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Three ways to up the ante before Xmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for small and medium businesses (SMBs) the arrival of Christmas can often make it the most stressful.

Between juggling personal commitments and meeting customer demands, it comes as no surprise that business owners are stressed.

We recently spoke to 200 small business owners in Australia and we found that the biggest concern in the run up to Christmas is their capacity to maximise revenue potential.

With one in three business owners saying the festive period is their most important opportunity to drive sales, there is certainly pressure to get it right. However, with the added pressure of new international competition, retailers are feeling the pinch more than ever before.

Christmas should be a time for family, friends and good food, but a quarter of businesses told us they felt like they didn’t have a Christmas last year.

Here are three key points small businesses should consider as they up the ante this year, and going into 2018.

  1. Get online and get mobile

While online competitors are one of the top concerns for retailers this Christmas, we found that optimising their business for online and mobile payments came in at the bottom of their priority list – a worrying insight.

Online sales currently account for more than seven per cent of total Australian retail sales, a figure that’s growing at five per cent each year.

With the increasing adoption of digital technologies across the retail sector, online retail sales are expected to account for 13 per cent of total retail sales in the next five years, according to the Australian Retailers Association.

Meanwhile, our 2017 mCommerce Index found that 72 per cent of Australians are already shopping or making payments on their smartphones.

The reality is, online and mobile shopping are no longer nice-to-haves, they are must-haves. My favourite comparison for this is the famous Yellow Pages ad – Not happy, Jan!

Back in 2000, the bare minimum was to have your business listed in the Yellow Pages. But we have come a long way since then. With online shopping now well and truly mainstream, it is no longer a question of whether your business should have an online and mobile strategy, it’s a question of what this strategy should look like.

To demonstrate the power of online, this year we launched our annual Shop Off the Beaten Path portal with hundreds of Australian small business partners involved.

The portal aims to encourage Australian consumers to look beyond traditional departments stores, and digitally connect them with homegrown businesses they might never have heard of.

  1. Are you socially savvy?

Social commerce is exploding. Our mCommerce Index found that there has been a 128 per cent year-on-year growth in businesses accepting payments via social media platforms (7 per cent in 2016, 16 per cent in 2017). This is the next wave of retail growth and you need to be on it.

We have seen companies like the at-home teeth whitening business HiSmile use innovative influencer marketing techniques to engage a cross-border customer base – tapping into the millions of potential customers who follow the likes of Kylie Jenner.

To ensure regular engagement with this international audience, HiSmile has also built a subscription model to ensure regular, monthly delivery of its products to the end customer.

Similarly, home-grown fashion brand Showpo has built its success on social. With one million Facebook followers and 1.3 million Instagram followers, CEO Jane Lu has created a brand that puts its shoppers first.

On Instagram, Showpo creates shoppable images, whereby when a shopper clicks through to the Showpo website from Instagram, the page mirrors the Instagram experience, enabling users to shop through the images directly.

  1. Set your experience apart from others

What we can learn from the growth of some of Australia’s most successful retailers, including HiSmile and Showpo, is that every element of the customer journey is critical.

From the first touch point via a desktop or mobile-optimised site, to product discounts, a secure checkout process and fast, affordable delivery – every step counts.

This Christmas and next year, we strongly encourage all business owners to look at their holistic digital strategy and put the customer first.

Is your online and mobile experience user-friendly? Are you leveraging the incredible power of social commerce? Are you making your customers life easier through free shipping and returns? These are simple, yet effective steps to ensuring you are setting yourself apart from competition.

Despite the challenges associated with running a business, we found that Aussie business owners think the hard work pays off and they love the feeling of pride that comes with knowing their products are under Christmas trees across the nation.

By applying these practical tips, we are confident SMBs can close the year out on a high and set themselves up for an even better 2018.

Brian McDonnell is the director of mid-market and small business at PayPal in Australia.

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