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5 Ways to Get Your Small Business Prepared for the Holiday Rush

Rita Chu

The winter holidays will be here before you know it. Every year, more and more consumers turn to online shopping to fulfill their holiday gift-shopping needs. According to a recent reporter by eMarketer, online shoppers will spend nearly $55 billion this holiday shopping season in the United States alone. That's up from almost 17 percent from last year, proving that online sales during the holidays are on the rise.

Ecommerce holiday sales are expected to make up a quarter of all online sales made over the entire year. This trend of shoppers turning to online stores for their holiday shopping presents a promising opportunity for small business e-retailers to increase their profits during the end-of-year holiday shopping rush.

Even though online holiday shoppers may wait till the last minute to make their purchases, small businesses should prepare for the influx of shoppers and sales now before the holiday rush begins near the end of November. Here are five ways your small business can prepare for eager holiday buyers:

1. Be Organized. Make sure you keep your orders straight so your products don't get sent to the wrong customer. Use spreadsheets and online tools to manage sales, inventory, and shipments. Use an online shopping cart system that has a powerful content management system built in, like Magento or OpenCart. This way, tracking inventory and sales is a snap.

Have all your bookkeeping in one place by using tools like Outright to keep track of every sale, expense, and taxes charged so that you spend more time making quality products and growing your business and less time worrying about your accounting. Another small-business management solution is WorkingPoint, which features easy inventory management so you can always have your product quantities on-hand and automatically track cost of goods sold.

2. Stock Up on Inventory. Get ahead of sales and build your inventory of products before your customers buy them. If you make your products by hand, it will be especially beneficial to your sanity to make the most popular items ahead of time. Analyze sales from past years to determine which products to keep on-hand and in what quantities.

Furthermore, David M. Burrows, the vice president of Cinsay Inc., a Corporate Marketing and PR firm, emphasizes the importance of offering something exclusive: "Consumers have so many choices when shopping, make sure what you are offering potential buyers is something exclusive and that sets you apart from your competition in terms of selection, availability, or pricing."

Also, stock up on everything from raw materials to packaging supplies and save money by buying wholesale and in bulk. Find reusable materials on the Freecycle Network to promote reuse and sustainability and keeping good materials out of landfills. Keep track of all your manufacturers and suppliers in one place like on Vianza, where indie retailers and indie wholesalers connect and collaborate together.

If you've had stocking issues in the past, Lori Riviere, integrated marketing communications expert and owner of It Marketing Concepts, suggests small-business owners to "[have] back-up suppliers on board who can replenish stock. Call your suppliers to see who keeps stock on-hand or can produce stock quickly. These will serve as your back-up suppliers during the holiday season in case you are running low on an item."

3. Communicate Shipping Deadlines. When's the last day to order for Christmas? For U.S. customers? For international customers? Do you offer expedited shipping options? Tell your international and local customers now, way in advance, when your deadlines are so they know how to order in time for the holidays. Also, post these deadlines on your website, newsletters, and all other ways you communicate with customers.

Christmas this year is on Tuesday, December 25. Judging from last year's Christmas mailing dates for the U.S. Postal Service, your international orders should be shipped by around December 7 for international first-class mail and by December 20 for domestic first-class mail. Save money on shipping costs by shopping the USPS store to order free boxes for all your holiday shipping needs. Additionally, customize your packaging with festive holiday themes and decorations that customers will surely appreciate.

4. Offer Holiday Discounts. Draw in new customers by offering coupon codes for free shipping or discounts on products for first-time customers. Contact your best repeat customers and present them with special return-customer discounts to remind them to shop with you for the holidays. Everyone's budgets are tight around the holidays with so many friends and relatives to buy presents for, so reward your loyal customers with coupon codes so they'll save when they come back to buy holiday gifts from you instead of from your competitors.

Moreover, promote your sales before they happen so your customers will know to look forward to them. Erika Penzer Kerekes, senior product manager of Deluxe Corporation, suggests to also "[think] about special products, services, or packages you want to offer as holiday specials, and set aside some marketing dollars to promote them, starting as early as November 1."

5. 100 Percent Website Uptime. The holiday shopping season should mean high customer traffic to your online shop because it's the optimal time for gift giving. Ensure that your shop can handle the increased web traffic and transaction processing. If your website is down, your customers can't buy from you and you're losing potential sales. According to Chase Paymentech, online retailers earn nearly 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday shopping season alone. Use a reliable web host for your website with a near 100 percent uptime guarantee and have back-up plans in case of emergencies.

Once you have kick-started your holiday preparations with these simple tips, your small business will be fully geared up to accept and fulfill more orders quickly with no worries. The next step would be to promote your online store through marketing and social media to draw more customers to your store. Don't miss out on big sales and be prepared this holiday season.

Rita Chu manages NerdWallet Indie Shopping, where shoppers can find Etsy coupon codes and save on fun and unique gifts.

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