The small business guide to maximizing sales this holiday season

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The holiday shopping season is fast approaching and that means small businesses are preparing for what is normally the biggest shopping season of the year. But this year is anything but normal. The pandemic has changed the way we shop around the globe, with a huge shift to e-commerce and contactless payments. Small businesses looking to reach their customers this season are taking note.

The Visa Back to Business Study, Holiday Edition found that consumers are still ready to shop for the holidays, with 88% of consumers planning to buy and give gifts despite the pandemic. Most small businesses (60%) say they are already taking steps to prepare for the seasonal sales activity, including changing their infrastructure, digitizing their business, and extending their hours.

According to our research, COVID-19 has accelerated these five trends. For small business owners, making the most of these findings could help you reach new customers by taking advantage of the benefits of digital.

Trend 1: E-commerce “In Real Life.”

While the Visa Back to Business Holiday Study found 59% of consumers who have relied more on e-commerce during COVID-19 will shop online for half or more of their holiday shopping, a substantial number of holiday shoppers are still eager to shop in store or “In Real Life” (IRL, for short).

Yet, nearly half (48%) of consumers still plan to do most of their shopping in-person. Visa strongly believes that these virtual and physical lines are likely forever blurred, making it more important than ever to create not just an online presence, but an omnichannel approach.

Trend 2: Social commerce is officially a thing. Social commerce is popular in Thailand and Asian markets and making their way West fast. These experiences connect social interactions online with convenient shopping experiences, allowing people to buy products without leaving the app. Predictions suggest that more than 10% of mobile orders will happen through social commerce this holiday season, with 66% of Gen Z saying that they’ve already purchased on social during the pandemic. According to the Visa Back to Business report, more than a quarter of small businesses or “SMBs” (28%) have tried targeted advertising on social media, which is an important first step to reaching new customers.

Trend 3: Contactless has become a key differentiator. In the Visa Back to Business study, 78% of consumers said they have changed the way they pay, making a shift to digital commerce and technologies like contactless payments as a safety measure in the wake of COVID-19. The growing popularity of contactless payments around the world indicates that the convenience, speed and safety of tapping to pay are preferred over traditional methods and SMBs should be hyper-focused on prioritizing a user friendly buying and checkout experience. In Thailand during the month of September, Visa reached a 2 million contactless transaction milestone for the first time in the company’s 41-year history.  Nearly two-thirds of global consumers, in fact, would switch to a new business that installed contactless payment options.

Trend 4: Gift cards are growing in popularity. According to the Back to Business Holiday study, consumers expect to give more digital gift cards (32%) compared to previous years, followed by experiences like tickets, activities or trips (19%) and digital entertainment (18%). Retailers who think “beyond the shop” have the opportunity to be better prepared for more restrictions come winter.

Trend 5: Fraud is on the rise – be sure you are protected. Before the pandemic, it was easy to assume that fraudsters would try and hack the large merchants and organizations. Unfortunately, they have found that many SMB’s aren’t adequately protecting themselves, making them an easy target for fraudulent activity. Retailers need to keep their fraud strategy top of mind and balance it with a smooth customer experience – especially with the anticipated uptick in online holiday sales. The best way to find a solution that works for your business is to use fraud tools that are simple to configure and easy to deploy. Work with your payment provider to figure out how to increase your authorization rates, while minimizing declines and fraudulent transactions.

Small businesses account for more than one-half of global employment. While COVID-19 has proven the resilience of small business entrepreneurs, it has also exposed their vulnerabilities. Taking creative and actionable steps to swiftly change with the times and respond to the demands of consumers has helped many small business owners thrive and innovate despite the circumstances. In fact, most small business owners remain optimistic about the future (75%) and that is not only a silver lining but it is good for business.