With nearly two years of pandemic behind us, holiday sales are expected to outperform last year's. A forecast from eMarketer earlier this year indicated that 2021 U.S. holiday retail sales will increase 2.7 percent to $1.093 trillion and that ecommerce sales will rise 11.3 percent to $206.88 billion, with ecommerce accounting for 18.9 percent of total holiday retail sales.1

While consumers may be looking to spend more money than they did in 2020, businesses are still feeling the pandemic's economic effects in many ways, including obstacles with hiring and within the supply chain. Such hurdles will make adequate holiday preparation all the more crucial for small businesses, particularly in retail. Here are some ways to prepare your business for a busy and successful end-of-year.

1. Supplies and Inventory

Priority number one should be to ensure you will have all the materials you need for your business to function smoothly, from necessary supplies to enough inventory to meet customer demand.

"Check last year’s orders to anticipate how much of basic supplies you’ll need, whether that’s shipping supplies and packaging, paper towels and toilet paper for your restrooms, or branded gift cards for holiday shoppers," says Bridget Weston at SCORE.2 "If this is your first year in business, your network may be able to guide you through your first holiday ordering season. Remember to order early to avoid rush shipping charges later in the season. Being prepared can help you meet your customers’ needs with ease."

Hopefully, your business will have an increase in sales, which means having enough inventory is critical. The earlier you get orders to suppliers the better. With pandemic-related issues, it may already be difficult to meet demand from their end. Waiting too long will only add to your holiday-related problems.

2. Ecommerce Efficiency

If you aren't selling your products online, now is the time to get an ecommerce website up and running. According to the United Nations, the ecommerce sector saw a “dramatic” increase in its share of all retail sales, from 16 percent to nearly 19 percent last year.3 As the holidays approach, you can bet that consumers will be flocking to the web to make many of their purchases.

If your site is already operational, take time to test out the shopping experience and make it  as efficient as possible. Look for ways to minimize shopping cart abandonment, create holiday themed content, and make any promotions and deals clearly visible. Also make sure your servers are equipped to take on an uptick in traffic.

3. The Holiday Spirit

While ecommerce is booming, this year has also seen a lot of shoppers returning to physical stores after spending much of last year avoiding them due to concerns about the pandemic. Prepare to inject Christmas and other holiday spirit into your store. Add holiday decorations and lighting, play seasonal music, and look for other ways to get into the spirit and show customers that you want to see them in person.

Keep your store as clean as possible, and don't forget to continue to stress pandemic-era safety standards.

4. Marketing and Promotions

Marketing any promotions and deals you are offering throughout the holiday season is key. Propose enticing offers that will encourage both online and offline shopping. Consider a deal exclusive to in-store shoppers that comes with a bonus online-exclusive offer to get customers to engage with you both ways.

Utilize social media, email, and search engine marketing tactics, as well as traditional offline advertising like radio/television, newspapers, and direct mail.

5. Scheduling and Time Off

Some of your employees might want to take time off during the holiday season, so plan ahead for this. Offer incentives for those who choose to work during key times. If some tasks can be performed remotely, offer this as an option. Bring on part-time and seasonal staff to work through holidays, and start your hiring efforts early, since you’ll be competing with other businesses for a limited pool of workers. Whatever your strategy, plan in advance so you're able to operate at full capacity during the holidays.

The holidays can be a stressful time for a small business, especially with pandemic-related issues still lurking, but with enough planning and preparation, you can still make this holiday season your best yet.

1. https://www.emarketer.com/content/how-retailers-start-planning-2021-holiday-season

2. https://www.score.org/blog/6-tips-preparing-your-small-business-holidays

3. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/05/1091182