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Black-owned small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly half closing their doors in the first few months of lockdowns. While some have reopened and rebounded, nearly 60% of minority-owned small businesses remained extremely or very concerned about the financial viability of their business coming out of the pandemic.

I can certainly relate. Having just launched our line of luxury, organic skin care products at Macy’s the year before, our small business saw 60% of our business virtually disappear overnight.

Fortunately, this holiday season things are looking a bit brighter. Businesses are open, people are feeling more confident going out and, even despite supply chain issues, the holiday shopping season already feels almost normal for many of us as both business owners and consumers. Perhaps that’s why I’m among the nearly 60% of business owners who feel hopeful about the next 12 months.

While things certainly got started much earlier this year, with Black Friday deals beginning in October, there’s still time for minority-owned businesses to capitalize on the renewed sense of hope and normalcy. In fact, now is a great time to leverage some relevant, new trends to grow your business and a loyal fan base this holiday season.

1. Deliver frictionless shopping across every channel.

After a 32.5% surge in 2020, eCommerce is expected to grow another 11.3% this year, but in-person sales are also rebounding. With the channel split expected to be nearly dead-even this holiday season, you can’t afford to favor one over the other — you must make it easy for customers to buy from you with a frictionless experience at every touchpoint.

Here at Apple Rose Beauty, we’re doing that by focusing on two themes for the holiday season: celebration and simplicity. After the last two years of stress and anxiety, people are worn out and the last thing they want is a holiday shopping experience that feels like a burden. To alleviate that stress, we’ve launched a new line of holiday gift boxes that take the guesswork out of gift giving. Available in four different price points to meet every budget, these gift boxes come already wrapped and ready to gift, and even include some special surprises. We’ve also simplified our holiday discount program, offering 30% off sitewide, rather than the more complicated value stacking we’ve done in the past.

By keeping it simple, your customers can get the gifts they’ll love without the stress, and they’ll remember you for it.

2. Continuous conversations set your brand apart.

Going into the pandemic, we already had a solid email subscriber base, as we made it a priority to collect email addresses even at in-person events. This allowed us to stay in touch with our customers during lockdown, even when they couldn’t come out to their favorite store or pop-up shop to buy our products.

But we also missed the instant customer feedback that you get by talking to customers face-to-face. So, we pivoted our email marketing to be more conversational. We asked our customers to reply to our messages and let us know how they were doing and what they thought of their purchases to gather feedback.

Mimicking that in-person conversational experience allows you to make a more direct connection with customers. They recognize and appreciate that you care about them and their feedback, and they feel a bit of investment in your brand.

This strategy helped grow our online sales by 300%, mostly from repeat customers. Because we kept them engaged, even if it wasn’t for the sole purpose to make a sale, they felt connected to our brand. You can use this strategy to stay connected to customers during the holiday season even after the gifts have been bought.

3. Be authentic and relatable.

With mass marketing everywhere, consumers can feel a bit overwhelmed by the constant noise. Recognize that your customers are human beings and want to feel a sense of connection to your brand and the people behind it. Especially now, when so many of us are craving connection and mental health is a challenge, creating an authentic and relatable dialogue can be essential for driving loyalty.

Just this past weekend, I received an email from a customer who had just lost her son and was struggling with the loss as the holiday season approached. She reached out and said, “I feel like I can tell you this,” and she shared her story. Because of our previous emails, I was honored that she felt that connection with me, and I replied immediately to express my sympathy and my prayers for her comfort. You just never know how powerfully your messages can resonate with your audience, so always be authentic and treat your customers like humans, not buyers.

4. Provide a bespoke experience.

Now more than ever, consumers want to feel like they’re getting something truly special — that what you offer isn’t a mass-market experience that just anyone can get. That’s why the holidays are a great time to update your messaging to talk about gifting not just for others, but also for yourself. We’ve invested a lot in messaging around self-care this season because we know our customers desperately need it after the stress and turmoil of the last two years.

In addition to offering them a pampered experience, we also reward our loyal customers with early access to new products, deeper discounts and more valuable promotions. This year, we’re also delighting our customers with surprises, like our new line of body care products that launched in limited-edition holiday boxes. Giving customers an experience that feels exclusive and personalized makes them feel valued, especially at this time of year.

5. Use automation to personalize.

Emailing individually with each customer to learn their preferences is certainly not feasible, but using email automation through ActiveCampaign allowed us to deliver that personalized experience at scale. For Apple Rose, it starts with our welcome series: we ask our customers to tell us what their biggest skincare challenges are. We follow up by sending quizzes based on their response and tagging them into different segments with each new bit of information. This allows us to create personalized experiences based on data we gather in a way that feels organic, but the automation makes it feasible for our small team.

As you transition through the holiday season toward planning for next year, craft a series of emails to ask customers what new products or options they might be interested in or even how they incorporated your products into their holiday celebrations. This allows you to gather insight — and perhaps get early buy-in for upcoming launches — so that you can better serve their future needs. 

The 2021 holiday season is a big opportunity to win back some of the business lost to the pandemic, establish your brand as innovative and authentic, and to build a loyal following. By using technology to automate marketing campaigns, even the smallest brands can connect with the largest audience on a massive scale to drive holiday sales and future brand loyalty.