Technology

Welcome to ‘That’ Time of Year

When the retail world goes just a little nuts as we all try and make the most of the boom in sales volume for our businesses.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and for those in the Southern Hemisphere – Boxing Day have all been turned into opportunities to coax consumers to spend their hard-earned money with our establishment.

As the owner or operator of a Small to Mid-Sized Business(SMB) you might be forgiven for having an extra level of unease and maybe even panic at this time of year.

What if my website or online store crashes? What if I run out of stock? What if I can’t fill my holiday schedule with enough staff?

These concerns are all understandable, and real.

I believe it is important to only worry about the things you can control, and then really prepare yourself for these.

As SMBs we can’t really control how beautiful the holiday display looks at Macy’s or how many online ads we see for AMAZON’s Black Friday deals, or indeed what Walmart is advertising.

Whilst media attention on the big boys is always high at this time of the year, they are not really your competitors. I believe you can fly under the radar, do what you do best as a small business and reap the rewards of the holiday season too.

A few preparations you can make in regards to the physical capabilities of your business:

– make sure you order early and have the stock you need to satisfy your forecast increase in demand, yet don’t be silly about it or you’ll end up overstocked

– incentivise your staff to take time off outside the holidays to ensure you have coverage

– think about what makes you and your business unique to your customers, and focus on communicating those things – don’t get into a battle with the big guys playing their game. Instead of matching discounts, why not offer more value instead

When it comes to the technology or online world, there are also some very important steps you can take to ensure you are ready for the traffic and demand increases:

  • Ensure you have all the login details of each program at hand
  • Ensure your current hosting plans allow for higher traffic volume
  • Ensure you know what to do if there is some down time on your website, payment gateway or online shop issues – in fact, drill what you would do if these did occur at the wrong time
  • Ensure your tech support team is also ready to handle issues during the holiday periods
  • Have what I call a ‘human ripcord’ plan – if something occurs online or with an order, you can always ring the client and speak with them personally – hey that is something the big boys would never do

One of the big issues of e-commerce and online tech at the current time is that there are often multiple programs connected together to provide a viable complete e-commerce solution. But these programs don’t talk to each other perfectly and sometimes they override each other or the connections break down. By understanding some of the potential scenarios, you can have a backup plan to assist and service customers when things go wrong.

I mentioned I don’t believe the big guys are really your competitors. My opinion, backed by a lot of conversations with my customers and my own experience is that small business has the superpower of being close to the customer and servicing them well. If you really hone your ability to provide personal, human service to your customers – in-store or online – you will be able to differentiate yourself from the competition.

It all comes down to the concept of attention.

You know the feeling – you are engrossed in your favorite book or movie. Something taps away at the ‘windowpane’ of your mind and suddenly you realise the kids are calling your name or you can smell the food burning in the oven

It’s the same in business. You have your attention on fixing a computer issue and you don’t notice a customer who has been standing there at your counter for several minutes getting increasingly impatient.

Where should your attention be?

You got it.

On the customer.

As much as possible your website and online store has to be organised so the customer feels seen acknowledged and serviced. But tech has a habit of getting in the way or failing at exactly the wrong time. Like right in the middle of your long planned for Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale.

What can you do about that?

Running an SMB can be hard anytime but during the peak season it is harder still. The news media spruik the amazing displays at Macy’s. The internet is clogged with promotions from Amazon. You start to feel like there is no hope for your little strip mall shop in Nowhereville or your website that only gets a few thousand visits a month. I recommend you stop comparing yourself to the big boys.

Think instead about how much traffic do you need? How many conversions? Average sales value?

Focus on those statistics and goals – in relation to where you are now.

Do drills with your team to see if you can handle picking and distributing twice the daily sales volume or three times. Can you prepare certain things using the downtime prior to a sale day – stock count working – upsell working – confirmation of order working – dummy runs, test orders etc.

You can create your own hope and your own success with a few of these well-planned steps before the peak sales periods.

Above all, I’d like to remind you that you are not competing against Macy’s or Amazon or anyone else. Your main competition is the “unprepared” you and poor technology.

Prepare and you will handle one major hurdle to success

Choosing a great tech platform built on the principles of customer commerce and you clear the other.

Oh, and remember service your customers every day of the year not just when the media hype tells you to. If your business isn’t deals discounts and ‘day-based’ loyalty don’t get caught up playing a game that doesn’t suit you. Don’t be a short-term thinker or operate ad hot as that is where trouble lies. As SMBs, our enemies are lack of time and lack of preparation.

Happy sales and happy holidays from me and the team at Store Connect.

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