2020 Small Business Holiday Survival Guide

We’ve put together this guide to help small and medium-sized businesses navigate the 2020 holiday season — Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and everything in between.

online shopping during the holidays

After a year filled with pandemic anxiety, fire tornados, and an intense election season, the 2020 holiday shopping season is bound to be unpredictable. While the holidays generally pull in a considerable amount of revenue for small business owners, this economy has largely produced a cash-strapped consumer — with 39% of shoppers expecting to spend less on gifts this year. And for brick-and-mortar shops, finding ways to compete with eCommerce giants is more important than ever.

Section 1

2020 holiday shopping and COVID-19

COVID-19 has thrown retailers of all sizes a curveball. With businesses uncertain on whether there will be a new lockdown, and consumers cash-strapped and anxious about the virus, every company has had to innovate to survive.

With the dominance of eCommerce, brick-and-mortar stores need to find ways to stand out. In fact, online retail holiday sales are estimated to grow by 25% and 30%, despite the fact that overall 73% of Americans have reported they plan to reduce their overall spending during the season. But for business owners of all sizes, it will be critical to be prepared for anything. 

To survive and thrive, it can be helpful to plan for continued social distancing efforts and, in the worst-case scenario, another lockdown. You’ll need to ask yourself:

  • Can I afford to hire seasonal staff?
  • What precautions do I need to take to protect my customers and my employees?
  • Am I able to sell online? 
  • Are there any delivery services I can use to stand out?
  • Which marketing tactics will be most cost effective?

You’ll want to manage your inventory appropriately and be extra strategic this year.

Our ultimate holiday preparation checklist

To help you make the most of the holiday season, we’ve put together this comprehensive checklist to give you as many ideas as possible when it comes to optimizing your sales. Keep in mind, the holiday season will include major days like Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and general Christmas shopping. 

So whether you sell online or in person or use both methods, there are tips for every kind of business owner.

Online sales are estimated to grow by 25% and 30%, despite the fact that overall 73% of Americans have reported they plan to reduce their spending during the season.

SOURCES: Deloitte and Morning Consult

Section 2

Your shopping setup

The first thing you need to decide is your operations. 2020 isn’t just a year of challenges — it’s also an opportunity to test different business models. Will you be selling solely online? Do you plan to merge brick-and-mortar and eCommerce? What about pickup options?

It’s possible that you’ve already pivoted into a new delivery system or starting selling online as well as in your store. But you should go ahead and plan out your shopping setup for the remainder of the year. 

Will you sell online, in store, or both?

  • Brick and mortar: If you plan to open your store, you’ll need to take a few precautions. For example, you may want to ensure to limit who enters your store to keep the 6-foot rule. You may also want to stock up on masks and sanitizers. If you sell clothing and apparel, you will need to make sure each piece of clothing is sterilized and you may want to prohibit the changing room.
  • eCommerce:  The pros of selling online, of course, is that you don’t have to worry about masks or setting a 6-foot rule. However, you will still want to ensure that all of your products are sanitized prior to shipping.

    When it comes to eCommerce, you have a lot of options. You can set up shop on your own website — or you can leverage other platforms to start selling quickly. This includes sites like Shopify, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and other vendor platforms. Unlike selling on your own site, these platforms will take a percentage of your revenue. But they also make it easy to start selling immediately.

    If you don’t have a website or don’t regularly sell online, that may be the way to go.

  • Hybrid: You can, of course, choose to do both. This will allow you to reach both loyal, local customers and new global buyers. Selling both online and in your physical shop can also protect your business in case of another lockdown. If you need to temporarily close your brick-and-mortar shop, you may still be able to fulfill online orders.

holiday shopping

You can choose to allow in-person shopping with limited occupancy or let customers book appointments to have the store to themselves.

Set your store hours, and indoor vs. outdoor shopping

  • Business as usual: You can set regular 9-5 hours, but it may be more difficult to maintain health precautions. If you plan for regular hours in store, try limiting the occupancy to maintain good social distancing.
  • Appointment Only: You can choose to have customers set up appointments where they have the store to themselves. Not only is this easier for you to manage, but it gives the customer a custom experience.

    Appointments can be easy to set up. You can ask customers to call in, or you can use an online service that allows customers to easily pick the best date and time. Some examples include Acuity and Calendly. These options also work for online appointments — such as scheduling Zoom calls.
  • Outdoor Shopping and Dining: If the weather is decent where you work, you may decide to sell your products outdoors to reduce upkeep and offer a new shopping experience. Restaurant owners may find it useful to move to outdoor seating arrangements for improved social distancing.

Pickup options

  • Curbside Pickup: If you don’t plan to open your store but are selling online through Facebook or another eCommerce method, you can allow customers to pick up their gifts at your physical location.
  • Local Delivery: You can also deliver to areas close to your store or home to offer a convenient option for those who are unable to stop by.
  • Shipping: Whether you sell online or not, you can also opt to send orders by mail rather than deliver it yourself. But keep in mind that this option could increase your price point while mail during the holiday season tends to be slower.

In-person Shopping Options

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  • Normal hours, with limited occupancy
  • Appointment only
  • Outdoor shopping

Pickup and Delivery Options

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  • Curbside pickup
  • Local delivery
  • Shipping
2020 isn’t just a year of challenges — it’s also an opportunity to test different business models. Will you be selling solely online? Do you plan to merge brick-and-mortar and eCommerce? What about pickup options?
Section 3

Holiday marketing 101: Update your online presence 

When it comes to marketing, you have many chances to stand out. Even if you don’t have a website, you’ll want to optimize your online presence to ensure people can find and contact you. With COVID-19, even loyal customers may not be certain if you are open or not. Make it easy for them to find out. 

Before you do anything else, you need to update your online information. If you have a website, make sure it looks good on mobile phones and includes all updated information related to store hours, shipping, and COVID-19 precautions.

You’ll also want to update the same information on all your social profiles. Ecommerce sellers should also look at updating their product offerings and deals for the holiday season, and let buyers know if there will be any shipping delays.

If you don’t have a website or don’t sell online, you’ll still want to update your information on Google Business to let customers know if you are open and how to contact you. You may also decide to spruce up your website with a new landing page or two to highlight your seasonal discounts and products.

Section 4

Invest in social media marketing

When it comes to social media marketing, you have a lot of options. Not only should you have organic (non-paid) posts on your profiles, but you should also look at offering a small amount of ad spend. 

Consider creating new ads for your top products on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to promote your discounts. You can also create ads on Google Adwords for your online store, or to a special landing page designed to promote your physical location’s seasonal promotions. 

You may also want to highlight how you are taking precautions due to COVID-19 on your social profiles. For an extra boost, you can highlight your best employees with a candid photoshoot — preferably while they are wearing a mask — and write a quick post on social. 

Outside of the major social media channels, you may also want to sign up for a Nextdoor business page. Nextdoor is an app centered on connecting neighbors with one another, and this could be a great opportunity to showcase your local business. In fact, 88% of Nextdoor members shop locally at least once a week.

Section 5

online shopping holiday

For businesses selling items online, coupons and discount offers are easy to create. Contests can also increase brand visibility.

Create coupons, deals, and contests

For those selling online, it is a cinch to create limited use coupons or discount offers using your eCommerce platform. Both Shopify and Amazon have inbuilt mechanisms to create coupons. However, there are also numerous plugins that can give the same experience. 

In addition to online coupons, you can sell physical or digital gift cards for your shop — especially if you haven’t reopened yet. These are always a popular gift item and can be a quick fix for customers on a budget or who don’t want to come to a physical store to shop. 

You can also set up contests to find more customers, and you can advertise these online or at your physical locations. Contests are a great way to increase your brand visibility while offering customers a unique experience.

Section 6

Automate email campaigns and test direct mail

You can also reach out to your mailing list to let them know about your latest details. Consider creating a scheduled and automated workflow so that you watch the orders pour in while you focus on other aspects of your business.

If you sell on platforms like Amazon, you can also customize your auto-responders — such as asking for a product review — to increase open and click rates. 

Test direct mail

Why not try the direct mail method? While it does have a higher cost than sending an email, it may also offer a bit of novelty for the consumer. Combined with a discount coupon or free gift card, it might be enough to bring the shopper to your physical or online location.

Consider creating a scheduled and automated workflow so that you watch the orders pour in while you focus on other aspects of your business.
Section 7

Offer unique and practical holiday bundles

During the pandemic, we’ve seen businesses become creative in order to maintain their customer base. Bookstores, in particular, have come up with customer-specific packages — such as online book readings or curated reader gift boxes. You can take this same approach by creating holiday bundles to cater to your customers’ needs. Not only will these items look more attractive, they are often more practical.

You may also offer freebies or gift cards based on how much a customer has spent in your store. In addition, you can pair up with complementary businesses to create unique packages or business opportunities. 

For example, if you sell homeware or kitchen items, perhaps you can team up with local takeout restaurants to advertise your holiday catalog or offer a prize for whoever buys the most takeout in a week. 

Section 8

holiday decorations shop

Adding Thanksgiving signage or Christmas lights to your store can boost visibility and help customers reconnect to the regular buying experience.

Optimize your space

When it comes to improving your brick-and-mortar space for holiday shopping, you have many options to spruce up your store and attract attention:

  • Consider stretching your sales rack to the curb and turn your store into an outdoor market. This can be a great marketing idea, and you can tell people passing by that you are open for business.
  • Can’t branch out but have an online store? Consider adding QR codes to your products either on the window display or throughout the store. This way customers can simply scan the code and purchase the item they want online.
  • Don’t forget to decorate for the holiday season. The sensory experience of adding Christmas lights or Thanksgiving signage can boost visibility and help customers reconnect to the regular buying experience.
  • If you don’t want to worry about decorations, you can still decide to provide entertainment to draw people in. Some examples include hiring musicians, local authors or storytellers, magicians, and other performers. Other entertainment — such as face painting or henna tables — may be out because of social distancing, but there are still many options that don’t require extensive precautions.
  • Consider offering special, limited classes on something related to the holidays. Restaurants can offer cooking or baking classes, and retail business owners can offer quick tips on gift wrapping or creating custom gifts. You can also take a video of the event, or live stream it for online customers to increase participation. 
Section 9

Hiring seasonal employees

Onboarding during the holidays just won’t be the same. Similar to dealing with customers, you’ll want your employees to maintain social distance, and wear masks or possibly make use of more advanced PPE requirements.

You may choose to limit your employee training batches or choose remote methods of communication to ensure social distancing between employees. You may also choose to onboard your employee with electronic materials rather than paper files, to lessen points of contact. 

It may be a good idea to bring on contractors rather than employees, especially for online-based tasks such as marketing. You can also consider taking on seasonal employees for non-customer based tasks, such as:

Onboarding during the holidays just won’t be the same. Similar to dealing with customers, you’ll want your employees to maintain social distance, and wear masks or possibly make use of more advanced PPE requirements.
Section 10

Motivating employees during an uncertain season

It can be hard to predict how the holiday season will go. Depending on your product offerings and the way you decide to sell, you may be overwhelmed or face random quiet periods. Either way, you’ll want to keep your employees motivated. 

There are a few easy ways you can keep employee motivation and productivity high regardless of the ups and downs of holiday shopping:

  • Protect your employees. One of the best ways to show your employees that you care is to let them know how you are planning the season around their safety from the pandemic.

  • Give recognition regularly. Try to give spontaneous recognition whenever you notice something positive an employee has contributed. Individuals crave positive feedback and this will immediately boost morale.

  • Be transparent. Be open about expectations and metrics — even the ones you aren’t happy about. Even if the numbers make them uncomfortable, your employees will feel more content knowing you’ve given it to them straight.

  • Offer career opportunities. Consider offering a path to become a permanent employee. In this economy, there may be seasonal workers looking for a permanent job or career. If your business can handle it, consider offering a long-term gig to those employees who really excel.
  • Give employees autonomy. Allowing employees to make decisions can help them feel more involved in the business. You can allow employees to give discounts up to a certain amount or give them more chances to input ideas about how to improve operations.
Section 11

employees with masks

Protect your employees by providing PPE equipment and training them on how to properly use it.

Preparing and protecting employees during a pandemic

Whenever you onboard a new employee, you’ll want to cover pandemic essentials. You will want to train them on the proper use of the PPE equipment and you will need to provide it. You will also need to review, update, and evaluate PPE precautions regularly. Workers will be expected to maintain and clean their equipment. 

OSHA guidelines recommend the following for maintaining a safe work environment:

  • Promote frequent handwashing for both employees and customers.
  • Encourage employees and customers to cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze or cough.
  • Routinely clean and sanitize surfaces, equipment, and all other elements of a work environment. 
  • Encourage employees to stay home if sick.
  • Provide hand sanitizer which contains at least 60% alcohol.

In addition, you can encourage employees and customers to wear face masks, restrict the number of people who can visit your physical store, and have all employees work from home if possible. You can also consider alternative setups for your brick-and-mortar location, such as selling goods outside if you run a store or having outdoor seating arrangements if you have a restaurant.