The holiday season is a perfect opportunity to boost end-of-year sales, increase revenue, and attract new customers. But no matter what time of the year it is, it can be tough to compete with ecommerce behemoths like Amazon. With a massive variety of products, discounted prices, and fast shipping, giant online retailers often offer a cheaper, more convenient buying experience.
That doesn’t mean you should resign to losing customers, though. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to match Amazon when it comes to product selection and price, but the good news is you don’t have to. As a small business, your strength isn’t universality—it’s singularity.
Whether you own a brick-and-mortar candle shop or an online T-shirt company, you can cater to customers in a way Amazon can’t.
By embracing your niche, offering quality products, and providing exceptional customer service. Here are nine strategies that’ll help set you apart and expand your customer base this holiday season.
1. Showcase your brand personality.
The biggest advantage your business has over generic e-retailers is its brand. Instead of trying to appeal to the masses, focus on identifying—and showcasing—your business’s unique brand personality. This should come through not only in the products you sell, but also in your company’s social media posts, website format, store setup, and marketing copy.
If you sell greeting cards that feature famous movie quotes, for example, make sure your product descriptions match the fun, clever tone of your cards. Or, if your business makes eco-friendly beauty products, include a note with each purchase that shares tips for recycling the containers.
A clear brand identity doesn’t just help customers differentiate you from other businesses, but also helps establish a sense of connection and loyalty. As your brand becomes more defined, the culture surrounding it will grow, too.
2. Include more product details.
Customers like to make an informed choice before buying, but many ecommerce sites don’t include enough relevant product information to do so. This is where your online store can get ahead.
Help facilitate the buying process by doing the research for your customers. Start by brainstorming the questions an average customer might have about your products, then answer these questions with clear, comprehensive product descriptions. Include details about the materials used, the manufacturing location, the product lifespan, or any other pertinent information, like measurements or whether it’s one-of-a-kind or vintage.
Supplying customers with all the information upfront accomplishes two things: it speeds up the purchasing process and shows customers you value transparency, which may help foster long-term brand loyalty.
Plus, the more detail you provide, the less likely you are to receive emails from customers asking questions, which means your team can focus less on reactive work and more on getting ahead.
3. Be purpose-driven.
People want to support businesses that have a clear purpose beyond making money, whether it’s to reduce clothing waste or donate reading glasses to children in school. In fact, according to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose Study, 77% of people feel more connected to purpose-driven companies compared to traditional businesses. And this translates to more loyalty. Sixty-six percent of consumers surveyed said they would switch from a product they usually buy to a product from a purpose-driven company, and 57% of people said they would pay more for an item from a purpose-driven company.
So, don’t be afraid to vocalize your business’s larger purpose. In addition to advertising it on your website, product tags, and marketing materials, find a way to involve customers. That might entail letting them vote on which organization you give a percentage of sales to each quarter, for example, or starting a campaign to collect and donate used items.
4. Ramp up your customer service.
Providing exceptional customer service is a foolproof way to attract new customers and guarantee the loyalty of returning customers.
If you operate an online store, make sure your customer service email address or phone number is visible and clickable on your site. If you can, make sure someone from your team is available outside traditional work hours to field complaints and resolve issues.
If you have a retail store, think about how you can improve the customer experience. Can you issue returns more easily? Start a loyalty program? Greet every customer as they walk through the door? Identifying and attending to your customers’ needs goes a long way, especially when compared to the service larger retailers offer, which may be slow or impersonal.
5. Offer discounted shipping.
Consumers shop giant ecommerce sites for the convenience—namely fast, affordable shipping. If you run an online business, it’s crucial to make the purchasing process as fast and stress-free as possible, especially for customers who buy gifts at the last minute.
One way to do this is by offering free or discounted shipping. Look at your balance sheets to figure out whether you can afford to mark down or completely absorb shipping costs during the holidays. You can also encourage customers to buy more by cutting shipping costs when they reach a certain spending threshold, say $50.
You may have to spend more upfront to do this, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Reducing the shipping cost on your website can make the difference between a customer clicking “buy” or searching for a similar item on Amazon. According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 81% of consumers said free shipping is a top concern when shopping online, and 58% of people said they would add items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.
Just make sure you clearly communicate the shipping timeline. If customers don’t know how long an item will take to arrive, they might just opt for the familiarity of Amazon’s two-day shipping.
6. Add something extra.
Quality products and stellar customer service are key to securing customer loyalty, but it never hurts to toss in a freebie every once in a while. This holiday season find simple, but impactful ways to show your customers you care.
Can you offer free gift wrapping for in-store purchases, for example, or include a small gift with purchase, like a holiday card or ornament? You could also add a larger gift, like a tote bag, to every online purchase above a certain dollar amount, or offer a discount on their next purchase to encourage them to come back.
The best part: it’s usually cheaper to create and give away one item to every customer than it is to slash product prices. Plus, it helps your business stand out and incentivizes customers to buy.
7. Streamline the payment process.
Part of the appeal of sites like Amazon is the one-click payment process, which eliminates the hassle of searching for your wallet and inputting a 16-digit credit card number every time you want to make a purchase.
If you run an online store, make it easier to create an account on the site, either by enabling autofill settings or limiting the amount of information shoppers have to provide. From there, add a PayPal or Apple Pay integration to save customers time and confusion.
It may seem like a small change, but a quick, painless payment process is an easy way to improve the overall shopping experience for your customers, and it might lead to higher conversion rates.
8. Participate in local events.
Instead of waiting for customers to come to you, find ways to get involved in your community and give back. Partner with a local charity to host a fundraiser, team up with another business to do a trunk show, or participate in community events, like a holiday race or silent auction.
Giving back to your community can help you meet new potential customers and secure the loyalty of returning customers.
9. Double your marketing efforts.
Boost the traffic to your business with strategic marketing. If you own a store or manufacture products from a specific location, revamp your website with city-specific SEO keywords to attract more local customers. Or start an email campaign to introduce new products, remind customers about bestsellers, or share news about upcoming community events.
According to the Holiday Ecommerce Revealed study from Shopify Plus, email marketing is the number one source of conversions. It beat out other forms of non-email marketing, like Facebook ads, by over 15%.
Another smart strategy is creating a detailed gift guide to share via email or social media. Don’t just compile your favorite products; rather, use the gift guide as another opportunity to showcase your brand by including personalized descriptions and compelling photos.
Competing with sites like Amazon may seem intimidating or downright impossible, but it’s not. Drawing on what makes your business unique—your brand, community, and customer service—can give you an edge this holiday season. Good luck!