Jingle All the Way to the Bank
While your customers are soaking up the last rays of summer sun and making sure their kids are ready for back-to-school, you’re already fast-forwarding to visions of snowflakes and festive giftwrap. It’s a retailer’s prerogative—indeed a necessity—to plan ahead for the holiday season. After all, holiday shopping accounts for between 25 and 40 percent of annual sales for most retailers. Just think about those numbers. No wonder store owners are so focused on the fourth quarter.
Taking advantage of this built-in boom time for gift stores is a must if you want your business to prosper now and through leaner months. You can do this by making your store a holiday destination, which can be accomplished in a variety of ways.
Can you say “sale”?
The obvious thing that attracts customers, especially in this economy, is a sale. But consider making it a major, planned promotion rather than a last-minute clearance event. Each week leading up to Christmas, you can put a particular type of merchandise on sale—a discount on books one week and on gift items the next, for example.
To take it a step further, try highlighting a single featured product in the given category for each day of the week it’s on sale, and promote it with an extra incentive—perhaps a free $5 gift certificate for the recipient when a customer buys the “Gift of the Day.” This kind of promotion not only catches the attention of your customers, it introduces your store to the gift recipients (potential new customers) and gives them a reason to shop with you after the holidays.
Another option is to appeal to different types of customers with tailor-made sale promotions. For instance, you could have a “Girls’ Night Out Sale” in early December and a “Boys’ Night Out Sale” late in the season, since men tend to shop for gifts later than women. Encourage your customers to complete Wish List cards (a rudimentary gift registry) that you keep on file, and to tell their loved ones your store is where they can find the perfect gifts.
Make shopping easy with creative displays
Not everyone celebrates with stockings over the fireplace, but customers are always looking for unique, fun little items to round out their holiday giving without breaking the bank. Create a stocking stuffer display with a sign that includes the price range of products offered. It may take some planning to find just the right small, inexpensive items. Check with your vendors and look through your current inventory for products that fit the stocking stuffer theme.
Many customers prefer to give multifaceted gifts, and gift baskets are the perfect solution. Create beautifully packaged, pre-priced gift baskets of your products that are ready for giving. Not only is this an easy way for customers to shop, eliminating the need for them to wrap the gifts, it’s a perfect way to showcase some of your best items.
Besides pre-packaged gift baskets, consider featuring a “Create Your Own Gift Basket” display of individual items that work well as elements of customized gift baskets. The customer can choose and purchase what goes into the basket, then you and your staff package it all together and give it a professionally wrapped look for free. The display can include bath and body products, small gift books, candles, specialty teas and teapots, incense, relaxing music or meditation CDs, journals—anything you carry that’s sized, packaged, and priced appropriately to be in a gift basket. You can even group products by color or theme (prosperity, relaxation, spa, angels) to make it fun and easy.
For customers who aren’t sure what to buy for friends and loved ones, gift cards and certificates are the perfect solution—and they’re a great way to both increase holiday revenue and generate business after the holidays. However, they don’t necessarily lend themselves to large or compelling displays, so you have to be creative to draw attention to them. Placing appropriate signage promoting gift certificates at the counter and all around your store is a must, but also consider creating a bigger display to generate more interest. For instance, if you have divination items such as pendulums and oracle cards, group some of them together and make a large sign that says, “Can’t predict what they want for the holidays? Let them decide! Give a gift certificate.” Buy brightly colored poster board and cut out large question marks to make the display playful and eye-catching. Consider adding value and generating even more interest by offering a discount coupon, valid after the holidays, to anyone who spends $100 or more on gift certificates.
Give a little, get a lot
In the season of giving, an ideal way to bring customers into your store is to show your spirit of generosity. Consider hosting a fundraiser with your favorite charity or one that corresponds well with your business. Pledge a percentage of sales from a one-day or -night event to the charity. Ask the organization to help you publicize the event and to notify all the people on their list. This helps your community while attracting new people to your business. Send a press release of the upcoming fundraiser to the local newspaper and broadcast media—you may be able to get the announcement published or even have reporters come to your business to cover the event.
Charity isn’t the only way to give back. Show your appreciation to your customers, too, with a program offering a free gift or a percentage discount for purchases over a certain amount during the holiday season. For example, you could give away a $10 gift certificate for every $100 a customer spends in your store.
Another option is to reward multiple visits and purchases, regardless of dollar amount. Customers and your staff can easily track the total number of shopping visits with a simple punchcard system. After the fifth (or eighth or twelfth) visit, the customer presents their completed punchcard to receive a free gift certificate, a prize, or a significant discount. This encourages your customers to come back again and again during the holiday season. Start the program early—well before Thanksgiving—so customers have time to visit your store frequently during the season. This is a method used by a variety of businesses (perhaps most commonly by coffee houses and espresso stands) and has proven to be a great way to build customer loyalty.
Hands-on service boosts sales
Gift wrapping is time-consuming for customers, especially when they have long lists of friends and family to buy for. Providing free gift wrapping is a nice incentive for customers to shop in your store. Consider offering warm beverages—set up a self-serve station with coffee, tea, spiced cider, or hot chocolate—for customers to enjoy when they come in to browse or while they wait for their gifts to be wrapped.
Great customer service makes all the difference during the hectic holiday shopping season. Be sure your staff is well-trained, informed about your products, and prepared to help shoppers make buying decisions. Creating feature areas with a few major items surrounded by complementary products can provide an easy path to cross-selling. Use signage and have your employees interact with customers to help them understand how the products work together. Even if you don’t display coordinating items together, your staff should be familiar enough with your inventory that they can recommend alternatives and companion products to customers on the fly.
If you employ part-timers during the holiday season, good hiring and training practices are even more critical. One way to attract the right kind of applicants and keep current staff interested in your products is to offer an employee discount. Often when someone applies for a position with you, it is because they have a special interest in your store. Anything you can do to encourage this interest and increase the knowledge of your staff will pay off in increased sales any time of year.
Spread the good word
Once you’ve planned the promotions and events to draw customers to your store, you’ll want to make the public aware and generate some excitement. Advertising in newspapers can be expensive, and in some communities, it isn’t a practical or effective tool. But there are a number of ways you can let customers know about your holiday sales and promotions that are far more cost-effective.
Create and print flyers yourself on your computer using holiday stationery found at most office supply stores. Start handing out flyers featuring your holiday promotions and events early to give customers time to plan. Be sure to place flyers in your windows. Ask neighboring businesses to post some of yours, and offer to post their flyers in return. Take it a step further and establish a special neighborhood shopping event for stores in your area. What better time than the holidays to create a sense of community with fellow store owners and customers?
If you have a number of events planned during the season, create a calendar to print out and give customers, as well. In addition, be sure to note all promotions and events in your online events calendar, e-newsletter, and social media sites.
Get your staff involved in the marketing effort by creating business cards for each employee to hand out to everyone they know or meet. Use the back of the card both to announce holiday events and serve as a percentage-off coupon or as a ticket for a prize drawing. You’ll be able to track which staff member brings in the most customers when the coupons or tickets are redeemed. By offering your staff a bonus or gift for bringing in the most customers, you create a feeling of friendly competition that adds to the fun for the staff. Just have the customer sign the back of the card and include a telephone number and email address.
Set a festive mood everyone can enjoy
Inexpensive twinkling lights, a small Christmas tree, a lighted menorah, or even glittery paper snowflakes help create a warm and festive atmosphere and keep customers in your store longer. Also remember to keep upbeat music playing softly in the background. Studies have shown playing Christmas music can keep customers in a store 22% longer than no music at all.
If you have a front-facing window, decorate it in an inviting way that demonstrates you have something to offer all religions. Don’t forget—Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice also occur in December. Don’t lose sight of your many important customers from all faiths during this season.
As you begin planning for your holiday sales, take a moment to remember the significance of the season. Whatever your personal faith or belief, this is a magical time of year that expresses love, charity, and joy. Make your store part of the celebration.
First published in Vol. 26 No. 6 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.