There’s no doubt that Christmas is one of the most profitable times of the year for UK businesses, but the burden of managing customers’ high expectations, longer opening hours, and maybe even extra staff can make it an incredibly stressful period. Preparing for the festive season is a full-time task, but this year it could be all the more hectic with surging demand stemming from months of COVID-19 lockdown.
As you might expect, the secret to managing a productive holiday season with the minimum amount of stress is to be prepared. As we enter the Autumn period, now is the time to be thinking ahead, planning, and putting into action the things that you just won’t have time to do when the customers start spending.
When should businesses start Christmas preparations?
As with any planning, it’s better to start early rather than leaving things to the last minute. The problem with Christmas, however, is that there are so many things that can be done to prepare. It’s necessary to budget your time and effort into those things that will genuinely make a difference to your business over the festive season, and it’s important to critically examine each plan to ensure that you’re only dedicating resources to the most useful steps. In short, businesses should start their Christmas preparations early, but there’s no specific timeframe and what works for one sector might not be appropriate for another.
One thing any business can count on is that they’ll be busy. It’s always the case that shoppers spend more and demand higher standards when a special occasion is on the horizon, but the turbulence we’ve all experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic is only likely to make the coming season more intense. According to figures from the IMRG (the UK’s industry body for online retailers), the volume of online shopping orders being placed has grown by some 40-50% since the nation’s lockdown came into effect. With no precedents to follow and no idea of how retail will fare over this most unusual of Christmas periods, retailers should take note of industry body predictions, such as that of the IMRG’s Andy Mulcahy who believes that if anything “volumes are going to be really excessive this year.”
Cut queues and get COVID-secure
Ordering enough stock, planning and revising rotas for staff and even Christmas temps, setting opening hours and dealing with promotions and advertising. Aside from these more predictable tasks, 2020 has brought with it an added string of additional considerations for businesses to take into account.
Retail businesses in particular need to ensure that their shops are safe for customers to browse, shop and spend despite the risks of COVID-19 transmission. It will be no easy undertaking to adhere to social distancing guidelines during the Christmas rush, but businesses can get a head start. Getting ahead of the game by measuring out floorspaces, calculating maximum capacity figures and devising queue plans will all help to keep customers flowing through the business. To keep queues down and to further prevent transmission of COVID-19, businesses may wish to consider whether their payment solutions are up to scratch. With a contactless card machine from UTP Group, retailers could not only speed through purchases of up to £45, but also limit the need to continually sanitise contact points since tap-to-pay doesn’t require customers to touch a pin pad. It’s all about efficiency, and this year that’s even more important than usual.
Surge-proof your website
Another important thing to consider before the Christmas rush begins is whether your online store is up to the challenge. All too often, businesses see their websites cripple under the demand of customers as the holiday season or a particular sale takes hold. It’s never too late to stress test your online sales channels, and doing so could save you from having to deal with downtime in the future.
Online retails should also consider whether they’re ready to take payment for an influx of online orders, and should seriously think about using a secure and robust eCommerce payment gateway. This will allow them to seamlessly take payments from online retail customers whilst keeping financial and personal details safe and secure.
It might also make sense to implement an abandoned shopping cart reminder ahead of the Christmas period. This is the process by which businesses can catch and redirect customers who view items without buying them, in the hope that a reminder will nudge them towards a purchase. Whether you use email or search engine retargeting, reminding customers of the great products and services you offer could be all they need to justify a purchase.
Life after Christmas
Finally, it’s important for businesses to remember that the world doesn’t stop turning on 25th December. Although it’s easy to forget about the coming year when the Christmas rush is taking up so much of your time, remember that New Year’s Eve and beyond present good opportunities to discount excess stock ordered for Christmas. What’s more, high-spirited customers often use the period immediately after the holidays to spend any money they’ve been gifted or to see in the New Year by spending on products and services that facilitate their New Year’s resolutions. Don’t miss out on the opportunities that fall after Christmas and remember to think long term.
Making the most of the holidays
After a particularly tough trading year, Christmas will hopefully be a welcome reprieve for embattled traders and businesses across the UK. By learning from past mistakes, making firm and well-considered plans, and thinking about the bigger picture, there is every chance that this will be a Christmas to remember – and not just because of COVID-19.