The holidays are a magical time of year. A time when people from all different walks of life and belief systems can join together to rampage through our nation’s stores, fighting over trendy toys and acting like their lives depend on every purchase. And if you thought last year’s holiday season was intense, you’d better sit down for this next announcement. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales this year are actually expected to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent. If you’re curious what that amounts to, it means we’ll hit about $682 billion, up from $655 billion last year. For small business owners, the holidays can be a make or break experience. If you’re prepared, the boost in sales can take you to new heights. For example, Google reports that a quarter of holiday shoppers make purchases from a retailer they’ve never used before. So there are lots of opportunities to attract these roving bands of money-wielding shoppers. Get them during the holidays, and you may have their loyalty for years to come. On the other hand, if you’re caught flat-footed, you could be torn to shreds by the throngs of ravenous shoppers. So how do you bone up for the holidays and ensure that doesn’t happen? Here’s a handful of helpful tips: Be ready for the full holiday shopping season According to Google, shoppers are starting earlier and earlier. For example, 30% of them start buying holiday gifts before they even attend a single Halloween party. Heck, about 10% of them start before Labor Day. Set your employees up for success Put yourself in the customers’ shoes, anticipating concerns and issues. Then train your employees on how to address them. And don’t forget to deputize your employees, so they can take care of many of these problems without always needing to escalate it to a manager. Focus on rapid resolutions Every year, about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Now think about how quickly we usually break those resolutions. Here’s an idea: apply that same resolution-breaking speed to the way you resolve complaints from your customers. They’ll thank you for it. Offer free shipping Okay, this isn’t possible or relevant for every business. But it’s a major way to attract customers. Case in point: the lion’s share of holiday purchases each year are of the “free shipping” variety. So if it’s possible for you to get in on the action, don’t delay.