One of the most difficult challenges for a small business is deciding which days and hours to be open. Many businesses have had to reduce or adjust store hours due to staffing shortages. Even if this hasn't affected you, 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 a sales heatmap graph to identify when sales are highest – and lowest – for your business. This example shows the first and last hours of the day are the weakest – especially on weekdays.Weak sales at the beginning or end of each day don’t necessarily indicate you should reduce your store hours – just as really strong sales during those hours don’t necessarily indicate you should extend them. These are important indicators, but not the only ones.Here are some tips for reassessing your store hours – or setting them for the first time if you’re just starting your business.#1: Understand Customer ExpectationsAt 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, of course, but some small 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 extremely difficult to get customers to adjust their schedules to fit yours.#2: Consistency MattersIdeally, 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 the products that 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.#3: Adjust by SeasonIf your business has a summer season and a winter season, it’s perfectly fine to have different store hours for each season. Same thing 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 hide some interesting insights.The best practice is to have “standard hours” when you’re open year-round and then promote “extended hours” when there is a deviation from these standard hours. For example, if your apparel shop is open from 10am-6pm every day, your customer can count on you always being open those hours no matter regardless of the season. But during the holiday shopping season, you would promote your extended hours of 9am-9pm for a specified period of time, which prevents your customers from expecting that you’ll always be open those hours.#4: Build Customer LoyaltyIn the case study on customer loyalty, there is an example showing a business that has limited sales from 8-9am – indicating the business could open an hour later without losing much in sales. However, customers that visit during that hour are the most loyal customers this business has. Opening an hour later to optimize sales/staffing would likely alienate those loyal customers. Just make sure to look at other key metrics beyond Sales (Order Size is another key metric) before making this critical decision for your business.#5: Follow Nearby BusinessesIf your business is located among other complementary businesses, you will typically want to align your store hours with those of these other stores. 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, as well as 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 down to see the Popular Times section. Note that this graph shows visits rather than purchases, but these metrics are often correlated with each other.#6: Learn From CompetitorsIt’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, so a deeper dive into their business (product selection, prices, location, etc.) might uncover some insight 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 8pm, check the Popular Times graph to see if they’re actually busy during those two 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.#7: Gather DataIt’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, you may just want to ask some of your customers to get their insights. Keep in mind that a few anecdotes aren’t sufficient to make an important decision, but this type of feedback will provide some valuable direction.If your business relies on foot traffic, take the time to observe the area around your business when you’re closed. For example, one small business was always closed on New Year’s Day because, well, it was New Year’s Day. But the owner visited the business that day to do some 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 StepsMake 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 that visits when you’re not open may not return.All screenshots are taken from the Manage My Business app using either fictitious data for illustrative purposes or real data used with permission.