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David Poole, managing director sales, UK South at FedEx Express, provides advice and top tips for businesses to thrive during the festive season.

The annual spending frenzy in the run-up to Christmas has always had retailers marking their calendars in advance – but the rise of e-commerce has transformed the seasonal marketplace and created previously unthinkable new business opportunities for SMEs.

With e-commerce events in the pre-Christmas shopping surge such as Black Friday hitting £1bn in 2015 – and overall online spending over the festive season rising 12% year-on-year to £24bn – proper planning and organisation is paramount to success. As such, FedEx has compiled some top tips to keep your business one step ahead of the seasonal surge and thriving over the Christmas period.

  1. Plan in advance
This advice might seem deceptively obvious but is all-too-often overlooked by businesses. Christmas is famously boom-or-bust for online retailers and many problems for businesses are due to a lack of proper planning. Preparing your e-commerce operations in advance will save time, money and potentially prevent any issues well before they arise. Tracking company finances ensures a healthy cash flow throughout the festive season while a detailed plan of orders and deliveries streamlines and simplifies the processes.
  1. Prioritise customer service
Quality customer service is essential to e-commerce success all year round – but the run-up to Christmas increases the importance of providing a second-to-none experience, timely deliveries and smooth business transactions. Orders are usually for family or loved ones while the upsurge in shipments can stretch the capabilities of efficient and organised companies. For example, for FedEx customer Kelly Turkeys, the run up to Christmas brings an annual surge in online orders. Prioritising consistent customer service and carefully listening to feedback has led to reoccurring comments from regular customers noting the excellent service: ‘‘a wonderful turkey and prompt delivery’ and ‘a superb bird with excellent service, right through to delivery! An absolutely delightful Christmas experience’’.
  1. Stand out from the crowd
Amid growing competition and increasingly savvy customers, differentiating your business from the e-commerce competition is vital to retaining and increasing online orders over the festive season. Creating individual and distinct seasonal marketing material and newsletters helps differentiate your company and attract new customers. A personal touch is also particularly appreciated at this time of year – thanking customers for their loyalty strengthens the relationship and improves the likelihood of repeat orders.
  1. Offer special festive deals
Christmas and the preceding weeks are an ideal opportunity to provide online shopping offers, promotional discounts and deals. From small gestures like free gift wrapping to membership trials to expedited shipping and fast-tracked delivery, online customers will respond to generosity throughout the festive season. Going the extra mile with e-commerce not only demonstrates genuine care for customers, but it also shows that your business is sufficiently organised to pull it off without a hitch. Getting in the Christmas spirit is more likely to result in subsequent generosity and happy spending from customers.
  1. Focus on key goals
It is easy and sometimes understandable for small businesses to feel snowed under by the added pressures of pre-Christmas online retailing – but concentrating on measurable outcomes and achievements can help alleviate any unhelpful business jitters. Identifying metrics and targets prior to the e-commerce upsurge – from customer engagement to shipping and repeat orders – allows businesses to focus on year-on-year improvements and troubleshoot for the next time round. With the right mind set and proper preparation, small businesses nationwide can look forward to a lucrative festive e-commerce season this year and many more to follow.