All year long, retailers gear up for the customer traffic and healthy sales that are the promise of the holiday season. Experienced retailers know to display their new product early to give their customers a jump on holiday buying. They have learned the sooner they capture customers’ attention with a great selection of quality merchandise and exciting reasons to shop in their store, the sooner they will receive their share of shoppers’ holiday spending budgets. * Following are several early holiday promotions that can help you get your piece of the retail spending pie before it’s eaten up by the corporate stores.
Pre-holiday open house
Take advantage of the fact that, unlike the corporate stores, you can decide when to begin promoting your holiday merchandise. Many shoppers no longer wait until after Thanksgiving to begin purchasing for the holidays. A pre-holiday open house early in November will showcase the many unique and wonderful gift items you have gathered to feature in your store. An invitation-only, after-hours party is a great way to generate excitement among your eager, ready-to-spend customers.
First, encourage customers to attend your open house with a personal invitation. Let them know you’ll be offering light refreshments, door prizes, and special pricing. Incentives such as a free gift with a $100 purchase, or a $25 gift card when they spend $125, will nudge them to spend extra cash to take advantage of your offer. At Journeys of Life’s holiday open house last year, we offered customers a free $20 gift card with the purchase of $100 worth of gift cards.
Each year we plan a “Gratitude Gathering” to thank our customers for their support. The night before our Holiday Kick-Off party, we have an invitation event that offers our top 100 customers a 20% discount for that night only. This shows our loyal customers we appreciate their business and gives us the opportunity to capture early sales before our customers spend their holiday funds elsewhere.
Many variations on the pre-holiday open house are possible. Whatever you choose to do, make sure the event is fun, festive, and worthwhile for your customers and their pocketbooks.
Thanksgiving has always been my personal favorite holiday. Perhaps it is remembering the rival high school football game on Thanksgiving morning or the amazing dinner my grandmother served. Now, though, Thanksgiving for most retailers has become little more than a stressful start to a busy four weeks. Many businesses go directly from Halloween to Christmas and forget Thanksgiving entirely, unfortunately. Thanksgiving is wonderful holiday for appreciating friends and family, and it presents possibilities for promoting your store that other holidays don’t.
An easy-to-do, highly promotable Thanksgiving event is a food drive for a local food bank or soup kitchen. One idea is a “Giving Thanks” canned food drive the weekend before Thanksgiving. Simply put large wicker laundry baskets in a highly visible area of your store to collect donations of non-perishable food. For each can or box a customer brings offer a 1% discount on their purchases that day. You’ll want to cap the total percentage a customer can earn: A 10–20% discount is a good range to make this promotion appealing to potential participants.
Talk with the agency that will benefit from your food drive and work out a partnership to promote the event. Start the ball rolling by sending a press release to your local newspaper announcing the drive. Send out emails promoting the event and add news of the event to your store’s Facebook page. Give other businesses in your area a call to see if they would like to offer gift certificates as door prizes for people donating food at your store.
An event like a food drive garners great publicity and creates enormous goodwill. The organization receiving the donations will speak well of your business, and, most importantly, people in your community who are struggling and hungry will get much-needed support.
The 12 days of Christmas
Contrary to popular belief, The 12 Days of Christmas, made popular in the holiday song, are not the 12 days before Christmas. They are actually the 12 days between Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6), as recognized by many denominations of Christianity. The secularized celebration of Christmas—and modern marketing techniques—have led people to believe the 12 days are those that lead up to Santa’s arrival. However, in many cultures, the Yule log is lit on the first night of Christmas (Dec. 25) and burns until the 12th Night, a time for parties, celebrations, and taking down the tree.
My retail spin on the 12 Days of Christmas comes complete with a business-boosting benefit for your store. It’s a fun promotion, very easy to plan and execute, and it helps move inventory that might not otherwise be selling.
Every retailer can identify items in their store that just aren’t moving as hoped. Perhaps you have an overstock of candles that are too expensive for your customers. Or you have a shelf of crystals that have not found a home and they need to go before you order new ones. You may have ornaments from last year that didn’t sell in your after-Christmas sale and now are taking up space in your back room. Look around your store and come up with 12 categories of items you would like to move out of your store and turn into cash.
My strategy is to take the markdowns early, since there is no guarantee that you will sell the items this year unless you do something different. First, decide when you will begin the promotion: on Dec. 13 for the actual 12 days leading up to Christmas or for the 12 days beginning Dec. 1—either will work.
Choose one featured item or category each of the 12 days and put them on “super sale” for that day. Mark the items down to sell or do a buy-one-get-one free. Set aside space in your store, perhaps near the cash register, for your display so customers will get used to checking the same place for the bargain of the day. While in your store they will remember something they forgot to pick up—at regular price—and your full-price sales will increase as well.
Begin alerting customers to the 12 days promotion early in November. Ask them if they want to receive a daily email detailing each 12 Days of Christmas special and send them a quick email early in the morning on each of the 12 days. Create a Facebook store page, include a picture of the items, and remind recipients that once the product is gone, the special of the day is over. Garner interest in the promotion by not telling anyone what tomorrow’s special will be. You’ll know the promotion is working when you get calls asking what your special of the day is and when the selected product sells out by the end of the day.
By holding this promotion before the winter holidays, you will move more of your slow sellers at a higher margin than if you wait until Dec. 26. More importantly, this promotion will create a buzz in your store. Next year you’ll find yourself buying special promotional items just to use for your 12 Days of Christmas sale!
Come back soon
Most retail stores see their biggest number of customer transactions during the month of December. Those sales come from people who have never shopped with you before but just wandered in and liked what they saw. Your loyal customers will offer their support at this time, too. A quick and simple promotion that works for both kinds of customers is the “Come Back” coupon. This promotion will bring added revenue to your register in January when sales slow down after the holidays.
Print up a supply of gift certificates to use as bag stuffers for everyone who makes a purchase during a defined time in December. I gave a $5 “Come Back” coupon to all our customers between Dec. 15 and Dec. 30. My staff let each customer know they were putting this $5 certificate in the bag to use in January “as our little holiday gift, because we appreciate your business.”
This kind of gift certificate only costs you if the customer redeems it. It’s ideal for increased traffic in the weeks following the holidays, making your customers and your cash register happy.
Count on it—you will see a difference in your traffic and sales if you take the time and make the effort to promote your store. Great promotions will also be talked about in your community and will ultimately bring you valuable new customers.
First published in Vol. 26 No. 6 of Retailing Insight. © 2012 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.