Holiday How-To: Five Tips for Merchants to Thrive this Season
Nov 15, 2021

Research & Insights

Business owners have an exciting opportunity with the holiday shopping season fast approaching. With some careful thought and planning, they can squash the daunting feelings the season can sometimes bring.

That's why we’ve rounded up some valuable tips for merchants, including sage advice from Dr. Tiffany Raymond, ‎Ph.D., who is head of Global Customer Advocacy at PayPal and an expert on consumer behavior.

 

Frictionless experiences come first

Holiday shopping can be fun, but also hectic and stressful, so the easier you can make it for consumers – and yourself – the better. Providing a frictionless experience in an increasingly ecommerce world is a good way to start.

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“Convenience is a key driver for shopping,” said Dr. Raymond, “and holiday shopping via mobile will continue to accelerate.”

Business owners need to beware: some of the highest cart abandonment is on mobile, Dr. Raymond said. Anything impeding checkout flow, such as clunky forms for entering shipping and payment information, may annoy shoppers and cause them to rethink their purchase. “Don't let payment and checkout be the thing that drives cart abandonment because shoppers may find a competitor with less friction for purchasing that item, or a similar one.”

Providing a variety of payment options for customers can help. Consider ways they might want to pay that you don’t offer – whether it’s touch-free in-store payments or buy now, pay later options that have skyrocketed in popularity as many consumers have become more reticent about taking on credit card debt during the pandemic, Dr. Raymond said.

“With the holidays, you've got typically multiple gifts that you're getting for multiple people,” she said, so flexible payment options are something customers may appreciate. “Think about elevating buy now, pay later messaging to the product page level, because that's where consumers are deliberating between different options.” In fact, 85% of milliennials and Gen Z buy now, pay later users agree that it helps them spread the cost and make bigger purchases1.

 

Take on inventory and shipment challenges with planning, creativity and clear communication

Appropriately managing inventory and consumer expectations about shipment times could be crucial this holiday season. Careful planning, creativity and transparent and authentic communication can help, said Dr. Raymond.  

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“Proactively encourage people to shop early. That way, you can manage your inventory pipeline and you know people are buying from you nstead of someone else.”

If you know there’s high demand for a product that’s limited, consider stocking similar products, too, then post messages online or in-store recommending those as alternatives.

Disappointments are sometimes inevitable, and in those cases, being honest and authentic with customers could go a long way. So will creativity, which Dr. Raymond suggests using liberally, such as by creating “digital IOUs” that customers can give to friends and family whose gifts may not arrive in time.

 

Reimagine how you’re getting discovered

The holidays can be an ideal time to expand your reach.

“Think about a multi-pronged approach and really diversify to capture customers where they’re going to be,” said Dr. Raymond. “I can go to a pop-up holiday market and see a bunch of different things all at once,” she said, making it a strategic location where businesses can reach new customers and capture contact information.

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Review your marketing tactics, including on digital and social channels, to help ensure you’re using your time and resources most efficiently to reach the right people. “You want to be targeted and wise with your funding,” said Dr. Raymond.

Setting up a Venmo Business Profile is one way to be strategic because it lets Venmo users see the names of businesses where their friends have made transactions on the platform, which could help your business get discovered by curious, like-minded customers.  

Another way to get noticed: using text messaging. “Shoppers often get texts around shipping, but not as many around promotions, deals or reminders, so that can be a channel to tap into,” said Dr. Raymond. “This can drive purchase behavior because customers are on the device, get a link, and can immediately go purchase the item.”

Promoting or offering a deal on a different product every day can also drive repeat traffic to your website or storefront – just be sure to tease the promotion.

 

Create and curate memorable moments

Offering personalized touches and creative gifting solutions can delight your customers and pay off for you – including by turning them into brand advocates.

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Curating unique gift ideas that range from themed-focused offerings to creative bundles can win smaller businesses timesaving points and help stand out from larger competitors. Businesses can also sometimes take advantage of offering unique wares with local ties and partnering with nearby businesses. If you sell glassware, for example, you might want to partner with a local winery.

Consider what will resonate most with your target shoppers, such as a commitment to sustainable or fair-trade products, and then tout it. “Being forward about those things – where it's not just a gift, it stands for something a little bit bigger than that – really resonates with consumers. At the end of the day, consumers shop emotionally,” Dr. Raymond said.

Finally, plan out how you can go the extra mile to create a delightful experience for the person opening the box. A personalized thank-you note, a little holiday décor, or samples can do the trick. These moments are also an opportunity to include referral offers, such as a discount for referring a friend to your business. “That memorable moment could drive future engagement,” Dr. Raymond said.

 

Think beyond your customers

Customers are crucial, but so are your staff and suppliers – so acknowledge them.

Think Beyond Customers

“Think about how you can add some of that same humanity and authenticity you bring to your customers to your relationships with employees and partners,” Dr. Raymond said, whether it’s a verbal or written thank you, a tangible gift, or an experience.

Enabling employees to easily share ideas and customer feedback can give them a sense of ownership and engagement. “Particularly within a small business, that’s a differentiator to really help people contribute to a larger vision,” Dr. Raymond said.

The holiday season comes just once a year, and small businesses have already proven adaptable, creative, and resilient. Just a few of these planning tips can help make the time as special for businesses as they’re making it for consumers.

The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only. You should always obtain independent business, tax, financial, and legal advice before making any business decision.

Five Tips for Merchants to Thrive this Season

1TRC, commissioned by PayPal, April 2021. TRC conducted a 20-minute online survey amongst 1,000 consumers ages 18+ across U.S. (among Gen Z (18-23) and millennial (24-39) BNPL users, n=214).

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