The holidays are right around the corner and that means that online retailers are gearing up for what is usually the busiest shopping season of the year.

This won’t be your typical holiday season, however. Although one might argue that the global economy is in a better place than it was at this time in 2008, times are still tough for a lot of people and that means that retailers will need to go into Holiday 2009 prepared for another challenging year.

Here are five tips retailers can use to make sure that this holiday is a merry one for the bottom line.

Pay attention to price

It’s no surprise but the Great Recession has put consumers in the mood to bargain hunt. That means that, in many cases, business will go to whoever offers the best deal. Obviously, you may not be able to offer the best price and will have to compete more on value (continue reading) but if you’re not paying attention to price at all, or doing enough to market your competitive pricing, don’t be surprised if you lose business to those who are.

Customer service: bring Your A-game

While customer service is always important, the holidays demand your
customer service A-game. After all, there’s a lot of competition out
there and if your customers felt left behind, chances are they’ll take
their money elsewhere.

Strong customer service can also be a key
differentiator if you’re a smaller retailer who can’t offer the steep
discounts that larger retailers can. Price is important, but value is
even more important. If you’re not competing on the former, make sure
that you’re highlighting what you offer in terms of the latter. For many retailers, stellar customer service can be the greatest source of ‘value’.

Reach out and reward existing customers

Hopefully you’re keeping track of your customers and reaching out to
them on a regular basis no matter the time of year. But the holidays
are an especially good time to engage existing customers. First, existing customers who had a good experience are
probably more likely to trust that you’ll take good care of them.
Second, if you’ve done the legwork and have built up a solid customer
database, marketing to existing customers may offer a viable way to cut
back on the expense of new customer acquisition, which probably can’t
hurt in this cut-throat retail environment.

To maximize the
returns from existing customers, be relevant and if possible, try to
reward. If you’ve done a good job segmenting your customer data, for
instance, consider using that segmented data to provide reach out to
existing customers with promotions and product recommendations that are
relevant to their profiles. Also consider what you can do to lure in existing
customers and make them feel special. Early access to holiday sales, for example, might be a good
way to show your existing customers that you’re thinking about them.

Don’t be afraid to start early

Many retailers are starting their sales early this year. For some, this makes a lot of sense and early promotions are worth considering. Do note, however, that early promotions don’t necessarily lead to early sales. As with anything, it’s all about strategy and positioning.

…or save yourself for later

Most of the time, the products that see the steepest discounts are available in limited quantities. That means many shoppers will be left disappointed and looking for alternatives. Even more importantly, retail inventories have contracted in response to the economy. That means that there could be shortages of certain products if consumer demand is greater than expected. In this case, retailers stocked with in-demand products as the holiday shopping deadline approaches could reap the rewards from last-minute sales without having to discount as much early on.

Photo credit: D’Arcy Norman via Flickr.