SMEs guide to preparing for Christmas

As the Christmas season starts to loom upon us, SMEs up and down the country are preparing for the most lucrative trading opportunity of the year. In the next few weeks, everyone will be rushing to buy their Christmas presents, businesses will have their highest demand of the year and suppliers will work at their maximum output. How can you ensure you make the most of this opportunity and plan as efficiently as you can so you don’t get swallowed up in the Christmas chaos?

As a small business, Christmas can be one of the most competitive seasons of the year. All major retailers have invested large budgets into their Christmas campaigns to gain as much publicity as possible. This is why planning early can help you implement strategy and plans to stand out from the crowd. Below is our survival guide on how to prepare for the most profitable Christmas possible.

Alert customers of Christmas plans

Do you have any special offers on over Christmas? Communicate this early and alert your customers so they can plan their purchases and orders in advance. If you don’t alert them well in advance, they may make alternative plans to purchase other products/services. Use social media, emails or leaflet drops to notify people so they can include you in their Christmas arrangements.

Update your website

It’s expected that online sales will grow by 9.6 per cent in 2015 compared to 2014. More and more people are choosing to shop online with visits to retail websites hitting 181 million on Black Friday 2014 (1). Ensure your site can handle the increase in traffic and won’t cause it to freeze or slow down. Even if you don’t sell online, this could be your portal to tell customers of your Christmas plans and where they can find your products and services.

Demand and supply

Many companies admitted to not being well prepared enough for 2014’s festive season and not meeting demands. It’s expected that sales will spike; to get an idea of how much supply you need, look back at figures from previous years. Did sales of a particular product or service spike? Did certain suppliers take longer than usual to deliver over the Christmas period? Everyone in the supply chain will affect your ability to deliver to your final customer.

Xmas 2015

Be flexible and prompt with delivery times

One of the largest UK couriers says nearly 70 per cent of small businesses aren’t planning to prepare for Black Friday. Just 38 per cent of SMEs are extending their delivery window to allow more time for deliveries to consumers and just 36 per cent are working with their delivery provider to forecast volumes(2). If you’re selling tangible products then ensure to offer your customers a wide range of delivery options that you can fulfil, such as next day or international delivery. Offer an incentive for click and collect to decrease the pressure on influx of deliveries.

Get in the Christmas spirit and spread the cheer

Every company will want to capture consumer’s attention so you need to make sure you stand out, whether it’s online or physically in store. Make your online presence known through display advertising or pay per click so you can easily be found. Physically, most stores will go all out to impress passers-by; dress up your window with attractive Christmas decorations, signage and lights. Show your appreciation to customers and staff by sending them something simple like a personalised card to continue good relations into 2016.

Be staff ready

With the surge in sales, it’s easy for the quality of customer service to fall but this shouldn’t be compromised. On the contrary it can be seen as an opportunity to make a lasting impression. Increase the number of customer service agents or sales facing staff so your consumers’ needs are being attended to. Employ temporary staff to deal with the surge in deliveries, or speed up your queues with contactless payments and short term terminal rentals.

Extended holiday opening times

It’s expected that your Christmas opening hours (front and back office) will be extended and the days that you’re open will be different to other businesses. Fitting Christmas shopping around a full-time job can be a huge challenge for most UK households so doing this will be offering them a great customer convenience. If you don’t have a physical store, this could be extending the opening hours of your call centres or delivery times.

Chase up invoices

Financially, some companies that aren’t in retail will probably be winding down for Christmas or may even be shut. Try to have your outstanding invoices paid by them before they or you go on Christmas break. If your regular invoice payments lands after Christmas, issue statements notifying them for payment so they can be ready to pay you on their return. To help you with managing and prioritising invoices, use our Ledger Manager tool to keep track of your invoices and know who to chase payment off first.

Click here for the Christmas 2015 predictions

1 Vouchercodes; 2 SMEInsider