Key strategies to prep for holiday sales success

Consumers are cautiously optimistic entering the 2010 holiday shopping season, according to the general consensus, so now is the time to plan for this all-important season. SNEWS offers up ways to develop your line of attack.

Consumers are cautiously optimistic entering the 2010 holiday shopping season, according to the general consensus, so now is the time to strategize for this all-important season, developing a plan of attack and contingencies in advance.

In its “2010 Consumer Shopping Habits Survey,” Channel Advisor reported that 43 percent of the consumer respondents said they think the economy is bouncing back, 38 percent think it’s staying about the same, and 18 percent feel the economy is declining.

Of the consumers surveyed, 41 percent said the state of the economy has not affected their shopping habits. Also, 41 percent reported they spent more last holiday season than the previous year, and 40 percent spent about the same.

“I don’t see a lot of retailers who have a shortage of traffic during the holiday season. Everyone has this pretty well at hand. The real problem is getting that traffic to convert to real dollars,” said Jeff McCall, senior vice president of strategy services for GSI Commerce.

With the stakes much higher for most businesses during the holiday season, McCall noted there is little room for error and very little time for recovery. The best plan of attack, he added, is to put a bigger emphasis on planning and contingencies, and lay them out in advance of the holiday season.

“I don’t believe there’s any silver bullets or epiphanies that are going to make or break (a retailer’s) holiday season,” he said. “It’s more an issue of, ‘Have we thought through everything we should have thought through in advance, so we’re not caught with our guard down?’”

He added, “The biggest mistakes I see around the holidays are a lack of insight, not a good enough job of planning or setting up contingency plans.”

McCall also highlighted understanding who is shopping your store during the holidays. The shopper who visits during the holidays is fundamentally different than the shopper who visits during the rest of the year.

“When it comes to holiday, you have someone completely different shopping, with completely different knowledge, needs and understanding of the category they’re shopping,” McCall said. “Some women know what’s in style, but may not know how to shop for their 6-year-old nephew.”

It’s important to isolate and analyze the holiday shopper each holiday season to better meet their needs, he said, stressing analysis of holiday purchase data to gain insight.

McCall also offered up additional tips to retailers prepping for the holiday season:

Lay the groundwork early. Develop a daily forecast for November and December to gauge your progress. Preparing in advance will help you avoid mistakes like not knowing quickly enough when you’ve fallen behind and not having a Plan B to execute if you do.

Connect with past purchasers. Use your marketing dollars effectively and focus on customers who have proven they will buy from you. Get on their holiday radar through direct mail pieces and email blasts, while at the same time casting a wide net for likely new customers.

Break through the clutter. Promote value by using more sophisticated tactics across every marketing vehicle you utilize, including triggered emails, direct mail and social media.

Develop a robust promotional plan.
Develop a solid promotions strategy and plan early. Over 30 percent of customers surveyed by began their shopping before Halloween, and only 7 percent report that they started their shopping Thanksgiving weekend. Don’t wait until November to kick off your holiday strategy. Have a solid strategy and plan for your promotions and start your marketing campaigns early.

Guide customers to the right product. When shopping for gifts, many customers often don’t know what to buy. Help them figure that out by merchandising a gift center in your store with special products, giving them prominence and easy access. Gift cards are also a simple solution for many customers.

Make the process easy. Minimize any and all barriers to let your customers know that shopping your store will be simple and hassle free, like offering gift-wrap services. A big obstacle to purchasing gifts is the fear of a complicated, inconvenient process in the event of a return. Offer customers complete and up-front information on the ease of the return process at the checkout.

Monitor and refine continuously. It is imperative to resolve any and every issue that might keep a consumer from purchasing now or in the future. The key is to monitor every aspect of the business and to react quickly in order to capture every possible sales dollar. Every issue that is overlooked or unresolved will invariably cost you money -- many times in both the short- and long-term.

--Wendy Geister


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