Holiday_shopping.jpgThe trees have barely begun to change color, and many areas of the country are still experiencing 90-degree weather, but now is the time to begin thinking about the holiday season, and planning your holiday promotions for your business so you – and your employees – are ready when the snow starts flying.

Get your gift card program in place. Sure, you are not likely to begin selling gift cards too soon, but you will need to make sure you have your program and its rules in place. Consumers spent over $23 billion (with a B!) on gift cards in 2014, so it can be very beneficial to your business to have a gift card program, if you don’t already. This website has an excellent guide on how to set up a gift card program for small businesses.

Choose your promotions. When are you going to start your holiday sales? When will holiday merchandise be arriving? Are you planning any special events for the holiday season, like a visit from Santa for the kids or a men’s shopping night? Deciding now on what kind of promotions you will host and when they will be and planning them out will make them go a lot smoother when the time comes. Special promotions may need signage and other accoutrements for your store – if you need to order items such as these, do it now to ensure you have them in hand for your promotion.

Notify your customers. Do you already send out email newsletters (if not, you should be!)? Utilize your next newsletter to tease some of your upcoming holiday promotions. You don’t have to be specific, especially if the promotions are not finalized yet, but let them know promotions are coming. Also make sure you post news of the promotions on your social media pages, too, and include details as they become available. People love visuals, so take plenty of pictures before and during the promotions, and of any new holiday merchandise arriving in your store.

Get your employees involved. Your employees are the first people your customers see when they come into your store. Train them to know every piece of merchandise you have, including the special holiday items. Get them involved with planning the promotions and setting up the store. You might even do an “employee’s favorite gift ideas” section and have each employee choose their favorite items from your store and display it with their name (“Sarah’s Gift Ideas”). Also, train your employees to provide superior customer service. The first 30 seconds in a retail store can make or break the customer experience, so making sure your employees provide excellent service can keep customers coming back for more.

Give back. People want to know their favorite brands aren’t just about the dollar signs – 75 percent of millennials say that they want to support brands that give back to their communities or donates to charities. Many people seem to be in more of a giving mood during the holidays, so why not take advantage of that charitable feeling and choose an organization – or two – to which to donate. Choose an organization that’s close to your heart, but also keep your customer’s demographic in mind, and make a choice that aligns with their concerns. For example, you may really care about breast cancer research but your customers are into animal rescue, so you choose your local cancer center and humane society for your donations. Don’t forget to publicize your donations on social media!

Open your house. Offering free gift wrapping to customers purchasing gifts is always a welcome bonus, but you can also develop other fun and interesting things that benefit both you and your customers, such as an open house. While usually reserved for non-retail businesses or those usually not open to the public, they do work in a retail setting – serve cookies and coffee while your current and potential customers check out the new holiday merchandise, and offer a special discount for anyone in attendance who signs up for your loyalty program. Make sure your employees tell every customer about the open house, encouraging them to bring friends, and don’t forget to post the information on social media!

Post it all. Hopefully you’ve got some great ideas you want to implement, and you’ll want to keep your customers informed of your upcoming events. Posting a calendar of events in your store will help you, your employees and your customers know what’s coming up. You may also consider flyers or bag stuffers with your upcoming holiday event schedule on them, and of course, post the calendar on your social media sites.

Successful holiday promotions don’t have to be fancy, professionally-planned events, nor do they have to cost a lot of money. With some good ideas and plenty of lead time to prepare, holiday promotions can make the season more fun for everyone, create more brand awareness for your business, and usher in a happy new year with an increase to your bottom line.