Top 12 holiday marketing ideas for retail

Small Business Guides

9 min read

The holidays can be the busiest and most challenging time of the year if you’re a retailer. For many businesses, it can also be the most rewarding. Here are 12 holiday marketing ideas to make the holidays work for you, not against you.

1. Establish your objectives

Do you know exactly when the holiday season is for your business? You need to be specific by defining it with a start and end date. Mark the key dates on your calendar and include all the actions you need to do. Check last year’s records if you’re unsure.

Think carefully about your objectives for this period. Are they:

  • new customers
  • more customers
  • more sales (for example, revenue)
  • more sales per customer
  • higher spend per customer
  • more loyalty (or to bring back former customers)
  • more awareness
  • lower costs
  • or a combination of these?

Remember, it’s better to focus on a few objectives and do them well. If you try and do too much, that’s when problems can occur. If you’re not sure about your objectives – or if they’re too vague – talk to your accountant or business advisor.

2. Plan ahead and learn from last time

You can never be too prepared. Budget in advance for holiday pay and unexpected costs.

Managing your inventory effectively is fundamental to retail success. Are your suppliers reliable and available? Meet with them and be honest about what you need. Pre-order and check when your orders will arrive. Don’t be afraid to order too much if you can sell it after the holidays – it’s better than running out. And have backup suppliers on call for ‘must have’ products or services.

Have you established if there are bottlenecks in your business causing inefficiencies? These could be in areas such as:

  • ordering
  • processing
  • delivery
  • payment
  • customer service (face-to-face, in-store or online).

Look closely at these parts of your retail operation. If bottlenecks already exist, they may get worse during the holiday season. Isolate the problem areas and take steps to improve efficiency.

3. Consider extra staff for busy periods

So you’ve set your objectives, planned ahead, met your suppliers, and your campaigns are ready to go. But you may not have enough staff to keep up with expected demand. If this is the case, hire some extra staff or arrange for casual staff to be available if needed. You can find staff by:

  • putting up a sign in-store
  • posting a message via social media
  • asking friends, family and your employees for recommendations
  • contacting recruitment agents
  • placing a ‘We’re hiring!’ message with contact details on your website.

If you have staff helping you, give them the necessary training but try not to micromanage them. They’re much more likely to give you good results if you give them the autonomy to make their own decisions. Encourage your staff to share their knowledge with one another before the holiday period hits and everyone’s too busy.

4. Use cost-per-click or pay-per-click advertising to build awareness

Think about holidays promotions and campaigns that will meet your holiday objectives. Holiday promotions are also a good way to move excess inventory.

Segment your audience to target your high-value customers. Target both the customers who:

  • spend the most, and
  • bring you the most value, for example, because they spend the most compared with the cost to sell.

Use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to direct the right traffic to your website. PPC advertising is internet marketing where advertisers bid for the most relevant keywords or phrases people use when searching for a product. If you advertise this way, you only pay when the ad is clicked. It’s a cost-effective way to bring the right people to your site at the right time. Look at Google's AdWords or Bing Ads (for MSN and Yahoo) to find out more.


5. Encourage new or existing customers to your business

Bringing in new customers to your retail business may be one of your holiday objectives. But looking after your existing customers is often just as important. If you provide great service and nurture your current customer base, they’ll be happy to keep returning to your store and recommend you to others. Think about which of these ideas could work best for you:

  • free samples
  • discounts
  • vouchers
  • seasonal giveaways
  • competitions
  • other incentives.

6. Remember the golden rules of retail marketing campaigns

Whatever the message of your marketing campaign, always ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Is my campaign measurable?
    Always measure your campaigns or promotions for success. Whatever you do will have a cost – in time, product or advertising – and a benefit, for example, the business you generate as a result of the campaign. Compare your costs and benefits to learn more about your most successful and unsuccessful campaigns.
  2. Is my campaign personalised?
    One of the advantages of being a small business is that you can personalise the way you communicate with your customers and prospects. Especially before, during, and after the holiday season. Consider private and exclusive shopping events (after hours) for high-value segments.
  3. Is my campaign shareable?
    We all know word-of-mouth is still a fantastic form of advertising. Whether it’s face-to-face or online, let your customers be your advocates by running campaigns that they can share in person or via social media.
  4. Is my campaign reusable?
    Reuse previously successful campaigns or choose campaigns that can evolve. It will save time and generate familiarity and loyalty if your customers recognise a popular promotion.
  5. Is my campaign professional?
    Don’t rush your marketing or you risk looking sloppy and unprofessional. It’s better to take the time and effort to look professional. Focus on quality.
You can never be too prepared. Budget in advance for holiday pay and unexpected costs.

7. Make sure your website is up-to-date

If you’re like many retailers, your website is your biggest store. It never closes and your customers can buy your product 24/7.

Always make sure your content is accurate and up-to-date. When your content is incorrect it sends a message to your customers that you don’t care. And don’t forget to include your physical store opening and closing hours over the holidays.

If you have a customer helpline or chat facility that’s only available during certain periods, let people know. If you’ll be dealing with all enquiries during a certain window of time, let people know when it is. Customers are happier to wait if you manage their expectations.

Think about how you can enhance your website. Here are some holiday marketing ideas:

  • Offer your customers free shipping (especially for holidays).
  • Create video or product demos.
  • Offer and promote an easy returns policy.
  • Up the quality of the images you use online.
  • Make sure your website works on mobile – test different screens and devices.
  • Test your site with real people (make sure the purchasing process is as simple as possible).

If you have a high-volume website, test that it can handle additional holiday traffic without breaking.

8. Consider co-branding or partnering opportunities

The holiday season is also a time for new opportunities. Think about like-minded retailers or businesses you could partner with for mutual benefit.

A co-branded campaign is one where both parties promote or sell a product or service together. Or each business could sell or promote the other – for example, a fitness business could offer customers a discount at a healthy food store.

9. Be clever with your digital marketing

Remember that digital marketing is much more than just your website. Be smart with your marketing and remember that clever holiday marketing ideas coupled with the right technology can be far more effective than throwing money at ill-conceived marketing campaigns.

Use social media to drive marketing. It’s free and effective when done well. But don't just give people a sales pitch for your product. Instead, think about generating timely, useful and engaging conversations, for example, “What are the top three items on your Christmas shopping list this year?”

Consider other digital marketing tools like:

  • blogging
  • ebooks
  • email newsletters
  • search engine optimisation
  • holiday gift guides
  • product tutorials
  • customer-created gift cards
  • teasers for new products or services for the next holiday.

Remember to test your campaigns with a few key customers first to test the waters. People have no reason not to be honest in their feedback.

10. Remain active and positive in your community

Everyone responds positively to businesses that give back to their community. Think about worthwhile organisations you can help out. This could be done via:

  • donations (money, products or goods)
  • volunteering time – both you and your staff can be involved
  • sponsoring community initiatives
  • free products or giveaways to worthy organisations such as local schools.

11. Let technology do the work for you

Save time and money with point-of-sale, payroll, and customer relationship management software that automates tasks. Point-of-sale (POS) software helps you track and manage your retail inventory. And it can also help you sell your goods online. As a retailer, you want a robust ecommerce platform (to easily market and sell your products) that will help also help you to:

  • expand your retail business online
  • better track your current retail inventory
  • potentially reduce your credit card processing fees.

You should already have an idea about your key audience segments. Use customer relationship management (CRM) software to gain better insights into your customer database such as who they are, how much they spend (per week, per month, per year) and how often they buy from you. You can even use it to create detailed reports, for example, which customer segments are the most valuable over time.

It’s important to invest in well-designed payroll software. This will make it easy to:

  • process your payroll
  • pay your employees
  • manage taxes
  • make sure your payroll information is automatically updated in real-time.

Know your options and choose wisely.

12. Extract insights and value from your data

The better you know your customers, the better your products and services will become. Use these tools to turn information into insights:

  • Google Analytics 
    With Google Analytics, you can create custom segments, dashboards and reports about your website to find out what’s working. Get help if needed, and use the information to inform your website improvements. For example, if you can see that lots of traffic to your website is being generated from Twitter and these are sales leads, perhaps it’s time to invest more time in Twitter and less in other channels.
  • Social media analytics
    Word-of-mouth advertising is very powerful. You need to earn the trust of your audience so they’ll recommend your products or services to their friends. You may already be using Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms to connect with your customers. Social media analytics tools like Hootsuite, Sproutsocial or Buffer can help you better understand how your social media marketing efforts are paying off and identify areas for improvement.

Check out our guide The golden rules of social media for business to learn more.

When you’re heading into silly season, you need to be smarter than ever

Are you feeling overwhelmed just by reading this list? Don’t be. Give yourself the time to go somewhere quiet and make a list of the most important holiday marketing ideas for your business. Invest the time now in the top priorities and it will pay off down the track.

Yes, holidays can be a challenging time of the year – and usually the busiest time for many retailers. But if you do it right by planning ahead, you can turn problems into opportunities. And don’t forget to schedule a holiday for yourself at a less busy time. Just make sure you plan for it in advance.

You don’t have to work harder in the holidays, but you can always work smarter. Don’t just say you’ll survive in the holiday season, make sure you thrive.