We’re quickly approaching the most wonderful time of the year – the holiday season. While typically this time of year has been busy with increased consumer engagement and sales for many small businesses, this year may look a little different.

With talks of a recession and the market continuously taking a hit, a lot of small businesses aren’t exactly sure what to expect this holiday season. Many are simply planning as they have in the past, and prepping their businesses for an influx of foot and website traffic.

While I don’t advise against doing that, there are things small business owners need to be doing differently to make sure they’re prepared, and that includes planning for less-than-ideal situations in the next couple of months.

To ensure you’re as prepared as possible, below are four of the most crucial shifts currently happening that will ultimately shape holiday business. But don’t fret, I’ve also included how your company can prepare for these shifts to ensure you end the year as successful as possible.

1. Inflation Will Affect Consumer Spending

Everything seems to cost more, from the cost of living to gas prices and grocery bills. Modern-day necessities just aren’t as cheap as they were last year, so consumers will be curbing their spending in other places to ensure they’re managing their budgets.

This means that the sales numbers you hit last holiday season may not be as predictable this year. You need to prepare for how inflation may impact your sales, or even impact your typical buyer. You might attract a different type of consumer based on your price point as consumers rethink their holiday budget. You may also want to engage in some price testing. Increasing prices may be able to help make up for a decrease in demand. On the flip side, offering discounts might help to drive more buyers. The flexibility to test pricing now can help drive results as you wrap up the year.

For retail businesses, balancing inventory will be key to a successful season. For instance, if your numbers are showing a decrease in demand, you may not want to bulk up your inventory. Instead, you might start the season off with enough supplies and see where that gets you. If you need to order later, you can, or you can offer other products that you have in stock, which will help balance your inventory and showcase other items.

Taking inventory of your employees is crucial as well. If you’re accustomed to a seasonal hiring spree, you’ll want to be extra prudent about hiring the right talent.  You don’t want to overwork your staff, but you also don’t want extra people on the payroll if they aren’t contributing to activities that drive revenue. Automating processes in your business can help you to run lean during the holiday season and beyond.

2. Social Media Will Play a Big Role in Influencing Buying Decisions

While you may be tempted to scale back your marketing in anticipation of fewer sales this holiday, that would be one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Your competitors will still be advertising, and if you scale back you won’t even be considered an option by consumers.

In times of economic uncertainty, people turn to distractions, and one of the biggest distractions today is social media. Your audience is active on social media sites, scrolling through content, which makes it a perfect avenue to showcase your products and holiday promos.

If you’re going to make some room in your budget by not ordering as much inventory or hiring as many people as you would have in the past, it’s not a bad idea to put that spend towards social media advertising. It’s a great way to get your product and brand in front of the right people as well as expand your reach beyond the expected foot traffic (if you have a storefront).

A more cost-efficient way to utilize social media is to build out a social media calendar and fill it with a strategic holiday promotion push. Make sure your existing network is aware of the great deals you’re offering and direct them to purchase pages or lead magnets with each post. Or, you can double down on your social ads by filling your profile with additional resources and information, which can help encourage on-the-fence buyers to seal the deal.

3. Labor Shortages Will Mean Relying on Marketing Automation

As previously mentioned, you may be scaling back on hiring additional holiday staff this year. Now, that may be a choice, or finding reliable staff may simply be difficult right now. Ever since The Great Resignation, there’s been an uptick in unemployment despite there being an increase in available positions.

Either way, if you need some additional help this year, utilizing marketing automation is a great way to keep your team lean while still adding a few extra sets of working “hands.”

You can use your marketing automation tool to send out your holiday campaigns to prospects, which can increase conversions and sales while you’re busy prepping for in-person customers or other holiday sales-related tasks.

4. Delivery May Take Time, Yet Again

Labor shortages are nationwide and span almost every industry, so it’s safe to say that delivery and shipping times may be extended due to low staff. What’s more, online shopping has increased exponentially due to the pandemic, and the online buying trend will only continue for the holidays. Typically with online purchases, people can be a bit flexible with turnaround times, however, if they’re buying gifts for the holidays, that flexibility goes out the window. If you’re in the eCommerce industry, make sure you’re prepared for delayed shipping times, otherwise, you’ll have some angry customers on your hands.

You may be wondering what you can do since you’re at the mercy of logistics companies. A solution could be to offer in-store pick-ups and curbside orders. Or, you can take a note from Target, which is promising curbside pick-ups that will be ready same-day, as well as utilizing Shipt for fast delivery to their customers.

This holiday season may not look like it did in years past, but that doesn’t mean you should panic. There are things you can do to prepare in advance for impressive sales and happy customers no matter what economic challenges pop up as we round out the year. Good luck this holiday season!