By: Carolyn Anderson
VP, Business Development and Customer Account Management, Elavon

The weeks leading up to Christmas and other end-of-year holidays can be some of the busiest and most profitable for companies, and small and medium businesses are no exception. In fact, a recent survey by PwC shows that over half of Canadian consumers plan to shop with local/independent retailers this holiday season. Make the most of this shopping rush with these simple tips to rake in the sales and keep existing and new customers coming back.

Ramp up marketing efforts. Get people excited about holiday shopping and keep that enthusiasm going up until December 24 with fun and festive promotions, exclusive discounts, sales and loyalty perks. You don’t have to take out expensive ads — digital marketing through your social media channels and e-newsletters that advertises deals and contests is effective and budget-friendly. Be sure to offer special reasons to shop during key days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday, as well as mid-week lull periods.

Stockpile key inventory. Anticipate holiday orders by boosting your inventory of popular items that tend to sell out. Check with your suppliers for their own internal deadlines and shipping times, which may be longer than expected during this busier time of year. Don’t forget to have enough basic office supplies, too. Think shipping supplies, packaging, stamps, staples and pens — essentials you definitely don’t want to have to run out for when you have a lineup of customers waiting to cash out.

Offer online and mobile shopping. With more and more shoppers making purchases on the web or doing online research before buying something in a retailer’s bricks-and-mortar store, it’s essential that you make it easy to shop small online with a site that’s optimized for ecommerce and mobile. Making your customers’ online shopping experience smooth and hassle-free will help boost your sales online and in-store. Ask yourself: Is it easy to browse through my product offerings? When I’m viewing an item, am I offered recommendations of products that go with it or that other customers have purchased together? Is my checkout process quick, easy and secure? Is my returns and exchange policy fair and reasonable? Is all of this still true when I browse my website on mobile or another smart device? Have a friend or family member go through your website as well — they might find issues you’ve missed because you’re so close to the project.

Add personal touches. People love shopping small and local for many reasons, one of which is the individualized experience and rapport that they can develop with small businesses over time as they become regular customers. Be sure to emphasize this unique advantage of buying from small businesses with customized personal touches, like free gift-wrapping, exceptional customer service and handwritten thank you notes included in online shopping packages. Your customers will appreciate feeling like they have a genuine connection with your business and being treated like people rather than anonymous numbers. You can even send your best customers a holiday card in the mail.

Partner with other businesses. On a similar note, you can remind customers of another benefit of doing their holiday shopping at a local small business — supporting the community. Consider partnering up with a local charity or sports team to donate a percentage of seasonal profits to their worthy cause. You can also help your community by setting up a toy or food drive drop-off location in your store. As a business owner this costs you next to nothing, but it will encourage foot traffic, help your neighbours in need and help you and your customers feel like you’re making some small difference in a time of year when we can become too focused on receiving rather than giving.

Double check your payment processor. Before the holiday rush gets into full swing, ensure that your payment processor is up to the challenge. Whether you’re accepting payments in person, online or on the go, customers expect state-of-the-art security and the ability to pay with credit, debit and electronic gift cards, as well as more innovative payment methods like Apple Pay and Android Pay. At Elavon, we extend powerful payment solutions for all payment types and processing environments, ensuring that your business, whatever the size, remains well connected. We protect your business with secure solutions and an exceptional uptime service rate of 99.99% and 24/7 support — meaning anytime you have a problem, we’ll be there to help. We also offer secure mobile and wireless payment processing solutions that offer encryption and tokenization capabilities to protect data both in transit and at rest.