Peak retail season is approaching, and while lockdowns are behind us, the financial impacts of the pandemic are creating new challenges for retailers. Rising interest rates, ballooning global inflation and a local cost of living crisis are putting the squeeze on business budgets, with many businesses reigning in their advertising spending.

However, while budgets are decreasing, sales targets are not. In fact, for retailers looking to put the impacts of the pandemic behind them once and for all, targets are as high as ever. Historically, Facebook and Google ads were some of the most popular and effective ways to push sales. However, if your retail business has a smaller – or non-existent – advertising budget this year, there are still cost-effective ways to drive sales.

Turn customers – and Google – into ambassadors

Even if you have a diminished budget for paid Google ads, you can still use the platform to drive sales and success cost-effectively. A Google Business Profile is often the first interaction a customer has with a business online. Google considers many things when ranking search results, but key amongst that is reviews. One in four Aussies will read a business’ online reviews before deciding whether to enter your store. So encourage existing customers to leave reviews – the most powerful, and free, form of advertising today.

Build the request of a review into your customer interaction journey. Incentivise them with a Black Friday discount or free product as a thank you for doing so. Not only will it increase the likelihood of them leaving a glowing review that their peers will see, their own loyalty to your business will increase as a result. The benefit of doing so is significant. Three-quarters of all clicks go to the top three to five Google results, so if you can drive a high quantity, quality and regularity of reviews, you’ll likely receive plenty of clicks through to your website – where you can convert leads to sales.

Optimise website to convert leads

For consumers today, if you don’t have a website you don’t exist. However, there’s a significant difference between a website, and a website primed to convert leads into sales. Think beyond the basics of a static website. A great way to do this is through a webchat function, which appears on your site and allows visitors to ask questions. Only two per cent of website visitors convert to an enquiry or sale, but webchat typically leads to a 20% increase in conversions.

When every interaction and sale matters, turn webchat into another sales rep working just as hard for your business as you do. You can pre-program answers or engage in a real conversation which appeals to consumers who value human interactions. Pre-programed answers can drive efficiency and help answer straightforward questions like your store address or opening hours, while a human response from your business can be great for answering more nuanced or personalised questions.

Focus on end-to-end convenience

It’s easy to think that, without advertising you need to bombard your customers to get their attention at all costs. That’s wrong; from the first interaction to the point of sale, focus on convenience. According to Podium’s Business-to-Customer Communication Report 73% Aussies blacklist businesses that spam them with inconvenient marketing. Email is no longer the most convenient option, with 46% of Aussies deleting a brand’s email without opening it in the last 24 hours, and 63% preferring SMS communications due to the convenience.

SMS has a 98% open rate and a 45% click through rate. So use text campaigns to connect better with customers and increase sales, send personalised offers direct to the palm of their hand, and segment customers with promotions designed to drive sales amongst your most loyal shoppers. When it comes to payment, the most important stage, 25% of consumers abandon a transaction if their preferred payment method wasn’t offered and 41% say payment flexibility is a key consideration. So don’t lose a sale at the final hurdle.

For retailers working with a smaller budget this peak season, don’t be deterred. Aussies love supporting local businesses, and through a focus on strategic and cost-effective investment you’ll be able to drive sales – whatever your budget.

Dave Scheine is country manager for Australia at Podium.