Ask an Expert: This Holiday Season Don’t Fall for the Discounting Trap!

Share via
business mistakes

Q: Every year at this time we have an annual pre-Christmas sale and we have always advertised it the same way with great success – on the radio, as well as using a circular we mail out, and in our store. But last year the sale flopped and I had the worst season ever. So the question is, what should we do different? I am tempted to scrap the whole things because it’s not inexpensive.


A: One thing that is true in business is that nothing ever stays the same. People’s taste’s change, habits change, customers come and go, the economy gets worse or better, employees leave, new technologies emerge . . .

The question therefore is not whether things will change, because they will. How will you manage that change? That’s the question

It is so easy to get caught up in the hype – and competition – of the season that you are tempted to discount everything as a way of competing. Don’t fall for the trap.

For example, one thing that is especially important these days, and especially this time of year, is to make sure you continue to market your business in new ways, because people are not getting their information they way they used to. You need to be sure that your business remains in front of them, and that may mean radio and circulars need to be replaced by pay-per-click ads and social media for instance.

Relying on old habits when new and better tools have emerged is only one mistake small business people can make during the holidays. There are plenty more, that’s for sure.

Here then are the top mistakes that I think small businesses really need be on the lookout to avoid this time of year:

Discounting too much: It is so easy to get caught up in the hype – and competition – of the season that you are tempted to discount everything as a way of competing.

Don’t fall for the trap.

People shop with you for all sorts of reasons, and only one of those reasons is price. Of course you need to be sensitive to price, but remember that there are other things that go into the buying equation that are equally, if not more, important.

And this leads me directly to a similar mistake, namely

Competing with the big box stores: Look, let’s face it, we all love big box retailers for a few reasons, generally speaking they offer

  • Great selection
  • Competitive prices
  • Professionalism
  • Reliability

Sure, a small business can and should strive to be reliable and professional, and offer a good selection at a fair price, but expecting that you can match their price is a fool’s errand. Better: Make them compete on your field. Your friendliness, convenience, and personal touch can’t be beat.

That’s your secret sauce.

Relying too heavily on social media: Yes, social media is the new 800 lb. marketing gorilla and as such you need to pay it respect. But, that said, it should only be one aspect of your marketing mix. You need to avoid relying on it too much because 1) it can be very time consuming, and 2) that will shortchange your other efforts/options.

Relying too little on social media: The opposite is true too. I recently saw a stat that indicated that not a few of us now scan our loved ones’ social media pages to get an idea of what to get them. And because social media is now a main fact of people’s lives, it needs to be part of your marketing mix as well.

Not being findable online: Even if your business does not offer e-commerce, people will still find you – or not – online. And, if you are engaged in ecommerce, then the thing to know is that ever-increasing numbers of consumers are looking and shopping via their mobile device.

Combined, this means you must have a strong Web presence, and your site must be search engine optimized, full of key words and phrases and content, and findable. Being listed in Google My Business, and Bing Places is similarly vital.

Not giving or taking time off: If this is your busy time of year, it is understandable that you and your staff will be working hard. Just keep in mind that all work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, it makes Jill an unhappy employee.

So be sure that Jack and Jill and all of your team (including you!) get some time off to partake in the season.