Many businesses are actively gearing up for the holiday season. They’re facing both the shrinking budgets of holiday shoppers as well as fierce competition from larger players with bigger ad budgets, and more buying power to provide similar products at discounts.

But despite those challenges, the opportunity for businesses big and small to significantly increase their share of holiday shopping dollars this season is significant – especially by leveraging powerful, low cost sales & marketing strategies to make your businesses – and products – more remarkable and attractive to primary and pass-along customers.

Here are 11 suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Start Early
Sure, some big shops have had holiday displays up for weeks already. And although we’re already into November, it’s important to start impressing upon your current customers that they should consider your store or service for a greater volume of their holiday needs this year. Yes, sometimes it’s important to directly remind them that your business is a preferable alternative to the mega-mall or mega-store.

How can you do this? Consider giving your customers tools to start planning their holiday purchases now. How about a checklist of people in their lives who need gifts this year? How about some age, sex and relationship-appropriate gift suggestions from your product and/or service inventory?

Anything you can do to help your customers eliminate gift-giving stress, and see your business as the source of a greater volume of those gifts (early in the shopping season, making up a higher percentage of their overall gift list), is a good thing.

2. Reasons to Linger
Large retailers have this down to a science. Soft music (with slow beats to make sure customers walk slower), as well as pleasant smells and other positive experiences keep customers hanging out longer. You can do this too, without much fuss, cost or effort.

For example, offer a small cup of free apple cider or coffee while your customers shop. How about some free treats strategically placed around the store? Not only will this help current customers stay longer in your store, but it can become part of your broader marketing efforts (we’ll get to that later) to attract new customers in your door well after the holidays as well.

3. Packaging with Fellow Retailers

If you’re business is located amongst other service providers and retailers, your success this holiday season will be, in part, tied to their success in capturing and converting foot traffic. Why not work together to drive a greater volume of visitors and shoppers to your location, and drive cross-over visits to each other’s businesses? There are a couple ways to do this.

One, create packages of products built from multiple locations. Think about theme – for different types of gift recipients and price points – and have those packages for sale at several different businesses in your area.

Two, work with your neighbor businesses to create a joint list of holiday gift suggestions – either as themes or based on different types of gift recipients. You’ll be making shopping far easier and more convenient for your customers, plus you’ll drive business to each other. This too could become a profitable business practice for you and your neighbors well after the holidays.

4. Focus on Male Shoppers

Serious research has demonstrated that men do far less planning for holiday gift purchases, and typically need far more help. Consider your business and your typical customers, especially your female customers. How can you better package and communicate those products to the men in your female shopper’s lives? Husbands, fathers, co-workers and more. Be intentional about merchandising products that make it easy for male drop-bys to choose and feel great about their gift purchases.

5. Highlight Stocking Stuffers
Many big retailers do this exceedingly well. The Container Store, for example, puts the majority focus of their holiday advertising campaign on their small, affordable stocking stuffers. This is a significant traffic driver for them, and leads to customers buying far more product throughout the store during the same visit.

What do you sell that could be repackaged or repositioned a stocking stuffer? How are you highlighting that in your store, and in your marketing and merchandising? Are there stand-alone products that can be highlighted as stocking stuffers, or perhaps packages of products you could market as perfect for many different recipients? Be creative, but take advantage of this profitable niche of the holiday shopping season.

6. Kids Rule
Holiday shoppers often have kids in tow. And those who cater to the kids (not necessarily just their gifts, but their experience inside your business walls), will attract more families and keep them in your store longer (where the parents have more time to shop and buy).

Take advantage of this by featuring promotions and/or events in your store that cater to kids. This could be a series of events such as Santa appearances, and could also be something as simple as free Candy Canes for every kid that comes into the store. What kid-friendly tie-ins to your business would make kids want to hang out longer while their parents shop?

7. Charity Tie-Ins
Pick a favorite local charity, and make it known that every purchase made at your business translates to more money to that charity. It can be a simple percentage of holiday purchase profits, or even a flat donation for every shopper. There are lots of ways to do this, but this is a time year when people are thinking of others – especially in these tough economic times.

8. Wish Lists for Family & Friends
Shoppers come into your business not just thinking of gifts for others. They’re often also thinking of themselves! How are you making it easy for those shoppers to tell their friends and family what they want for the holidays?

How about offering to email a customers’ spouse or significant other with a gift suggestion? Or event a simple, hand-written wish list you help customers create and store behind the counter, so that when the family or friend comes back, you know exactly what to direct them to?

9. Gift Cards

Don’t forget these critically important gift options. No matter what you sell, find a way to make “anything at this store or business” a safe and easy option for undecided shoppers.

10. Pre-packaged and Point of Sale
Make it exceedingly easy for customers to come in, pick up something, and get out. Create a set of pre-packaged products, already wrapped and ready to go. Put some of them (especially small products and/or stocking stuffers) close to the point of sale so they can be quickly added to a purchase.

11. Come Back (and bring your friends!)
Let’s say some of the ideas above are working (as they should!). Customers are in your store, they’re having a great time, and they’re buying gifts for their friends and family. They’re likely not done shopping, and neither are their friends, co-workers, fellow church goers and more. What are you doing to get those customers to come back later to complete their shopping? What are you doing to help those customers share their great experience with others?

Consider a coupon in the bag of every shopper thanking them for their holiday business with a coupon for 25% off the next time they come in and shop before the end of the holiday season. How about another set of coupons to hand out to their friends, offering a free stocking stuffer when they come in (and perhaps an even bigger discount for the primary shopper as a thank you for sharing news about your business)? Or a coupon reminding them of your post-holiday sale?

Have other ideas you want to share? Please add them to the comments section below?

Want to brainstorm more ideas for your business? Shoot me an email and let’s get started!