How Small Businesses Can Prepare for the Holidays with COVID
The holidays are often a frantic time for retailers, but with COVID-19, 2020 will be an especially tricky holiday season. Forecasters are already predicting a marked difference in consumer behavior this year, and that means small businesses will need to get creative with their approaches.
Savvy business owners are already strategizing, and to help you prepare, this guide will outline:
- What the data says about 2020 holiday shopping trends
- Real-world examples of retailers adjusting to meet new pandemic shopping demands
- How small businesses can prepare for a holiday season with COVID-19 in mind
COVID-19 Crystal Ball
It’s hard to say what retailers can expect from this year’s holiday shopping season. With the pandemic outbreak still a major facet of life, it’s anyone’s guess how small businesses will make out on the whole.
That said, there is one thing to say with certainty: safety remains a priority for consumers, and if small businesses want to do well with holiday shopping events, they need to make health and wellness a priority.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 guidance, retailers need to follow a stringent list of recommendations in order to operate safely. Whether it’s Black Friday 2020 or Small Business Saturday 2020, small businesses need to keep the following in mind:
- Encourage workers to stay home if sick
- Provide hand sanitizer for employees and customers that’s alcohol-based containing at least 60% alcohol
- Maintain regular cleaning protocols
- Practice and enforce social distancing among holiday shoppers
- Train workers in proper hygiene
- Encourage workers and customers to wear masks unless otherwise enforced
- Encourage workers to report safety concerns
Following health and safety protocols is just one piece of the holiday shopping season puzzle. Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business professors Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe write for Harvard Business Journal that there’s something else that will be critical to small business success during COVID-19.
They call it HEART. The acronym stands for:
- Humanize Your Company – The H in the professors’ HEART acronym is “humanize.” What they mean by that is to show shoppers that your company cares about more than just making a profit during this difficult time.
- Educate About Change – E for “Educate” means that you need to let your customers know about the adjustments you’re making to ensure you can continue to operate while lowering the risk of infection in the process. The two write, “It’s far better if you are viewed as being proactive and motivated by your customers’ best interests.”
- Assure Stability – Customers want to know how you’ll continue to serve them at the level they’ve come to expect, so “Assure Stability” refers to how you let them know you’re carrying on. That might mean guaranteeing the continued sales of a beloved product or ensuring certain services will not go away even in these challenging times.
- Revolutionize Offerings – Naturally, all companies are having to adjust right now, but you don't have to keep those changes to yourself. The professors recommend sharing with clients how your small business is going above and beyond to be flexible to continue serving customers in new ways.
- Tackle the Future – Waldron and Wetherbe suggest “Tackle the Future” as a means to inspire confidence by evaluating your COVID-19 changes and highlighting for customers what you’ve learned—then planning for the future. Maybe you’ve discovered clients love being able to shop your store online. Tell them this will remain a prioritized vertical, and you may gain a renewed sense of customer appreciation.
Creative Holiday Shopping Experiences
Even a few months out, holiday shopping trends are beginning to appear. From unique approaches to social-distanced in-store designs to new ways of delivering goods, here are some creative Christmas shopping trends and ideas you can apply to your own small business.
New Look, New Layout
In order to stay compliant with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing recommendations, stores are getting innovative. For example: American Eagle has already adjusted its layout, spacing out products more and pairing displays to allow for more space between shoppers, according to the Washington Post.
To better manage crowds, stores like Macy’s are changing their holiday shopping hours, extending closings to enable less congestion. Retail Wire reports that Macy’s hopes to stoke holiday demand earlier this year by pushing Black Friday 2020 to right after Halloween.
Some retailers are planning to make curbside delivery their holiday secret weapon. Since the outdoor transaction has become a COVID-19 necessity, small businesses are looking to expand it in order to meet consumers’ demand for more social distanced shopping.
For small businesses looking to provide an extra level of customer service, they might want to consider appointment-only reservations. By giving shoppers a chance to shop solo in a store, or with a very limited number of people, small businesses can reassure customer safety while promoting a retail shopping perk.
Develop Online Deals
This year, it might not be enough to simply offer e-commerce. BigCommerce suggests that retailers need to optimize online shopping to meet pandemic demands. This includes ensuring a great user experience, creating strategic holiday promotions, hiring additional customer support, and automating shipping logistics and fulfillment.
In addition, a holiday marketing idea small businesses need to consider is making their social accounts shoppable.
Provide Virtual Experiences
Let’s face it, even with all the safety measures in the world, some shoppers may still not feel comfortable venturing out. It’s completely understandable. Some smart small businesses realize that high-risk customers may be missing the shopping experience, which is why they’re testing virtual experiences. This can be anything from a video tour of holiday merchandise or an Instagram live event where store clerks introduce new Christmas products.
Introduce Optimized Window Shopping
Using QR Code technology, some brick-and-mortars are letting shoppers buy from the window. Back in May, DC’s Somewhere stores began installing QR Codes on their storefronts, reports the Washingtonian. Passersby could view the products from outside, then scan the QR code to select their preferred item, and have it shipped to them.
Take Small Business Saturday Outdoors
If you don’t have the means to install a QR Code shopping setup in your window, why not just take the products outside for a sidewalk sale? Following the trend of restaurants serving outdoors, many retailers are seeing outside sales as an option to provide better ventilation and space to shoppers afraid to enter a small shop.
Holiday Shopping Event Promotion
Perhaps more than ever this year, small businesses need to be mindful of letting their clients know how holiday shopping will go. With new protocols, safety measures, rules, and promotions, clear communication will be essential to keep customers up-to-date and interested.
How can you get your holiday message out there?
- Update Your Website – Changing hours for Christmas shopping? Offering private, appointment-only experiences? Giving discounts to frontline workers? Your clients need to know about these things and need to find them in one place. Make sure your website reflects your holiday shopping plans.
- Post on Social Media – Social media channels were designed to share news, so let your customers know about an upcoming sidewalk sale or Small Business Saturday event. Even if it’s just a virtual flash sale, post on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter to get the word out.
- Send Out a Newsletter – Subscribers signed up for your newsletter for a reason, so make sure they’re informed this COVID-19 holiday season by sending a brief message that lets them know your store’s plans and safety regulations. That way, they’ll be prepared to shop at your store before they arrive.
- Send Out a Press Release – A quick note to the media never hurts, and this year, additional free publicity could be especially important. Be sure to include the who, what, when, where, why, and how in your message to encourage a local publication to cover your event or sale.
- Join Nextdoor – The community space where neighbors gather is now more essential for small businesses than ever before. Join the platform to start networking, sharing news about your small business, and meeting neighbors.
Nextdoor: A Supportive Space for Small Businesses
Across the globe, there is a renewed vigor to support small boutique businesses, and this has been proven on Nextdoor. According to internal surveys, “Conversations on Nextdoor about supporting small local businesses have increased 17 times during this crisis.” Proof that it’s critical for small businesses to make a place for themselves in the space.
Fortunately, that’s easy to do. Nextdoor’s business tools were designed to help small businesses get the attention they deserve during the holidays. All a local business owner has to do is:
- Create a free Business Page
- Customize your page by adding photos and telling your business’s unique story
- Target specific neighborhoods with promotions — like a discount for frontline workers, BOGO on a favorite item, etc. — on Nextdoor using Local Deals
- Engage with neighbors and fellow local business owners using free Business Posts
Establishing a free Business Page will allow a small business to instantly connect with members — all of whom are verified by local address. From there, businesses can receive recommendations from members. These are very valuable endorsements, especially when you consider that 88% of Nextdoor members report that they shop at a local retailer once a week or more.
This year, as businesses weather a holiday shopping season in the midst of a global pandemic, the ability to tap into the local community is priceless.
OSHA. COVID-19 Guidance for Retail Workers. www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3996.pdf
Harvard Business Journal. Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus. https://hbr.org/2020/04/ensure-that-your-customer-relationships-outlast-coronavirus
Washington Post. How the pandemic is changing shopping. www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/05/21/pandemic-is-changing-every-aspect-shopping-store-layouts-how-jeans-are-folded/?arc404=true
Retail Wire. Macy’s plans for the Christmas rush. https://retailwire.com/discussion/macys-plans-for-the-christmas-rush/
Big Commerce. Here Come the Holidays: Prepping Your Ecommerce Store for 2020. https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/holiday-readiness/#2020-ecommerce-holiday-checklist
Washingtonian. This Navy Yard Storefront Is Launching a New Way to Window Shop During Covid-19. www.washingtonian.com/2020/05/19/window-shop-somewhere/
Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook.