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Boom or bust: How small businesses will fare this holiday season

No matter the season, merchants try to predict which items shoppers will want and how much stock to carry, a task made even harder by a recent trend toward experiential shopping, the consumer inclination to buy service-oriented gifts rather than products. These ripples in consumer behavior can make it hard to predict how retailers will fare, but analysts are noticing some retail trends that will likely have an impact on any seasonal bottom line.

Mobile shopping in the moment

Traditionally, consumers have waited until prime holiday shopping periods to do all of their shopping in person. These bursts of consumer activity made timing extremely important for stores hoping to capture a greater share of the holiday dollar.

Lately, some analysts are predicting a different pattern. More than ever, customers are using their phones to research products and make purchases, and they are doing this in brief moments throughout their day. More than half of consumers say they will use their phones for shopping during these few minutes of free time, pushing many experts to draw new conclusions. They say customers are now starting to research purchases well before Thanksgiving, but much of the shopping will continue late into the holidays. With the convenience of a smartphone at their fingertips, shoppers no longer need to plan long shopping excursions. Instead, they shop on their phones when they have time. In order to reach these customers, businesses will need to focus less on key shopping days and invest more in mobile marketing.

Tracking inventory is vital

Every merchant knows that tracking inventory is one of the most important aspects of managing a business, particularly during a holiday. It helps to study the prior year’s sales to see what customers purchased the most, but stores now have the means to take inventory management a step further. Modern point of sale systems will update inventory reports with every transaction, giving managers real-time data about how products are selling. Some retail POS systems will even create new sales orders automatically when inventory drops to a pre-determined level, making it harder for merchants to forget crucial orders that could make or break holiday revenue.

Email marketing can turn one sale into many

Retailers have used email for many years, providing a similar direct-to-consumer benefit that snail-mail marketing delivers. The difference today is that merchants often use automated emails for follow-up communications after a transaction, presenting related products or offering upgrades to recent purchases. By sending relevant offers that customers find valuable, companies can build relationships that may extend well beyond peak shopping seasons. Merchants are also improving their email lists, segmenting them based on different customer interests. This trend toward increased personalization makes email marketing far more effective and profitable.

Customer intelligence is more important than ever

Merchants who monitor customer behavior closely will find it much easier to create an effective strategy for events and promotions as the tools at their disposal have improved dramatically in recent years. By integrating their customer relationship management with their POS system, retailers can instantly access valuable data based on recent transactions and use it for more targeted promotional campaigns.

While not completely abandoning habits of previous years, customers are navigating the shopping seasons differently today. Retailers that use their POS solutions to track user behavior both in-store and online and respond by presenting compelling, mobile-friendly offers will enjoy a distinct advantage throughout the year.