American consumers plan to spend an average $935.58 during the holiday shopping season this year, according to the National Retail Federation. Of those consumers, nearly six in 10 plan to buy for themselves, at an average $139.61, up 4 percent from last year. That would be the second-highest level of personal spending in the survey’s 13-year history.
For retail businesses, the fourth quarter is typically the biggest quarter of the year. In fact, some retailers bring in as much as one-third of their sales from October through December. Is your retail business in shape to finish out the year strong? It’s not too late. Use this checklist to help end the year on a high note and position yourself to start 2017 strong.
Deck the halls
Although the holiday shopping season is only about a month long, holiday sales account for 19 percent of annual retail industry sales, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Don’t just rely on the calendar and foot traffic to draw people in. Imaginative decorating can set the scene for an exciting holiday shopping experience. Use lights, colors, props, and signage that tells a story and makes your business a must-visit experience, says Bob Phibbs, retail business consultant and CEO of The Retail Doctor in New York. “The more you can decorate, the more energy and excitement you bring to passersby.”
Prepare your staff
Having enough staff to handle holiday business and extended hours is crucial. But if your staff isn’t ready for the rush, look out. Make sure sales associates, including temporary holiday hires, are well trained and won’t fluster easily at the first sign of a crush. Start training new staffers on Day One, and keep it up throughout their tenures. “Essentially, management should assume every employee is perceived as a brand ambassador to their store,” says Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, co-author of Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business.
Reach out online
Just because you’re brick-and-mortar doesn’t mean you can ignore the digital world. Embrace it, not just as an advertising vehicle, but as a tool to communicate. Social media gives you a unique opportunity to connect with your customers. Make a real impact by providing meaningful content customers can share. For example, instead of just posting about a sale on accessories, create a short video that demonstrates five spectacular ways to accessorize a little black dress using items from your inventory. “Educating a customer about something in your store is gold,” Phibbs says.
Also, keep in mind that various social media platforms may attract different kinds of customers. “We’ve found our Facebook customers really engage when we post about in-store events,” says Anne Esber Bellino, Puritan Cape Cod’s marketing and digital coordinator, “while our Instagram audience is more interested in new arrivals or when we feature a standout style.”
Remember, shopping is personal
Connecting with customers on a personal level provides an experience they simply can’t get from online shopping. At Puritan Cape Cod, a 97-year-old family-owned fashion retailer with four locations on Cape Cod, co-principals Rick and Jim Penn encourage sales associates to “earn the relationship” with customers by learning their names, their tastes, and their favorite fashions. “As our grandfather, Abe Penn, the founder of Puritan Cape Cod, always said, we’d rather make a friend than make a sale,” says Rick Penn.
Stock up repeatedly
Once you get shoppers in the door, you want them to be excited about what they see. That means having plenty of inventory on hand, including classic favorites as well as the latest trends. Puritan Cape Cod uses a fine-tuned inventory management system to make sure they keep their stock replenished. “We have fresh inventory every week,” says Rick Penn. “We’re looking at trends, but we’re also looking for what’s right for our customers.”
Make shopping an event
In-store events create excitement and bring in customers looking for an experience that goes beyond just a shopping trip. “I always tell retailers to do one small event a week during the holidays and at least two big ones throughout the season,” Reyhle says. Puritan Cape Cod is planning eight in-store events this holiday season, including manufacturer trunk shows, a ski-apparel event, charity events, private shopping nights, and a holiday showcase with a VIP visitor from the North Pole. “Customers love having their family’s picture taken with Santa,” says Jim Penn. “Many of them use the photos for their holiday cards.”
Celebrate Small Business Saturday
Kick up the fun factor on Nov. 26 by providing cider and donuts, offering special deals, hiring a musician, or scheduling an in-store event. “This nationally recognized day applauds small businesses while also encouraging customers to shop small,” Reyhle says.
Highlight gift cards
Gift cards are the go-to for many people—in fact, 67 percent of shoppers purchased at least one gift card during the holiday season last year, according to NRF. Optimize gift card sales by giving them a theme and making them simple to buy. For example, pre-wrap $50 and $100 gift cards in Wonder Woman wrapping paper, and have signs presenting them as the perfect gifts for “all of the superwomen in your life,” Phibbs recommends.
No matter how busy your business is this quarter, be sure to carve out time to brainstorm for next year. Make a strategic plan, talk with your accountant about taxes, and set priorities for 2017. After all, Q1 will be here before you know it.
Finish the year strong and start 2017 even stronger. Maximize your investments, lower costs, and find the best cash management solutions that can help your business achieve its financial goals.