RewardsA successful holiday season can be the difference between a good year and a great year for small businesses. Below are five tips to help you make this year’s peak season the best yet for your company.

1. Spend your marketing dollars wisely.

The peak holiday season offers exciting opportunities for your business – but competition is tough. Cut through the clutter by spending your marketing dollars on the tactics and tools that will be most effective for your business.

Social media can be a great way to connect with customers.

  • Pinterest, in particular, has a growing community of consumers. Of the site’s 73 million monthly users, 93% use Pinterest to find and bookmark items to purchase.
  • Facebook is a great way to connect with customers using content they care about. If you can establish yourself as an industry expert, you have the potential to win a lot of new fans.

Email marketing can be an effective tool to reach customers during the holidays with offers and promotions (research shows that for every dollar spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $44.25), but keep in mind there’s a lot of clutter out there. Make the most of your emails by keeping subject lines short and engaging, making communications quick, and by giving customers a clear action to follow.

Pay-per-click ads are attractive because they’re an easy way to drive traffic to your site, but they’re also expensive. If you’re going to use pay-per-click ads, be sure you’re committed to tracking their performance. They may not be right for you if you don’t have the time or resources to track ad engagement.

2. Optimize your website.

Drawing customers into your website is only the first step. Once they’re interested, you need to make shopping with you as simple and enticing as possible. In 2014, online shoppers spent more than $53 billion during the holiday season.

Make your site user friendly so it’s fun and easy to shop. The key to converting more carts is making the process as simple and convenient as you can. And since customers are busier than ever, making your design responsive to mobile is very important. In 2014, 45% of all online holiday traffic came from mobile devices.

Communicate all costs up front. Unexpected charges are the number one reason customers abandon shopping carts. It’s important that your customer feels their order doesn’t contain any hidden fees, including shipping. And in the event that customers do abandon their carts, have a retargeting process in place. Every time a prospective customer comes to your site, checks out specific products and — for reasons unknown to you — abandons the process, you have the opportunity to win back that sale.

3. Deliver on your promise.

It can be challenging to know whether to ship economically or quickly. Today’s customers have high expectations and less patience, so knowing exactly how you’ll handle the ordering and delivery process is one of the best ways to create an experience that keeps customers coming back. Only 11% of holiday shoppers are willing to shop again with a retailer if their holiday shipping commitment isn’t met.

You can’t stop customers from making late orders, but you can set expectations to keep them satisfied. Communicate shipping deadlines clearly so your customers know when to expect their packages.

4. Appreciate the power of returns.

Returns can make or break your customer relationships. If customers are unsatisfied with a shipment, you need to do whatever you can to make them happy, and providing easy returns can actually strengthen a customer relationship. In fact, 92% of customers are likely to shop with a retailer again if returns are convenient. Free returns can be a good way to build customer loyalty.

5. Think long-term.

Although the holidays are a great time to cement customer relationships, and engage additional buyers, remember that building loyalty is not a once and done proposition. As Nik Hawks, entrepreneur and co-founder of Paleo Treats explained, “The holidays provide a significant bump in traffic, but that bump comes at a time when there is so much noise in the marketplace that it’s hard for customers to remember everything that happened or what they got during that time.”

The holidays can mean big business for small companies. For more information and advice for success during peak seasons, visit