Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time for small businesses to be acutely aware of the trends and issues that are shaping consumer habits and the industry-at-large. At the top of the list of consumer expectations for 2019 are convenience, timeliness, and personalization.

Consumer expectations are forcing retailers, especially small online merchants, to reshape how they serve customers throughout the shopping experience. Couple these changing consumer expectations with a shortened holiday shopping season where retailers have one less week to get customers the products they want when they want them. In order for small retailers to keep pace with major brands, it will be imperative that they put the right processes in place now to have a successful holiday selling season.

Here are five trends small retailers should watch to maximize sales and exceed customer expectations this holiday season.

1. Try Before You Buy Will Change Returns

Try before you buy is a newer e-commerce trend that is posing challenges to brick-and-mortar retailers and small merchants alike. Major brands like Warby Parker, ASOS, Amazon have taken the try before you buy model to the mainstream by reducing the risk of having to purchase an item without seeing it in-person and increasing convenience for customers by enabling them to try out the product from the comfort of their homes. In fact, millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers all cited not being able to touch or try on a product as the top inconvenience when online shopping

We’re seeing more established brands adopt the try before you buy model, which is increasing the likelihood that consumers expect to have the option of trying products and returning them before making a purchase from all online retailers. This trend poses a challenge for smaller retailers given the costs associated and infrastructure needed to ship and return products without the guarantee of a sale. However, to keep pace with customer expectations, small online merchants will need to provide these services, but find a way to do so without losing profits.

2. Almost Real-Time Shipping

Improvements in delivery times by major brands, like Amazon Prime and Target, has made online shopping that much easier thanks to one or two-day shipping in many locations across the world. And, this is a trend that we can expect to last long after the 2019 holiday season comes and goes. Nearly 20% of the youngest generation with purchasing power, Gen Z, note that waiting for products after purchasing is the top issue with online shopping.

As small e-commerce merchants ramp up for the holiday season and beyond, shipping and logistics must become a focal area so that the added cost of convenience can be taken into consideration before the onslaught of holiday orders start piling up. For many small sellers, fulfillment services from major brands and shipment carriers, offer the necessary solutions to improve shipping times without incurring exasperating shipping and operating costs.

3. Customers Expect Product Customization

For years, major retailers, like Converse, have enabled customers to take a staple product and customize it by color, shape, design, etc. to create an end product that is unique to the customer. What has changed more recently is that manufacturing technology is making it possible for retailers to offer customization both online and in-store.

There’s a big opportunity for sellers of all sizes to offer customizable products to stand out among the competition. Retailers can also charge more for one-off products to cover the added costs of personalization for a win-win situation: the seller makes a profit and the buyer receives the exact product they’re looking for.

4. More Merchants Are Selling Globally

The internet has given consumers more purchasing power than ever before. According to Shopify, 57% of shoppers who buy online today have made a purchase from a seller outside of the U.S. If I’m sitting in my home in Seattle, I have the option to purchase a new pair of sunglasses from Italy or order Swiss cheese from Switzerland instantaneously.

While the expanded market size for  online retailers offers a plethora of benefits for sellers, it also poses challenges. For many small businesses, this will be the first holiday season that they have sold beyond their borders, which means that they will be taking on the complexity of cross-border selling and the associated taxes and tariffs that come along with it.

It’s important that small businesses have the technology integrated into their selling platforms that can automatically calculate the compliance obligation they have based on where their customers are making purchases. Having this back-end capability will not only ensure that your business is compliant but also prevents your customers from being hit with an additional charge at the time of delivery for the tariff you didn’t account for.

5. Fraud is on the Rise

E-commerce sellers want to make the holiday shopping experience frictionless to ensure that customer experience stays high. While this seamless customer experience is important for merchants, it also makes them desirable targets for all types of fraud, including chargeback and gift card fraud, identity theft, and fake e-commerce sites. Investing in an anti-fraud solution should be at the top of every online business owner’s mind as they stock their shelves for the holiday season.

Small businesses should be prepared for consumers demanding convenience and options this holiday season. As we move closer to the unofficial start of the shopping season, it’s time that online sellers take a look at the technology they have in place to keep pace with consumer trends and exceed their holiday sales forecasts.

Amit Mathradas is President and COO at Avalara.

Holiday shopping stock photo by PH888/Shutterstock