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How to Prepare Your Business for the Holiday Rush

The holiday rush can be a profitable time for your company, but it can also pose challenges for your business and put stress on you and your employees. Fortunately, you can overcome the obstacles to a successful shopping season by preparing for the holidays in advance. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to ensure your team is all set for the holiday rush, allowing you to provide top-notch customer service, maximize sales and keep your employees happy and healthy.

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When does the holiday shopping season start?

The day after Thanksgiving, commonly referred to as Black Friday, often marks the official start of the holiday shopping season in the United States. Many businesses offer Black Friday sales and deals to attract customers. However, you’re free to kick off your holiday shopping season earlier in November or even in late October through promotions.

1. Start preparing for the holidays early

It’s never too early to start getting ready for the holidays. In fact, the sooner you do, the more likely you are to be prepared when the holiday rush officially begins.

It can be helpful to start putting together a plan of action in the summer or early fall. You can begin by thinking about the challenges you faced last year and brainstorming ways to avoid or overcome them. Also, consider what you did well and look for opportunities to continue the practices that worked well for you.

After you consider the successes and pain points from the previous year, create a bulleted list of what you need to accomplish before the holiday rush. This can help you prioritize tasks and complete each item on your list one-by-one.

Things you may need to prepare for ahead of time include:

  • Inventory management
  • Staffing and training
  • Online presence
  • Marketing and promotions
  • Shipping and logistics
  • Gift wrapping and packaging
  • Website performance 
  • Decor and seasonal atmosphere
  • Return and exchange policies
  • Gift cards and vouchers

2. Seek to spread out the holiday rush

A sudden spike in foot or online traffic can be difficult to manage, so try increasing sales gradually by getting a jump start on the holidays.

Consider running promotions earlier in the year. For example, you could have a Halloween sale or provide discounts on hot holiday items during the first few weeks in November. Not only can this help you better manage the holiday rush, but it can also benefit customers who want to get a head start and avoid the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping later in the year.

3. Hire seasonal workers

Having more employees to assist customers, process sales transactions, stock inventory and keep your business looking great can help reduce the stress of the holiday rush and provide a better customer experience. However, you don’t have to permanently expand your team to grow your staff.

Hiring seasonal workers can be a great way to bridge the gap. Consider sponsoring your jobs on Indeed in September or October for better visibility and so you have enough time to hire and train your temporary team members. 

Sponsored Jobs appear more often and for longer in search results than non-sponsored jobs, helping them stand out among the competition during peak hiring seasons. They also come with more powerful hiring tools and benefits that can help you attract the right candidates faster, such as matched candidates

Hiring for the right shifts is also important when you bring in seasonal workers. It’s all about making sure you have the right people at the right time to handle busy periods. Getting the shifts matched up with their availability and preferences keeps your team happy and motivated. Learn more about the 11 types of work shifts.

Hiring for multiple locations? Host a hiring event.

4. Make stress relief a priority

Even with extra help, the holiday rush can be stressful for your team, and high levels of stress can lead to employee burnout, reduced productivity and poor team morale. Helping your employees cope with stress can reduce the risk of these negative effects.

Here are a few things you can do to help your employees cope with the holiday rush:

  • Ensure adequate staffing so employees can take breaks and time off
  • Allow employees to step away for a few minutes when they feel overwhelmed
  • Offer flexible scheduling to let your team enjoy the holidays
  • Encourage employees to ask for help when necessary
  • Give employees adequate training to better deal with the festive frenzy
  • Provide free meals or snacks to team members, so they don’t have to worry about getting food on their breaks
  • Teach your team how to use relaxation techniques like deep breathing to quickly de-stress
  • Recognize their efforts verbally and thank them for their hard work regularly
  • Consider providing holiday bonuses to motivate employees and show appreciation

As an employer, it’s also important to find ways to relieve your own stress. Setting boundaries, practicing relaxation techniques, staying organized and these eight other stress management tips can help you stay calm and collected as a leader during the busy holiday season.

5. Analyze your inventory

Running out of in-demand items can reduce sales and lead to a poor customer experience. Plus, inadequate levels of inventory can put more stress on both you and your employees who have to deliver the news that this year’s popular gifts are unavailable.

To ensure you’re well stocked for the season, analyze last year’s sales. Identify your top-selling and slowest-moving items and use this data to help you determine how much inventory to order from your suppliers.

Related: Inventory Management Software: A Guide for Employers

6. Offer alternatives to traditional in-store shopping

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, look for ways to cut down on the number of shoppers making purchases in-store. Ideas might include:

  • Accepting orders by phone and/or online: Customers can do their shopping virtually or by phone and then pick up their purchases at a dedicated counter in your store or via curbside pickup.
  • Delivery: Consider dropping orders off at customers’ homes or places of business or working with third-party delivery services to offer delivery.
  • Gift cards: Encourage customers to purchase gift cards by running promotions, such as getting an extra $20 card for every $100 spent. You could even offer to mail gift cards so customers don’t have to stop in to the store.

7. Get your website ready

When preparing for the holidays, don’t forget about your website. Customers may be checking it to find out what you carry, what your hours are and what sales and promotions you have for the season.

Before the holiday rush, examine your website to ensure the information is up-to-date. Look at each page from the perspective of a customer, asking yourself if it’s easy to navigate and read both on computers and mobile devices. You may also want to bolster your search engine optimization (SEO) so customers can more easily find your website. 

8. Create a social media strategy

Social media can be an effective tool for spreading the word about your holiday promotions. If you don’t already have a presence on the sites that appeal to your target customers, establish them. Then, create a plan for how you’ll use various platforms throughout the holidays.

For example, you might:

  • Pay for social media ad campaigns to attract customers
  • Post photos and videos of trendy holiday gifts
  • Create holiday shopping guides on your website blog and share links
  • Announce sales and promotions

If you have social media savvy employees, consider utilizing their skills to help with your strategy. Just make sure to be respectful of their time and contributions. Give them the option to share their expertise without taking them away from their regular job responsibilities. And of course, if they go above and beyond, make sure to compensate them appropriately.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Social Media Strategy for Your Small Business

9. Rethink your hours

Being open when your customers are most likely to shop can lower the chances of missed sales. Analyze metrics to determine when you’re busiest and ask your team to make observations about prior-year shopping habits. For example, if people were standing outside waiting to enter when you unlocked the doors, you might consider opening earlier during the holiday rush.

When rethinking your hours for the holidays, consider your employees to ensure scheduling changes won’t disrupt their work-life balance or lead to fatigue.

10. Get your brand in shape

Before you start preparing for the holidays, take a step back and consider your branding.

Is your brand still relevant? Have you carried your branding through to your store, your social media accounts and your website? Does your brand align with the values of your target customer?

Making changes to your branding ahead of the holiday rush can help you send the right message to potential customers and strengthen your marketing efforts.

Related: 11 Steps to Defining Your Brand Identity

11. Upgrade your POS system

Your point-of-sale (POS) system can be a benefit or a liability during the holiday rush. If your system is unreliable, slow or outdated, consider upgrading as part of your preparations. Just be certain to get the new system in place several weeks before the shopping season begins, so your team has enough time to get comfortable using it.

12. Refresh your team’s knowledge

During the weeks leading up to the holiday rush, review your sales techniques, company policies and customer service standards to help prepare your team for the season. Also, take the time to train team members on the features and benefits of popular holiday gifts so they feel prepared to answer questions and make recommendations.

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