Whether you believe Black Friday and Cyber Monday are expected to grow or shrink, it’s not a season that retailers – particularly SMEs – can ignore.“Over the years we’ve seen businesses of all sizes enjoy sales spikes when they’ve prepared their store for the rush,” says Joshua Shimkin, head of SME growth and marketing at Peach Payments. “This means that SMEs have to prepare themselves well in advance.”

He suggests there are five things SMEs can do to get ready for the longest shopping season of the retail year.

* Think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint – Consumers no longer expect Black Friday deals to be limited to one day – it has morphed into a season-long deals marathon. SMEs should factor this into their planning, and decide whether they’d prefer to offer month-long special offers or daily deals for the month of November – or even the whole festive season, Shimkin advises. He suggests SMEs focus on building loyalty, rather than on having one or two days of exceptionally high sales figures. “This sets up the SME for longer, more sustainable profitability and longevity.”

* Set up marketing campaigns ahead of time – SMEs that have collected customers’ email addresses as part of their existing newsletter, membership or e-invoice processes, should consider campaigns to help them stand out from the deluge of Black Friday marketing, long before November, Shimkin says. He recommends staggering communications with teasers previewing special offers, followed by more tailored emails for specific target groups of customers. “SMEs that use their social media platforms to ask their customers what they’re planning on buying on Black Friday get good results.”

* Improve website speed – Consumers are used to quick-loading websites and have little patience with websites that take too long to load. “It can be tricky to figure out what is making your pages load slowly, but there are free tools, such as Google’s PageSpeedInsights, that help SMEs find out what to fix,” he says. “Take the time to review your mobile experience too, so that you are sure all the links work as well as your desktop experience.”

* Delight with your delivery costs – “Consumers are notoriously sensitive to delivery fees, and it might be advantageous to negotiate special delivery fees or delivery times with your couriers or work a ‘free delivery’ offer into the pricing for your products,” Shimkin notes. This will likely result in fewer abandoned shopping carts, which can make a significant difference in the success of the season.

* Accept many payment methods – Online payments have moved past only credit card purchases, and now include anything from direct EFTs to online credit options and a variety of payment platforms. This includes the rise of buy-now-pay-later methods where larger purchases are paid off over a period with no interest, Shimkin says. “As a result, it is important to offer consumers as many different safe options as possible, so that the payment method itself doesn’t remain an obstacle.”

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