Using a data-driven approach will help you find the ideal store hours for your local business.

One of the most difficult challenges for a local business is deciding which days and hours to be open. Even if your business has been open for years, it’s always a good idea to review your store hours from time to time.

It’s a difficult balance to provide the optimal convenience for your customers while also optimizing for profitability and staff availability. Too much experimenting with store hours can confuse customers, so a data-driven approach is often best.

Start by using heatmap graphs to identify when your business is busiest — or not busy at all. This example shows the 8-9am hour has the fewest orders, which indicates it might make sense to open an hour later.

However, looking at the same data from different perspectives can lead to a different conclusion. It turns out this business has many loyal customers visiting during that hour, and it consistently has among the largest average order sizes of any hour of the day. Based on this, it is probably best to keep the same hours — or maybe even open an hour earlier.

Heat map graphs are an ideal way to optimize store hours

This analysis also highlights an opportunity to grow this hour of the day. Every business needs more big spenders that visit frequently, so an ad campaign or promotion could be used to find similar customers early in the day.

Here are some tips for reassessing your store hours — or setting them for the first time if you’re just starting your business.

Understand Customer Expectations

At the most fundamental level, you should be open when your customers are most likely to buy your products. Cafes should be open early and bars should be open late. This is obvious, but some local businesses choose to be open when it’s convenient for them rather than for their customers. Unless you have a very unique product or service, it’s difficult to get customers to adjust their schedules to fit yours.

Consistency Matters

Ideally, your business would be open the same hours every day of the week. This consistency enables customers to visit your business with confidence that you’ll be open.

There’s also value in being open every day of the week, even if days like Monday have the worst sales. This is especially true if you sell products people buy every day — such as coffee. If a person needs their latte every morning, they are more likely to become a loyal customer if you’re open every morning.

Avoid the temptation to close early on Tuesdays or open later on Thursdays just because sales are lower during those periods. Instead, try different promotions or other techniques to build a loyal customer base during these slow periods.

Adjust by Season

If your business has a summer and a winter season, having different store hours for each season is perfectly fine. The same goes for offering extended store hours during the holiday shopping season. There’s a balance to strike between meeting customer expectations and maintaining consistency, and these examples strike a good balance.

The key is to analyze your sales heatmap graph for a specific period of time — such as May to September for the summer season — to see the sales trends that may be unique to that period. Looking at sales trends over the entire year may obscure some interesting insights.

The best practice is to have “standard hours” when you’re open year-round and then promote “extended hours” or “reduced hours” when there is a deviation. For example, if your apparel shop is open from 10am-6pm daily, your customer can count on you always being open those hours regardless of the season. But during the holiday shopping season, you would promote your extended hours of 9am-9pm for a specified period, preventing your customers from expecting you’ll always be open those hours.

Build Customer Loyalty

As in the example shown above, you should consider your loyal customers when adjusting your hours. Gather input from these customers to learn whether it would be more convenient for them if you opened earlier or closer later. You might identify a market opportunity that may not be obvious.

Remember: You don’t define your business; your customers do. You start a business based on what you think they want, but successful businesses evolve to become what their customers actually want.

Follow Nearby Businesses

If your business is located among other complementary businesses, you will typically want to align your store hours with them. This is especially true if your business relies on foot traffic rather than being a destination for your customers.

Google provides a great tool to see when nearby businesses are open and when they’re the busiest. Just search for the business name and Google will typically show the details for that business on the right side of the search results page. Scroll way down to see the Popular Times section. Note that this graph shows visits rather than purchases, but these metrics are often correlated.

Learn From Competitors

It’s helpful to look at the store hours for successful businesses that are similar to yours. The Popular Times graph might indicate they are able to attract customers at a time of day that you struggle with, so a deeper dive into their business (product selection, prices, location, etc.) might uncover some insights you can use to improve your business.

The idea is not to copy your competitors (store hours or otherwise), but to learn from their successes and failures. For example, if your business closes at 6pm but a competitor stays open until 9pm, check the Popular Times graph to see if they’re actually busy during those three extra hours. This is a low-risk way of identifying whether extending your hours might make sense.

When it comes to competitors, it always makes sense to look for ways to differentiate — and store hours are one way to do that. Opening earlier or staying open later may attract different audiences based on their buying habits. An extreme example would be a bar that opens at 6am to serve third-shift workers after their workday ends. Similarly, a coffee shop that opens at 5am will attract a different audience than one that opens at 8am. This is just one of many ways to differentiate your business from nearby competitors.

Gather Feedback

It’s easier to know when to reduce your store hours (i.e., close when no one visits anyway) than it is to know when to extend your hours. Besides the tips mentioned above, just ask your customers for their input. Keep in mind that a few anecdotes aren’t sufficient to make an important decision like this, but this type of feedback can provide valuable direction.

If your business relies on foot traffic, take the time to observe the area around it when it’s closed. For example, one small business was always closed on New Year’s Day. The owner visited the business that day to do some deep cleaning and realized there was a ton of foot traffic in the area. It has since become a very strong sales day for this business.

Next Steps

Make sure your store hours are always updated on Google, Facebook, Yelp and any other sites that customers use to learn about your business. There are services that will automatically update many sites for you (like Moz Local), but you can update the most important sites in just a few minutes. Just don’t forget because customers often rely on these sites to plan their visits. A customer who visits when you’re not open may not return.

Next Up: Increasing Customer Loyalty: 8 Steps to Grow Your Business

All screenshots are taken from Sprk™ using either fictitious data for illustrative purposes or real data used with permission.