You don’t need to hang the holiday signs just yet – but there’s still plenty you can do to prepare your business for the season. (Credit: Mr.TinMD, Flickr)

It’s not too early to picture snow and the holiday season — especially as we pull our fall coats out from the backs of our closets. But this year, it’ll be particularly challenging to craft your holiday marketing plan because of so many variables.

Will you be able to obtain the inventory you need in view of persisting supply chain issues? Will you be able to hire seasonal workers in this still-tight labor market? What prices should you set for your items in view of continued inflation? And when should you begin your sales efforts?

Here’s how to get started on solving those problems today.

1. Mark Your Calendar

Each year, the holiday season begins earlier and earlier. Radial predicts that consumers will start at least as early as they did last year, meaning October. Last year, many businesses began their “Black Friday” sales by mid-October. And many retailers extended their traditional Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for a week, rather than limited them to a single day.

Put Small Business Saturday on your calendar for Nov. 26. Watch for free marketing materials from American Express to help you promote this event.

2. Stock Your Shelves

Knowing what to order for holiday sales is tricky. You probably want to use the Goldilocks formula of not too much, not too little, but just right. Be sure to factor in supply chain challenges, which have eased but not disappeared. Some companies started their holiday ordering in June. Don’t delay.

3. Make Hiring Decisions

It’s a tight job market now (the national unemployment rate in July was 3.5%) and it was as low as 1.8% in Minnesota) and isn’t expected to ease up by holiday time. Still, you need to have enough staff at holiday time to provide top service to customers, so commence your hiring strategies now.

Some considerations:

  • Ask your current staff if they know anyone looking for seasonal employment.
  • Offer inducements for hiring, such as employee discounts on your merchandise (the discounts are a tax-free fringe benefit if they don’t exceed your gross profit percentage times the price you charge non-employee customers for the property as explained in IRS Publication 15-B).
  • Allow sufficient time for training so seasonal workers can learn your merchandise and company policies.
  • Keep minimum wage and overtime rules in mind.

You can’t afford to ignore changing consumer habits and preferences. Here are some trends to consider:

  • BOPIS and POPAC. During the pandemic, consumers shopped using buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) and buy online, pickup curbside (POPAC). These shopping preferences have stuck, with “click and collect” sales expected to grow through 2024.
  • Mobile sales. Oberlo projects that mobile commerce sales will be 22.3% higher than in 2021. Be sure your brand connects with your customers … through a mobile website and social media platforms. Use them to inform customers of your holiday events and offerings.

5. Build in Time and Extra Money for Shipping to Customers

If you sell online, be sure to allow for time to ship. While the shipping disasters that occurred last year aren’t expected to recur, you never know about weather issues or other problems that may crop up. You still need sufficient time for customers’ orders to arrive at their destination.

And, with many sellers offering “free shipping,” there are regular and added costs to consider:

  • Check shipping deadlines of the major venues. FedEx posted its shipping deadlines for the 2022 holiday season. Note that the deadline for FedEx Ground deliveries to the U.S. is Dec. 14 for most services (Economy Ground is Dec. 8).
  • Factor in added shipping costs as carriers impose holiday season rate hikes. For example, Fulfillment by Amazon is charging a holiday peak fulfillment fee from Oct. 15 to Jan. 14. The same is true for FedEx (from Oct. 3 through Jan. 21) and the U.S. Postal Service (from Oct. 2 through Jan. 22, 2023).

6. Set Policy for Returns

Decide on your return policy. Will you set time limits? Give cash refunds? Offer free shipping for returns of online purchases? While you’re allowed to make your own policy, remember that Amazon and other big retailers offer free return shipping. It’s all about the customer experience, so make it as easy as possible.

Final Thought

Start your holiday marketing plans ASAP. The longer you delay in making plans, the more stress and fewer options you’ll have.

Barbara Weltman is the founder of Big Ideas for Small Business, Inc., which publishes Idea of the Day. She is the author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2022 and other books that inform the small business community of tax, financial, and legal information they should know about.