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Marketing Tactics for the Holiday Season

By Charles Moffat - December 2010. Updated June 2011.

If you are reading this it probably means that the holiday season is here and for small business owners this time of year can make-or-break when it comes to sales. The advice here works well for any season however.

According to the National Retail Federation retail sales typically climb 2.3% during the holiday season. Depending on the market you are in the % increase will be significantly higher, ie. book sales, clothing sales and so forth. How can you grab your share of those purchases?

Increasingly consumers will be researching products, comparing prices and purchasing online. According to the 2010 Consumer Shopping Habits Survey by ChannelAdvisor, 58% of consumers are “very likely” to purchase gifts online, while only 41% said they are very likely to buy at brick-and-mortar retail locations. That means even if you own a physical store, you also need to be selling / marketing online if you want to stay competitive.

What tactics should you expect during the holiday season?

Email Spam

Heavily frowned upon by most professionals, this tactic is projected to rise by 15 to 20% according to Experian’s 2010 Holiday Marketer report and to continue rising since spammers don't seem to take the hint. They will be trying to trick people into replying to emails with the following offers:

  • Free shipping, rewards points, discounts or free gifts;
  • Refer-a-friend e-mails that include a link; (basically an attempt to trick you into spamming friends)
  • Reactivating inactive customers on your email list;
  • A call to action with a time-limited offer or a countdown to shipping deadlines.

    Some of the above ideas can be useful if you operate a newsletter that people actually subscribed to and want, so lessons can be learned, but don't bother spamming random people on the internet because it will just give your company a bad reputation. The Click Thru Rates on newsletters are significantly higher.


    A growing number of consumers go online to read other people’s reviews and ratings before they buy, online reviews on blog websites like Product Reviews Canada can be helpful for small businesses looking for success.

  • Add your business to local search sites like and CitySearch, as well as shopping comparison sites.
  • Monitor reviews of your product or service + respond quickly to bad reviews.
  • Link to reviews from your website, or post them on your site.
  • Hire bloggers to post reviews, offering cash, free stuff or discounts on services.


    The % of consumers who make purchases with SmartPhones is still small (13% according to ChannelAdvisor in 2010) but it’s growing among people in the 18 - 34 bracket.

  • Use location-based services like Gowalla, Foursquare, or Facebook Places;
  • Offering limited-time discounts or special deals to mobile users only;
  • Sending targeted e-mails or text messages to customers’ smartphones (spamming them is rude however!). Its better to do this for existing customers you are hoping to get a return visit from.

    Mobile advertising is still a very new market and its difficult to say how much it can expand because its a small chunk of the North American population that has SmartPhones / mobile internet browsing, but it is a potentially untapped market if you are only one advertising a particular product.


    The busiest day for online retailing in North America is America's Thanksgiving Day; Boxing Day is #2. More consumers start shopping for deals earlier and earlier (this trend should plateau eventually) and are very price conscious so continuing sales after important dates can pay off.

    Local SEO

    If your company is locally based (ie. Toronto real estate) then you need to be thinking locally when you advertise online. There is no point advertising on real estate websites that are overseas. Your goal should be to dominate the local market when it comes to Search Engine Marketing.

    That means advertising on websites that are either about your product or service, or similar to it, that are locally oriented.

    What you want is links to your website using keywords or combinations of keywords for that topic. ie. Toronto real estate, Toronto homes, Toronto houses, Toronto homes for sale, Toronto houses for sale, and so on.

    And on top of that you should be SPECIFIC. You want to advertise on websites about specific neighbourhoods that are close to your business. The names of neighbourhoods, streets, avenues, rivers, local parks, and anything in the region is a gold mine waiting to be exploited by you.

    ie. If you're trying to sell a home in Rosedale Toronto, you need to be advertising on websites about Rosedale Toronto. Even better if its a website about Rosedale Toronto real estate, although that may be more difficult because it might be a competitor.

    When you run out of websites that are local that you can advertise on your only option left is to increase the content on your website. In which case you have to remember that its the keywords and the quality of the content that will bring in the users.

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