• 5 Ways to Prepare for the 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

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    Thanks to an 18-year high in consumer confidence, Reston area businesses are in for a holiday treat this year, according to a report by the National Retail Federation released in early October. The report estimates growth in holiday retail sales to range between 4.3% and 4.8% this year, reaching as much as $720 billion or more for the November-December shopping season.

    Analyst firm Forrester projects U.S. online holiday sales to top $151 billion this year, representing 14% growth over last year.
    But how can you best prepare your business to take full advantage of this upswing? They say a rising tide floats all boats, but if you’re ship’s taking on water, you might not benefit quite as much from the economic boost.

    Here are 5 tips to help your business capitalize on this year’s holiday shopping season growth. Please note that I use the term “customer” interchangeably to represent patients if you’re a medical or dental practice, and to represent clients if you’re a professional services firm.
    1. Use social media – Post extended holiday hours, holiday specials, promotions and events on your Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter and Instagram pages. Post frequently. Offer reminders and incentives for your customers to follow you on your social media channels.
       
    2. Offer gift cards – Tis the season of giving, which means you’re marketing to a secondary audience. For example, businesses typically visited by women need to target men and vice-versa, to drive incremental gift card sales. Think about all those radio ads you hear for diamond rings year round – they’re typically targeting men. Think about who would likely buy a gift card for your business and how to reach that audience. Print a “subtle hint” card for your primary customer to bring home to his/her significant other, showing how to purchase a gift card for your business.
       
    3. Assess your reviews – Now is the perfect time to take a good look at your reviews online. Look at the reviews for your business on Google, Yelp and other sites over the past 3 months and ask yourself if your reviews accurately reflect your business vs. your competitors. If you don’t have any recent reviews, that also sends a major red flag to your potential customers – why are there no recent reviews? Are they still in business? What are your employees saying about your business on Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com? If your own employees aren’t happy, you’re probably scaring potential customers away. In addition, it’s going to be harder for you to fill seasonal jobs if your employee reviews aren’t positive. Ask your employees and customers if they’d mind writing a brief review for you to help improve the online reputation of your business in preparation for the holiday season.
       
    4. Connect with your customers – Now is the perfect time to email your customers holiday greetings, news about holiday promotions, events, extended or modified hours of business, gift cards and more. Just make sure you comply with all current spam regulations, especially if you do business online with anyone in the European Union, since the General Data Protection Regulation went into effect back in May of this year. Consider hosting an invitation-only event for your best customers and prospects, to show your appreciation for their business and to get them to your location to share any new offerings or holiday specials you might have.
     
    1. Remember to give back – Remember that the holiday season is also a time of giving back to the community. People want to do business with organizations that are helping to make Reston and the surrounding area a better place to live, work and play. If you don’t have a favorite charity, think about picking one that’s related to your business in some way. For example, the Bike Lane in Reston is a collection point for Bikes for the World, and organization that accepts bike donations for low-income people in developing countries. Remembering those in need this holiday season does wonders for creating good will among your employees, customers, and the global community as a whole.
     
    We live in one of the most prosperous economic areas in the entire country. Seven of the 25 best counties to live in are in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, according to a report by USA Today earlier this year. Fairfax County is in the top 10, and nearby Loudoun county still ranks #1 on the list of counties with the highest median household income, at $134,464, according to the US Census Bureau.
    Reston is benefiting from economic growth with the continued development and expansion of the Metro Rail Silver Line, with condos, townhouses and single-family homes popping up seemingly everywhere. Pile that economic boost on top of an already economically prosperous metropolitan area and up to 4.8% U.S. holiday shopping growth projections, and it’s looking like the holidays will be very happy indeed for Reston businesses that adequately prepare to capitalize on these promising economic factors.
     
    Steven Toole is an online reputation management expert that helps Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce members and other businesses get more reviews and ratings online, with a proven program combining the best tools, techniques and best practices. With nearly 30 years’ experience as a marketing executive, he is the founder of Toole & Associates, a Reston-area marketing firm. Toole is a former chief marketing officer and former marketing professor at George Mason University. For more information visit www.TooleAssociates.com.
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