The summer season presents the perfect opportunity for countless small businesses across South Africa to regroup and re-strategise ahead of the festive rush.
With careful planning and some housekeeping, you can position your small business to take full advantage of the heightened enthusiasm for shopping and the potential for attracting new customers. These four tips are a good place to start:
Keep the cost-conscious consumer top of mind
With the mounting socio-economic pressures that this year has brought, South Africans have tightened their budgets. The ripple effect of ongoing load shedding, record-high inflation and the high cost of borrowing have compelled many consumers to review their spending habits.
The impact of this change in consumer behaviour has reflected in retail sales volumes, which according to Trading Economics, have followed a downward trend compared to last year. A further study conducted by PwC found that nearly 99% of South African shoppers plan to adopt behaviours that will help them save money for the foreseeable future.
This means that it has become increasingly important for small businesses to tailor their product and service offerings to a more price-conscious market. Some of the ways that consumers aim to save, include buying items in bulk or delaying making purchases until the items they want are on promotion.
As a small business, the top priority this season should be bringing down the cost of production as much as possible by negotiating with suppliers, investing in technology that can improve operational efficiencies, implementing waste reduction processes and regularly maintaining equipment to extend the lifespan of machinery. Reducing the cost of production will make it easier to offer customers real value in the form of promotional deals, seasonal discounts and bundled offers.
Optimise your online visibility
Next up is to review your small business’ online presence. Much has been said about the rise of e-commerce and the importance of building seamless and convenient online shopping experiences. But there’s another reason why maintaining a visible online presence is vital.
Accord to KLA’s YouGov Profiles tool, as much as 74% of South Africans begin their shopping journey online, by reading product descriptions, researching information and comparing prices. Surprisingly, however, only 40% of these shoppers ultimately make their purchases through the same online medium. Evidence now points to the tendencies of South African shoppers to conduct research online but go in-store to make purchases. This has also led to a rise in click-and-collect purchases.
As a result, small businesses need to do basic due diligence checks. Some of these include ensuring that all product descriptions are up to date, that website content is well-written and thoroughly checked for grammatical errors, products are easy to find, online platforms are simple to navigate and that there is a clear way in which customers can contact brands for further enquiries.
Create engaging customer experiences
Small businesses need to do everything possible to prepare for higher sales volumes during summer. It may seem obvious in theory, but in practice, enabling highly engaging customer experiences takes a substantial investment of time and effort.
For example, small business teams need to be well trained to deal with a higher influx of customers, whether that be offline or online. At the very least, staff need to receive formal training on the fundamentals, including product knowledge, customer service skills and effective sales techniques. You can prepare staff by staging practical scenarios and conducting role-playing services to enhance the team’s ability to deal with different kinds of customer interactions.
All team members need to be on the same page so that a positive customer experience can be fostered on a consistent basis and across different departments and touchpoints. According to Salesforce, 94% of customers agree that customer experience is just as important as a company’s product and services, which means brushing up your staff’s skills in this area, is paramount during busier times.
Small businesses should also find creative ways to take advantage of changes in consumer behaviour over summer. Arguably the biggest change we see in the lead up to the end of the year is people spending more time outdoors. As a small business, capitalising on this trend could boost profitability and present many opportunities to onboard new clients and expand their target audience.
You could, for example, partner with local events, festivals, or markets happening during summer. This can provide additional exposure and attract attendees to your business. Another strategy would be to plan events or workshops related to your business but that align with the summer theme. This could be outdoor fitness classes, workshops or special product launches.
Summer is the best time to interact with your customers, who will typically be more willing to step outside of their homes and visit your store or engage with face-to-face interactions with your brand.
Ben Bierman is the managing director of Business Partners.