The calendar may still show summertime, but many smart retailers are already thinking about the ringing of sleigh bells and cash registers. Why? Because according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the period between Halloween and New Year’s Day accounts for as much as 40 percent of some retailers’ annual sales. Other businesses such as caterers, restaurants and limousine services depend on big year-end sales to help sustain them into the slower months of the new year. And with those kinds of dollars on the line, waiting until October or November to start planning holiday promotions can be a risky proposition.

Plan now to profit later. If the holidays are a critical season for your sales, there’s nothing wrong with looking ahead and putting together some basic plans so you know what you need to accomplish in the upcoming months. You don’t necessarily need to be deciding on and executing specific promotions during the hot summer months. Running holiday sales in September will certainly bring you more grief than gain from consumers. But planning your holiday strategy now can reduce year-end stress and help you hit the ground running after Labor Day.

Most retailers are starting early. A well-planned holiday strategy can make the difference between a highly profitable holiday season and a disappointing one marked with missed opportunities. That’s why big-time retailers start planning in August and have their marketing printed and rolling out by the end of October. In fact, according to’s eHoliday 2011 survey, more than half (52.9 percent) of retailers planned to start their online holiday marketing and promotions by Halloween, up 12.9 percent from the year before. Even many of those ubiquitous holiday catalogs that begin piling up in mailboxes in early October have been in the works since before Memorial Day.

Consumers are starting earlier, too. Retailers aren’t the only ones participating in the “holiday creep.” The NRF reports that roughly 40 percent of consumers now start their shopping before Halloween—almost as many as those who begin their shopping in November.1 And while the bulk of holiday purchases still happen in November and December, a growing number of consumers have already started their holiday gift research in September and October to be extra sure they are getting a good deal in the tight economy. So waiting until you’re in the shadows of Black Friday to plan your holiday promotions could leave you missing out on the growing number of early bird shoppers.

Make a list, check it twice.If you haven’t given any thought to this year’s holiday promotions, here are a few suggestions you could be doing right now to make this holiday one to remember:

  • Revisit the ghosts of holidays past. Review your promotions from previous years and examine what worked and, just as important, what didn’t. What changes can you make and what things have you always wanted to try, but never had the time to put together during the hectic holiday season? Are there any current, popular promotions you can repackage or repurpose as a gift-giving option? Are there any complementary businesses or nonprofits you could partner with this year? You may need time to develop, design, write, secure ad placement, work out any details, and arrange for any necessary printing.
  • Review your branding. If the summer months tend to be slow, take an honest look at your logo and branding materials. Do they need freshening up? Do they really communicate who you are today or who your customers perceive you to be? Are they cohesive and consistent? November is usually not the best time to be introducing a new look or repositioning your business to your customers.
  • Reexamine your target market. Hopefully you have a pretty good grasp on who your regular customers are. But, for some businesses, that target may change or shift a bit during the holiday season. Make sure you adjust your advertising and marketing campaigns to reach this seasonal audience as well as your regular prospects.
  • Give your website a check up. Considering the average consumer planned to do 36 percent of their holiday shopping online in 2011, your website needs to be in top shape. 1 December is definitely not the time to find out your shopping cart has a glitch or you have a lot of broken links on your site. Do you need to update photography or product descriptions? Does your site load quickly and without missing imagery? Go through your entire website to make sure everything is working properly. Take down outdated information and add some fresh content visitors might find worthy of sharing with friends. Also, figure out how you might add a holiday touch or design to make your site a little more festive around December.
  • Optimize your site. Search engine optimization (SEO) takes time. Unless you’re buying keywords and paying for search engine marketing (SEM), it takes time for search engines to index your site and hopefully get it appearing near the top of search results. Most SEO experts would say you can never start optimizing for the holiday traffic too soon, and that optimizing your site should be an ongoing project.
  • Reevaluate your prospects list. Unless you’re vigilant, chances are your prospects and email lists could use a little updating. Customers from five years ago should probably not receive the same amount of attention as ones from the last six months. You might even consider purging a few outdated names from your list to reduce mailing costs and using that savings to send an additional mailing out to your better customers.
  • Determine media deadlines. Magazines and other publications often have special holiday editions with advertising deadlines that are typically two months before the actual publishing date. Start finding out the deadlines of publications you might be interested in now so there are no surprises come September.
  • Explore new media options. If your business isn’t employing social media to your advantage yet, there’s no time like the present to increase your reach using these free marketing tools. Engaging and interacting with customers and prospects as well as informing them of specials, new products and promotions has never been easier. Last year, nearly three-quarters of retailers who said they regularly used social media platforms invested in their Facebook (72.5 percent) and Twitter (41.2 percent) accounts before the holidays. More than half (51.0 percent) said they significantly invested in mobile-optimized websites and 19.6 percent even invested in tablet device apps. In addition, 35.3 percent said they significantly invested in QR codes in offline advertising such as magazine ads and billboards.1

Reduce holiday stress, increase profits. The holiday season is a stressful time for consumers and retailers alike. But your business can eliminate some of that stress by taking an early look at your holiday plans now. And considering how important year-end promotions are to overall sales for most retailers, a little foresight could go a long way to making all of your business’s wildest holiday wishes come true.

1- Source: National Retail Federation 2011

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