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How online sales can make it the season to be jolly

The holiday season is now as well known for its landmark online shopping days as it is for goodwill and cheer.

From the now famous Black Friday through to the ‘Mondays’ – Cyber, Manic and Panic, to the huge Chinese Singles’ Day – consumers have more discount days than ever at their disposal and it is an increasing global trend.
However, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) still believe these big sales days are not for them; that only large retailers should get involved. This is a mistake: if online shopping days are leveraged correctly, then there is tremendous opportunity for many SMEs to end the year in a very merry place indeed.
So how can SMEs ensure they are best able to exploit the online shopping peaks? The first thing is simply to be aware of them, understand the opportunity and view it more as a critical season versus just one day.

Looking at Facebook IQ insights from the 2016 holiday period, we can see that online shopping days are on the move. Black Friday is now celebrated by one out of three people in the world, up from one of four last year, with huge spikes in online conversions on the day in (of course) North America, but also Europe and Latin America.
Cyber Monday is still primarily a North American trend, but we are also seeing spikes now in other global regions.

Panic Monday is also a relatively new entry to the shopping calendar, which sees shoppers switch from buying gifts online to making holiday purchases in-store from the last Monday before Christmas – although you can be sure that online research is still an important part of the process.
Aside from these specific days, weekends are also the biggest drivers of online conversions during this busy shopping period.

From my experience working with SMEs which have succeeded in capitalising on global online shopping days, I think there are four steps that businesses need to follow:
1 Be ready. This may sound simple, but it’s easy to underprepare. Ensure all necessary due diligence so that supply chains are robust and you can fulfil orders. Also, stress test your website to ensure it can handle a spike in users, and put in place the right sales and marketing resources to move product.

Thanks to online sales days, you can be sure the demand for your goods or services is there, you just need to focus on optimising the supply. And if you’re not a retailer, don’t think these shopping days mean you can’t leverage the opportunity and interest from consumers. If you’re a hairdresser or a salon, can you offer treatments? Whatever your business, prepare.

2 Be strategic. The key to a successful online shopping strategy during the holiday season is to think long-term.
Black Friday, Cyber Monday and all the other promotional days may be associated with slashed prices and huge deals, but this need not be the case for your business. It’s possible to benefit without devaluing your products or services.

One great example is an SMB clothing retailer which shut down its website on Black Friday stating that it wanted nothing to do with the day. The implications were clear: it has a high-quality product that comes at a premium. The next day, when the website opened again, sales shot up. Regardless of whether you’re discounting or not, online sales days cause a spike in shopping. The key is to be clear on what is unique and special about your proposition based around what your audience wants; tell them about it and by doing that you can make the most of the online peaks while staying true to your brand values and business model.
3 Think global. People want to be able to buy products from anywhere in the world during this time of year – more than 1.2 billion people on Facebook are connected to a small business in another country – but to exploit this opportunity you need to be able to reach customers and grab their attention, wherever they are.

In practice, this means ensuring your marketing materials are translated and localised for key markets.
And remember: when it comes to content, what will work in one country may not be appropriate for another. Next, ensure your audiences are targeted appropriately by ensuring you have the right data to provide them with eye-catching services and relevant offers fit for their local contexts.

Finally, put in place appropriate payment and delivery channels. For some SMEs, international sales can be problematic because of returns, so consider alternatives.

4Meet consumers on mobile. Christmas 2016 was the first time we saw global mobile conversions overtake desktop on Facebook, with mobile-first shoppers (i.e. people who do most of their Christmas shopping over mobile) increasing each year. It’s highly likely that this season’s sales peaks will be even more impressive that last year’s.
As an SME business, you need be available and accessible where people spend the majority of their time: on mobile. SMEs need to make use of the readily available mobile tools they have at their disposal for successfully engaging these shopping audiences.

As an SME business, you need to make sure you have skin in the game and are able to reach new customers in markets across the world. There is a lot of business to be done here, but preparation is everything.

Ciaran Quilty is vice-president of EMEA Small & Medium Business at Facebook

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