The holiday season is a time for gift-giving and spending time with family and loved ones. But if you work in retail, it can mean something very different.
Many boutique owners find themselves busier than ever during the holidays. Most years, the season means long lines at malls, loads of crowds, and tons of in-person sales. But this year is going to be totally different.
Online stores have steadily grown in popularity over the years, but COVID-19 made the shift to e-commerce accelerate at its fastest-ever rate. The 2020 holiday season will be dominated and led by e-commerce stores. Many believe it will be the single biggest e-commerce event in history.
That’s great news if you own an online boutique. It means you’ll have the chance to capture all kinds of new and existing customers. But it also means you’ve got to brace yourself. Things are about to get way busier.
Whether you’ve already made it through many a holiday season as a boutique owner before, or this will be your first, you need to prepare your online store for the holiday season during COVID-19.
Make sure you’re totally prepared to accept online orders, and that your website makes the buying experience as smooth as possible. Go through your online store as though you were a customer, and confirm that the entire buying process is crystal clear. Take a moment to work out any kinks you find so that you can provide a seamless buyer journey. If this is your first time selling online, run a few tests purchases to ensure that payment solutions are totally ready.
Once you’ve done that, update your website for the holiday season. Refresh your inventory so that in-stock items are clearly marked. Promote seasonal offers and holiday deals throughout your website. Clearly display your boutique’s shipping and return policies, especially if you’ve modified them for the holidays. The easier it is for your customers to make a purchase (and take advantage of holiday deals), the more likely they’ll be to do so.
Plan and stock your inventory in advance. It’s always a good idea to start stocking up on holiday inventory early, but this year it’s more important than ever. Many shipments have been delayed due to the pandemic, so the sooner you can order your inventory, the better.
Work with a reliable supplier. The increase in high demand not only affect retailers, but manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers as well. Order early and choose a supplier with great customer service.
Schedule out your promotions. Many customers expect great holiday promotions from the brands and boutiques they love. Start planning out what sorts you’ll run and when you’ll run them. Stagger promos and marketing efforts carefully so that you have a flow of ongoing sales instead of a few huge peaks. It will make it easier to fulfill orders and provide great service.
With COVID-19, it’s difficult to predict exactly how long shipping times will take. To make it easier to ship items in time for the holidays, incentivize early buying with sales. Experts predict that Amazon’s October Prime Week will cause many buyers to purchase holiday gifts earlier than ever before. Consider offering a sale during that period, in an effort to pick up some of that traffic.
You’ll also want to take advantage of Black Friday. Many of the largest retailers have already announced that their stores will be closed for Thanksgiving weekend, meaning there will be far fewer in-person Black Friday doorbuster deals. Try and capture some of that excitement online by offering a great deal for Thanksgiving weekend.
Expect delays. During the 2020 holiday season, getting packages to arrive on time at customers’ doorsteps will be tricky. Encourage people to buy early. Be transparent about shipping delays you’re aware of, and do your best to manage your customers’ expectations. As tempting as it may be, don’t promise a delivery date you can’t guarantee.
Once the guaranteed holiday shipping deadline passes, offer virtual gift cards that can be instantly delivered and used toward any item in your shop. This provides a way for last-minute shoppers to still support your shop.
Prepare for fulfillment and delivery. A lot of online boutique owners are out there running a one-woman show, but during the holiday season, you might want some help. If you usually do shipping and fulfillment operations all by yourself, consider enlisting a friend or employee to help with the busy season.
If you have a brick-and-mortar location or a lot of local customers, offer in-person pickup to allow customers to save on shipping costs — and allow you to package and mail fewer orders.
To prepare your online store for the holiday season during COVID-19, it’s important to begin now. Start ordering wholesale boutique items, so you have plenty of time to prepare for any delays, update your inventory, schedule out promotions, and allow your customers to order their gifts as early as possible.
Joseph Heller is CEO of SuppliedShop.com.
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