Businesses Optimistic on Holiday Sales, Survey Finds

While the business optimism of cost-conscious businesses has fluctuated significantly throughout 2009, a survey by Constant Contact suggests companies are feeling positive about the holiday shopping season.

E-mail marketing, event marketing and online survey firm Constant Contact's annual survey of small and midsize businesses found 52 percent of participating businesses in the Small Business Holiday Outlook Survey expect holiday sales to increase over last year. The statistic marks a large increase over last year, when less than a third of respondents were similarly optimistic. More than 35 percent of the survey's respondents expressed optimism about the state of the overall economy (up from 25 percent last year). While these respondents expect holiday revenues to increase compared to last year, small businesses polled also say holiday sales are less important to annual revenue this year than in previous years.

The survey also revealed a notable increase in small businesses' use of Internet-based marketing strategies since both last year and February of this year, when Constant Contact conducted a similar survey. Substantially more small businesses plan to use holiday-related email marketing this year (89 percent vs. 60 percent) and 43 percent expect to increase online holiday sales (versus 38 percent in 2008). In a notable shift since February, significantly more small businesses are using the following digital platforms and tools to market their products and services. In order of popularity, small businesses are increasingly turning toward email marketing, online advertising, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The survey found the only platform small businesses are using less today than in February is social networking site MySpace.

"Small business owners have again proven their resilience by surviving one of the toughest years in decades. They have clearly told us that marketing plays an important role in keeping strong connections with their existing customers and attracting new ones," said Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact. "Consistent with their generally optimistic outlook, these business leaders now look toward a more promising future, because they have learned how to promote themselves through new platforms and developed habits and practices that will serve them well in any kind of economy."

The company, which also provides training, tips and guides to midmarket businesses, also produced a list of strategies that can be used by SMBs to help drive sales and get their companies noticed this holiday season. Constant Contact recommends polling customers to determine which products should go on sale, and use social media to extend reach, ensuring the company name, logo, messages, and tone are consistent from one communication tool to the next, to help reinforce brand recall and include links to the Web site, blog, and social networks throughout all communication channels.

Constant Contact also recommends several ways to personalize holiday business and attract customers through special events promoted through social network-linked marketing tools, such as a holiday-themed customer appreciation event. They also recommend continuing marketing right up until the last minute and taking care to promote an "in-store feeling" through e-mail offers and announcements. "Your communications should remind past customers why they shopped with you last year. It may have been your excellent customer service, your no-hassle return policy, or your personal shopping service," the company states. "Be sure to highlight why your business stands out from the competition because not every shopper is driven by price."