As a small retailer with an even smaller budget, it can seem impossible to get in front of the same customers that big brands are targeting.

Luckily, more and more people are looking to “shop small” and this fall/winter season is your chance to take your piece of the pie.

While simply being an e-retailer with good marketing skills can sustain your business, it’s time to gear up for the holiday shopping season and maximize sales.

The key is to start early before the madness of the season begins. If you haven’t started yet, add these ideas to your to-do list this week. Each one will help you reach your customers when they’re ready to buy, add more value to their lives, and watch profits follow that up-and-to-the-right trajectory you love to see.

Add Value to Your Email Marketing

In a 2016 eMarketer retail survey, email marketing was found to be the best digital marketing tactic for driving sales and customer retention (81 percent and 80 percent, respectively). This means that if you’re not yet using email marketing—or you’re only using it to send sales-driving emails—it’s time to dive in.

Instead of sending customers emails with a direct sales ask, however, add value by providing helpful tips and information in the form of a “Holiday Guide.” Your guide will offer ideas related to your business to help customers live a better life. See a few examples below:

Holiday Style Guide
Include information about current trends; how to mix and match your newest items; discount or coupon for new, fall/winter 2017 line.

Stay Healthy This Holiday Season
Include tips for staying healthy this holiday; highlight products that help them stay healthy; link to holiday health bundles.

Holiday Meals in a Flash
Include recipes for quick holiday favorites, all of which should subtly and naturally incorporate your products; link-out to these products with a button or text link.

Add this type of guide to your holiday marketing line up as a way of highlighting spending on non-traditional shopping days. For example, create deals for Green Monday and then write a branded shopping guide for this new, but popular, shopping “holiday.”

Share More Discounts and Coupons

Consumers want coupons, with 52 percent of U.S. consumers estimated to use coupons in 2017. The best part is that coupons are great for your business as well. A 2016 retailer survey, which polled a mix of small- to medium-sized retailers, found that coupons have the potential to increase revenue by 40 percent, with polled retailers reporting nearly $30K average monthly revenue from coupons alone.

This holiday season, use coupons to promote your newest products or get rid of summer inventory. The same survey found that “All Products, Sitewide” was the best coupon type for maximizing overall sales, while “Category/Product Specific” was best for launching a new product, and “BOGO” helped to reduce unwanted inventory.

Keep this in mind as you strategically create coupons that increase sales.

Get Involved (Or Host!) Local Events

The more visible your store is, the more likely people are to shop with you. Being involved in your community helps to boost your brand equity with local shoppers, which can lead to more sales this through the holiday season. Start by looking for opportunities to pay for a booth or sponsorship for a local event in your area—think local craft fair, weekly farmers market, annual Shop Small community event.

If there are few or no events like this, host one yourself. While this option is more expensive, it’s an opportunity to meet local consumers and work with other businesses in the area. Here are a few ways to facilitate an event on your own:

Host a “Sip and Shop” in your store, allowing customers to browse with a festive drink.
Cost factors: Paying for the drinks you’ll offer, and creating and sending invites.

Partner with a local restaurant to host a community dinner, where you have a booth and/or signs on each table to promote your business.
Cost factors: Paying for the use of the restaurant as your venue, along with printing table signs, and creating and sending invites.

If your first event goes well, consider how you can use them regularly to boost your brand within the community and maximize sales at the same time.

local retail store display

Offer Free Shipping

When coupons or discounts don’t tend to resonate with their customers, smart retailers turn to free shipping, instead. You can offer this for every order or those above a certain amount, (i.e., “Free shipping on all orders over $75!”).

Free shipping can have a wide-reaching effect on sales, decreasing cart abandonment, in addition to boosting average order value and customer loyalty, according to Practical Ecommerce. If you’re thinking, This isn’t inexpensive. That just means we have to pay for shipping now, think again. Practice Ecommerce suggests some shipping options to reduce costs:

Use a fulfillment service: This can reduce the distance for shipping, therefore drastically reducing costs, depending on how close you are to customers.

Be picky: Don’t offer free shipping to everyone. If your warehouse and shipping center is based in Southern California, make the offer available only to those within your immediate regions, like Nevada, Arizona and the rest of California. This exclusivity may even encourage more orders if you tell customers they’re the only ones to get the discount.

Use different carriers: Instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all shipping option, use different carriers for different distances: “USPS Regional Rate boxes are good for nearby destinations, while ground shipping from FedEx or UPS may cost less for cross-country deliveries,” explains Practical Ecommerce.

Negotiate with carriers: Higher volume retailers should reach out to their preferred carriers as it’s often possible to negotiate custom shipping rates if you’re doing enough volume. This can reduce the costs associated with free shipping.

Sell Gift Cards

Not only are gift cards inexpensive for you to create (especially when offering e-gift cards, that require nothing more than an email), but they can help you maximize your seasonal sales in a number of ways:

  • They drive new customer purchases. New customers represent an opportunity to upsell and drive brand loyalty.
  • Americans spent $46 billion on gift cards in 2016— $28 billion went toward gift cards for others while $11 billion went to gift cards for themselves. Americans also received $7 billion in gift cards from employers.
  • Overspending is common when buying with a gift card—75 percent of respondents said they spent almost $30 more than the amount on the card.Promote gift cards via marketing emails, banners on your website, and at checkout, so consumers know you offer them.

Another inexpensive way to boost gift card sales: incentivize the consumer. For example, “For every $100 spent, you’ll receive a $10 gift card for yourself or a friend.” This is perfect for the holiday season since consumers are already shopping for other people.

SEE ALSO: The Benefits of Selling Gift Cards This Holiday Season

Dig Into Your Inventory Data

If you use a point of sale like ShopKeep to manage inventory and sales for your retail store, you can run a report about what’s selling and what’s not. This data works as a guide, helping you see what worked the last holiday season so you can update and repeat. There are two main data segments to look at:

Bestsellers from last year’s holiday season: What were your top-sellers last year? While styles and trends may have changed, you can likely find a pattern in the product category. You could use this information to create “holiday bundles” that may seem like a higher value.

Most purchased: Segment out the customers that made the most purchases during last year’s holiday season (choose a date range, say from October-December) and analyze who these customers are based on CRM data. Create a profile of this “top holiday customer” and market to others like him/her, either with ads or organically.

When you know what products, styles or customers were selling and buying most last year, you can single them out for marketing this year. Sometimes, the answers are in your hands already, you just have to dig around for them. You can also use this information to get get a better price from vendors. If you know you’ll sell a lot of X product, you may be able to buy more at a lower price to maximize cash flow.

Test, Test, and Track

Turn fall into a testing time, allowing you to improve sales now and throughout the rest of the year: “A big piece of strategy is knowing what not to do, and if something doesn’t work, you may choose not to do it again, or make some tweaks and retry it another time,” suggest experts at Vertical Response.

Be sure to test on every potential platform, including your shop page or the website itself, in addition to social media, search engine ads, and email marketing. Some testing ideas include:

  • Promoting a specific product or category, or to a specific audience segment, on the homepage
  • Promoting to a specific segment of your audience via email
  • Using different images/models on the product and browsing pages
  • Promoting via Facebook ads VS. Google Ads; which drives greater ROI?
  • Offering coupons VS. free shipping

Track each campaign and effort (paid and unpaid) in a living Google Sheet, where you can update total sales, campaign costs, etc. As you add more information, you can compare results to create a blueprint of what works and what doesn’t. This will help you optimize for maximum growth this holiday season and be better prepared for holiday season shopping as well.

Start Maximizing

You don’t need a big brand budget to boost sales. Instead, focus on your data, bring more value to your customers’ lives, and become a testing machine. Armed with the right information and the best tactics, you’ll watch profits increase and be more ready for the holiday shopping season than ever before.

Jessica Thiefels ShopKeep Contributing Writer

Jessica Thiefels

Author Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time writer, content marketing consultant, and business owner. She’s been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Manta, Virgin, Constant Contact, and more. Follower her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect with her on LinkedIn.