Small Biz Holiday Prep: COVID-19 Has Encouraged Consumers to Shop Small. How can SMBs leverage this? 

August 23, 2021

The holiday season is almost upon us. Shop Small, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday events can be exciting and profitable — but busy — times for SMBs. This is especially true since the pandemic started, with expectations and business operations having been shaking up around the world.

And some good news for small businesses, too. Since the pandemic, people have started to favour shopping small. Research in our latest ebook shows that:

  • 76% of respondents said that COVID-19 made them more aware of small, local, and independent brands
  • 63% appreciate the unique, curated products smaller businesses carry, many of which are not found in major marketplaces or retailers
  • 78% said they’re more likely to show support after witnessing the pandemic’s effect on smaller retailers
  • 63% said they have spent more with small, local, and independent businesses in the last year than they did pre-COVID
  • 73% report they have chosen to shop with small, local, and/or independent retailers in order to help their local economy recover from the pandemic
  • 47% of these shoppers agree small businesses are more trustworthy than big-box retailers 

The stats show that the support is there. So now is the time to take advantage of this and get things right for your customers, the first time around. But how can you prepare for the holidays to meet demands, meet expectations, and stand out? 

Here’s what small businesses need to focus on to engage, support, and win over customers this holiday season.

Optimize Your Checkout Experience

Customers want a simple checkout experience that isn’t going to be confusing or one that makes it difficult to purchase items, both of which can lead to cart abandonment and shoppers going elsewhere. Many prefer a single checkout page. 

To increase conversions, make sure you have:

  • Clean design and minimal fuss. Avoid inconveniences and distractions that could deter the purchase. Think about the usability of your page. How easy is it to navigate? Use things like progress trackers so customers can easily see where they are in the process and how much is left for them to complete.
  • Security and trust badges. Clearly displaying these shows high levels of security and increases consumer trust, so make sure you use these at checkout.
  • Multiple payment methods. Many customers have a preferred payment method, so it’s important to give plenty of options at the checkout.
  • Clear shipping and delivery costs. Customers don’t want any surprises or hidden costs, so make these clear, particularly if you are shipping internationally.
  • Delivery dates and times. Planning ahead for delivery times is essential for customers during holiday season, and this often influences a shopper’s decision to purchase. So again, you don’t want any surprises or hidden information here. 

Provide Ample Shipping & Delivery Options 

With the effects of the pandemic, businesses should now be offering reduced contact delivery options, such as curbside pick-up. And with everyone busy during the holiday season, offering options such as ‘buy online pick up in-store’ (BOPIS) is essential. 

According to our study, 48% of consumers say they now expect brands to offer curbside pick-up, and 72% want BOPIS to be offered now and in the future. 

Also, while not necessarily essential, free shipping is a bonus for customers. This is something often provided by larger companies, meaning SMBs could offer this to stay competitive.

In fact, 48% of respondents in our study said that they expected brands to offer free shipping during COVID-19 to counterbalance slower shipping times.

The same goes for sustainable packaging as a way to keep customers happy and increase loyalty. This is often popular with, and even a priority for, many customers today, so is something worth considering for SMBs. Especially during holiday season when customers often end up with more packaging than they know what to do with!

Enable Hassle-Free Returns

During the holiday period, online returns increase by 41% year-over-year. The largest period for returns is the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. And in 2020, there was a 70% increase in returns during this period. 

In terms of customer expectations, our study found that:

  • 54% of customers seek out the return policy before making an online purchase
  • 77% of online customers want an easier returns experience
  • 73% claim the returns process impacts their decision to buy from a business again
  • 93% expected brands to offer extended return windows during the pandemic due to potential shipping delays

So returns have a massive impact on consumer purchasing decisions, and it seems there is room for improvement. Remember, your customer journey doesn’t end at shipping and delivery. Don’t be let down by a poor returns experience this year. 

Give a Stand-Out, Seamless Experience

While the holiday season can be profitable for SMBs, poor customer experiences can let you down. This often stems from problems in the back-office with things like customer service, deliveries, inventory, fulfilment, and returns. 

This is where ShipStation and our partners can help. 

With the right technology and automated processes, you can ensure that you are handling orders at the same pace and quality your customers expect during holiday season, as well as taking care of people throughout their journey with you. 

Download the SMB Holiday Prep Ebook for detailed checklists on how to achieve the results you need this holiday season → 

Is your small business holiday-ready? Click to download The Ultimate SMB Holiday Prep Guide