Young women shopping outdoors holding paper shopping bags
From nailing down your rent costs to collecting customer data for multiple uses, there are several trends in motion this year for small businesses looking to boost holiday sales. — Getty Images/ Lordn

Small Business Saturday, in addition to being an opportunity to drive sales, also offers retailers and brands a platform to test new marketing strategies, attract new customers, and, importantly, collect data that can be used to inform decisions in the year ahead.

The lingering uncertainty about the economic environment, inflation, and consumer spending patterns in 2024 means that small businesses need to be ready for anything. What follows are five trends that retailers and brands should consider as 2024 approaches.

Ensure your financial house is in order, from rent costs to cash flow

The changes that are impacting small businesses are unfolding faster than ever, so retailers and brands need to be ready for sudden shifts in consumer behaviors, supply chains, and other factors that impact their operations.

“The ground shifts more quickly under the feet of small businesses than I think it has before, if you look back at the last five or 10 years,” said Kate Giovambattista, Founder of Beyond Main, an online platform for small businesses.

In this environment, retailers and brands need to make sure their financial position is strong enough so that they can be flexible in the face of unexpected challenges, she said. That includes taking a close look at cash flow and inventory management practices.

“Get yourself into safe positions to stay in the game,” said Giovambattista.

Changes in rent costs in particular, can often cause significant disruption for small business owners, she said.

“We've seen that come to light over the last few months, and it’s been really debilitating for a lot of small business owners because of the rental market right now,” said Giovambattista. In turn, “Make sure you have good rents negotiated, so you are not going to get hit with unexpected increases.”

Overall, companies should identify the potential risks to their business, and look for opportunities to minimize them, she said. Once the risks are mitigated, businesses can look at opportunities to grow their top lines with new revenue opportunities, building off a solid foundation.

Master your digital presence and make sure it’s consistent with your offline experience

Today’s young consumers have grown up with instant access to products and information literally in the palms of their hands, and small businesses need to ensure they can meet these shoppers’ heightened expectations in an omnichannel world.

Businesses not only need to ensure there are ways for their customers to make purchases online, but also should consider providing fulfillment methods such as the ability to buy online and pick up in store, said Giovambattista.

“It's really important today for small businesses to have an online presence as well as a way for customers to transact with them online,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be their primary revenue stream, but it's becoming an important component of a successful, healthy, small business.”

At the same time, businesses should not assume that young consumers are shopping exclusively online, said Giovambattista. In fact, many enjoy the opportunities for new-product discovery and the interpersonal experience of shopping in stores, she said.

“Young consumers didn’t grow up necessarily in the same environment that a lot of the store owners grew up in, so they need to understand that these shoppers are looking at the store through a different lens,” she said.

Young consumers have likely explored the business online ahead of time before they visit a bricks-and-mortar store, and they expect to be able to be able to find the same products and services in-store that they saw online, Giovambattista said. “Providing that consistent experience is very important.”

Small businesses should look for opportunities that tap into popular culture, such as this summer’s hit Barbie movie, for example, said Adam Ireland, Vice President and General Manager at eBay U.S.

Work with marketing specialists, and with your business’s fans, to optimize social media

When it comes to social media, many small business owners make the mistake of trying to do it all themselves, said Frank Fennell IV, President and CEO of KloseBuy, a digital marketing platform for small businesses.

The problem many small business owners face is that they take great pride in their businesses, and they assume this translates into the ability to create effective marketing messages, he said. That’s often not necessarily the case.

“Hire a professional,” said Fennell. “There are a lot of companies out there doing this. When you find a good one, test them, and when you get the results that you want to see, continue to use them. Otherwise, look for somebody else.”

At the same time, however, businesses can also take advantage of their ability to capture high-quality images of their products and displays with their smartphones, and use those to create social media content, said Emily Washcovick, Small Business Expert at business review site Yelp. She suggested posting an “unboxing” video in which a business owner or other employee is shown opening a new shipment of products, for example.

“Those are very popular now,” she said. “It sounds silly, but that’s the kind of thing your customers want to see. They love this stuff. They want to see behind the curtain of the business.”

Another social media strategy that small businesses should be considering for the holiday season and beyond is leveraging the power of customer endorsements and testimonials. Businesses can drive awareness via their local fans by encouraging them to post on social media or otherwise provide positive endorsements online, thus creating a community of brand ambassadors, said Giovambattista.

Collect first-party customer data for ongoing use in marketing and communications

The year-end holidays present a tremendous opportunity to gather customer information, said Washcovick.

Businesses should look for ways to collect the phone numbers and email addresses of the customers who shop with them during the holiday season, she said. One way to do that is by offering free in-store Wi-Fi that can be accessed by providing contact information.

Having that contact information in a database controlled by the business provides a safeguard against the possibility that other channels of communication with customers, such as social media platforms, become obsolete or that some customers simply stop using them.

“It’s just about making sure you have a connection directly to your customer, and you’re not only relying on a third-party platform,” said Washcovick.

Many small businesses are concerned that they might “over-message” their customers with texts or emails, she said, but in fact many customers appreciate receiving messages that provide value, such as deals that are available in a specific time frame, for example.

Engage with consumer trends, such as retro fashion and cultural phenomena — like Barbie

Small businesses should look for opportunities that tap into popular culture, such as this summer’s hit Barbie movie, for example, said Adam Ireland, Vice President and General Manager at eBay U.S.

In addition, small businesses may also be able to capitalize on consumer interest in inventory that had fallen out of fashion, or that is out of season, he said. Lately some of the key cultural trends that have emerged have been around retro fashion, as brands that had been seen as out-of-fashion have regained popularity, for example. This is evident in categories such as athletic footwear, as well as with some vintage fashion brands.

The appreciation of vintage fashion dovetails with rising consumer interest in “re-commerce,” said Ireland, or the resale of what he described as “pre-loved inventory,” as well as out-of-season inventory offered at value pricing.

“A few years ago, maybe the consumer was a little hesitant, but consumers really appreciate that now,” he said.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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