Just My Opinion: With the holiday season almost upon us, businesses finding ways to survive

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, as is Black Friday, as is Small Business Saturday, as is Cyber Monday, and a holiday season that has many small retailers hoping for survival during a raging pandemic.

Predictions have been grim. Many experts anticipate several small business and restaurant closures. While others suggest survival, and even prosperity, wrests with the innovative.

In publications across the country, small business owners are quoted as nervous about the holiday season.

The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to decrease nationwide by 8.3 percent in 2020, while the consulting firm Deloitte predicts a 1 percent to 1.5 percent increase in holiday sales from 2019, compared to a 4.1 percent increase in 2019.

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What all experts agree upon is that, particularly during this pandemic, more sales will be done online.

PayPal recently commissioned a survey, conducted by Netfluential, that found less than 40 percent of the 1,000 small and medium-sized retailers surveyed were “proactively preparing their businesses for the holidays.” Yet 20 percent said their future depends on this year’s holiday results. 

What are some retailers doing to prepare for the holiday season and beyond, during a pandemic that refuses to subside?

  • Flexible financing. PayPal has a “buy now, pay later” option.
  • Developing digital marketplaces with shopping through social media apps. 
  • The PayPal survey found that 81 percent of retailers are taking extra precautions to keep shoppers safe. That may sound like a good number, but it also says that nearly 20 percent are not. Among the safety measures, are the obvious – masks, social distancing, but also cashless payment options and curbside pickup. According to the PayPal survey a third of retailers will offer hand sanitizer in-store, and fashion retailers will turn to virtual fitting rooms.
  • The Small Business Administration is offering its top three small business holiday marketing tips for 2020, in an article on its website by DCG Communications. 
    • Leverage email to grow sales. “Take time over the coming weeks to establish an effective email marketing strategy for the holiday season,” DCG said. DCG suggested starting by adopting email best practices, such as using email marketing software; dividing email lists into specific demographic groups; writing engaging subject lines. More email strategies are in the article on the SBA website.
    • Engage with customers on social media.  Through social media, show why current and prospective customers should buy your products or services. Broadcast a Facebook Live event, showcasing the latest merchandise. Partner with other businesses to help your social media posts reach as many potential customers as possible. Consult the SBA website for more detail.
    • Add a personal touch. In some cases, you might not be seeing your customers in-person. If you have a direct mailing list, send handwritten notes to customers. Post a compilation video of your staff on social media thanking customers for patronizing your business in 2020. More strategies are in the article on the SBA website.
  • A New York Times article in October boosted the idea of curbside pickup, noting that for Target, curbside sales grew 700 percent, and Best Buy reported nearly $5 billion in online revenue in the second quarter, with 41 percent coming from curbside or in-store pickup.
  • Marcia Layton Turner, an award-winning writer, in an article for WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin, noted one business was offering private, personal shopping experiences, during the morning hours.

For retail businesses, these are the most challenging times. Government subsidies can help (and are necessary), events orchestrated by local Chambers of Commerce and town governments can help. But these are temporary fixes, often not nearly enough to help a small business survive.

It takes innovation, cultivating customer loyalty, maintaining contact with a strong customer base. And, I think, it also takes remembering the spirit, the drive, the imagination that it took when that small business owner decided at the very beginning to have faith in themselves that they could overcome whatever obstacles to make their business a success.

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