21 Small Business Promotion Ideas to Dominate the Holiday Season

In 2013, Holiday sales in the United States were about three trillion dollars.

Yes, trillion.

In nearly every retail sector, the holidays are a huge boost to the year’s sales. But here’s the problem: everyone is looking to capitalize on this, and it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. Every business is vying for a limited number of consumers, so how do you attract attention for your business when shoppers are bombarded with ads and gimmicks?

We have 21 small business promotion ideas for how you can shine this holiday season.

1. Start early, but don’t be obnoxious about it.

Some stores literally start putting up Christmas items for sale in July. That can be frustrating for people who feel pressure during the holidays. No one wants to feel that kind of pressure for half a year.

Think of ways your early holiday promotion can be helpful to the customer so that the holidays are less stressful. For example, you could make it easy for people to create “wish lists” or put things on layaway (an old practice that has made a bit of a comeback in some industries). You could offer a service where you help them with products or services for their holiday parties, rewarding them for starting early but not forcing them to finalize specifics until closer to the date.

Subtle in-store marketing is key; no one wants to see Santa next to Halloween decorations.

2. Spread the love and promote other local businesses.

Join up with other willing local businesses to promote each other’s sales and services. It might be as easy as tossing a few coupons or sales information in the customer’s shopping bag. Or, you might offer reduced prices or rewards when customers shop at participating businesses.

Even better, partner with a business whose product or service ties into what you offer. That provides a real service to your customer. For example, if you are a catering service, perhaps you could partner with a cleaning service and advertise it as helping customers with their Christmas parties before, during, and after.

3. Reward your top customers.

The holidays are a time to give gifts, and you can do the same for your most loyal customers (learn more about how to retain customers here). Offer them deeper sales and savings, extra perks, or even open the doors of your business outside of regular hours so they can have a personalized shopping session.

4. Help word-of-mouth advertising along.

If you have local websites or bloggers that talk about your industry, connect with them months before the holiday and see if you can partner with them. They could review your products, obviously, but it would be even better if you could make it a win for them (help them grow their readership and traffic). For example, offer up a blog contest prize that can be redeemed in your shop. Bloggers have to comply with laws and inform their readers of reviews that they’ve been asked to give, but it is still a way to get a real person talking favorably about what you have to offer.

5. In a digital world, paper stands out.

The holiday season is a time when many people find the onslaught of promotional emails to be absolutely overwhelming. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday–all come with a wave of emails from every mailing list a person is on.

How do you get your promotion to stand out? How to you even communicate with customers at the holidays and get them to see it?

When everything is digital, the personal and physical object stands out. Send real holiday cards or postcards. Send actual coupons and gift cards. Nostalgia for printed photos and media is growing; tap into it.

6. Create a shopping event.

Whether you decided to make the event last through most of the holiday shopping season, or on special sale days, you can turn your store into a go-to location. Local musicians, hors d’oeuvers, wine, sparkling cider–whatever you choose to do, make the act of coming to your store a reward. Have drawings and giveaways to reward those who come.

7. Create kid-friendly events.

Parents are always looking for events that they can take their kids to, and hosting a free event of that nature at your shop is a great way to get parents in the door. Have coloring contests, photo booths, cookie decorating–whatever is appropriate for your location. Make it easy for parents to do some shopping while their kids are having holiday fun.

8. Consider pet-friendly events.

If your business is in an industry that would allow for it, create an event for pet owners. In 2016, pet owners spent almost $63 billion on their pets. For some, their pets are their kids. Consider an “ugly dog” contest, or a “tackiest holiday dog costume” contest. Give away dog treats with every purchase to anyone who comes in with a dog. If you’re giving away prizes throughout the holiday season, make one geared for dog owners.

9. Make your store friendly for the non-shopper.

Create an area in your store where children can relax while parents shop. A book corner, with tables and toys, works great. Or, create an area where people who are tired of shopping but are with someone who isn’t can take a seat and relax. Offer holiday treats or punch.

10. Capitalize on holiday traditions.

There are many holiday traditions, and your marketing can capitalize on them. Instead of the “12 Days of Christmas”, you might have twelve days of sales. Depending on your industry and customer base, you will want to gear your promotions around the most attractive traditions for your audience.

11. Help your customers make a memory.

Bring Santa to your store and set up an area for kids to have their photo taken with him. Create a selfie area for shoppers. Tap into the “maker” movement and create an area where shoppers can make an ornament or holiday keepsake. Offer prizes for those who post photos of these activities to social media. If you’re using themes for various sales and promotions, tie these into the themes.

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12. Give away tools that help customers.

Offer your customers free promotional items that would be useful at during the holidays. You might have a planning guide or notepad printed to help people complete all of the holiday tasks of the season. Who doesn’t like a free notebook or notepad? Perhaps you’ll give customers “letter to Santa” stationery and an envelope, already addressed and stamped, offering to put it in the outgoing mail, so their children can write Santa a letter and parents don’t have to fuss. Calendars are also useful, but think outside the box and consider what item would be most attractive to your customer base.

This takes planning, ahead of the holiday season. Consider all of the stressors and challenges you face, and what kind of tool or giveaway could help. Get started months before so that when the holidays arrive, you have your items ready to go.

13. Make customer referral easy and rewarding.

Personal referrals are the best word-of-mouth advertising you can get. We trust our friends and families. Offer special discounts or a free product when a customer refers someone to your shop during the holidays. Have cards, envelopes, and free postage available for customers and let them send actual notes in the mail to friends and family, telling them about your store.

14. Help out your local artists.

Artists and crafters are trying to earn a living in your community. Consider helping them out by displaying their artwork or featuring it on some of your marketing materials (with permission and payment) with identifying artist information. Promoting and offering the works of local artists and crafters can be a promotional point in and of itself, particularly for the buy local movement that continues to grow.

15. Have a post-holiday thank-you event.

Plan an event after the holidays where you thank your customers for supporting your business. Depending on how exclusive you want to be, the event could be a general invite, or for your best customers. Whether it’s a dinner at a local restaurant or an after-hours social, it’s a great way to show appreciation to customers outside of the sometimes over-filled holiday season. A party in January is a bit more memorable than one from the often packed months of November and December.

16. Give a portion of your sales to a local charity.

Increasingly, customers want to spend their dollar in a way that makes a positive impact on the world. Choose a local charity or two, and let customers know that a percentage of the proceeds will be donated. Be sure to promote this in your regular advertising, and to let the charity know as well so that they can alert their own mailing lists. Another option is to allow customers to select which charity or good cause they want their proceeds given to, though this can make for complicated record-keeping.

17. Make returns super easy, and be very public about it.

While it isn’t pleasant to think about, some of the holiday sales you make will result in people coming back to return their gift. Small businesses often think they can’t compete with Big Box stores because of their return policy, but the truth is that some of them actually make returns tricky for holiday shoppers. Create a customer-friendly return policy, and begin advertising before the holiday season kicks in, as well as letting your customers know in-store and at purchase time. Making returns easy is its own kind of service, and you want to be sure you’d advertise it like any other.

18. Spread the holiday cheer through the year.

Consider having a holiday in July (or some other month). Promote it during the regular holiday season, and consider tie-ins. For example, you could create a punch card for regular holiday shopping that you reward during the off-holiday season.

19. If you have a store window, use it.

The art of window dressing is still an important one. No matter what kind of window or display area you have, you need to be making the most of it. This is not the time to “set it and forget it.” A shop whose window stays the same all year round, except for a strand of holiday lights in December, does not entice shoppers.

Show off your products and tell a story about your business through your display. Think of it as a further extension of the narrative you’ve wrapped your brand in. Connect it to themes and any social media or print marketing you already have running. Consider a contest that lets a winning customer design your window display in January.

Be sure to have a fresh window display up by mid-November, and change it out several times during the holiday season.

20. Pamper your customers.

While it may not be appropriate for all small businesses, consider creating a “pampering station” where customers can get a quick massage, a manicure, or some other related service. Not every customer wants to be overloaded with drinks and food, and this kind of approach meets the physical needs of weary shoppers. Partner with a local spa or salon and see what you can come up with that benefits everyone involved.

21. Make shopping a fun game.

Create an in-store scavenger hunt that leads customers through your store in search of listed items. Not only is it fun for customers (particularly if there are prizes or savings for anyone who finds everything on the list), but it helps show of your products better. You might choose to do this every day during regular shopping hours, or host a fun evening event and turn it into something larger. Perhaps you’ll have separate games for children and for adults. Maybe you’ll tie them into a different promotion or theme. Maybe you’ll share photos or video on social media and make it a local movement. Maybe you’ll partner with other businesses and expand the hunt to several stores.

Whatever the case, people enjoy games and will come to a shop they might not have been to before just to participate.

The trick to promotion during the holiday season is to be personal and customer-centric. The shopping public has seen nearly every marketing idea thrown at them, and during the holidays it comes in like a tidal wave. Promotions that function as a part of a continued relationship you have with customers, providing intangible services to customers (such as stress relief) are the best way to stand out from the crowd.

The nostalgia and mindfulness movements that continue to grow in society indicate people who are worn out from slick and impersonal marketing that views them as traffic numbers and dollar signs. What better gift can you give them during the holidays than to let them know you care and want to make the season relaxing and fun for their whole family?

21 Small Business Promotion Ideas to Dominate the Holiday Season