profits. This means you should be leveraging regional warehouses by outsourcing order fulfillment for your best-selling products. This will allow you to cut shipping costs while offering faster shipping times, making your customers happy with both your price and speediness of delivery.