10 Things You Should Do To Prepare Your Store For The Holidays

By Bob Phibbs

planning for retail store holidaysWondering how to prepare your store for the holidays?

The National Retail Federation reports 40% of shoppers begin shopping for holiday gifts prior to Halloween. Kiplinger predicts 2018 retail sales will grow 5.1% and deliver the best gain in seven years.

Further, 20-40% of yearly sales for small and mid-sized retailers take place within the last two months of the year.

So why is it so many retailers wait until it is too late to prepare their brick and mortar stores for the holiday season?

Beats me.

You can’t make intelligent decisions on the fly when you are over-caffeinated, you’re down two people, and you have a line out the door.

Here are 10 tips to get you ready for the holiday season:

1. Hire extra help. It may seem obvious, but September is when you hire people so you have plenty of time to assess if they are a fit for your business. Make sure you let them know that whether someone stays or goes in January is determined over the next several weeks.

2. Train everyone. Holiday help often gets less attention and that’s a mistake. Training goes much further than knowing how you should be greeting your retail customer. With more people coming through your doors, how your employees engage shoppers will make the difference between hearing I’ll take it and watching them take out their smartphones to purchase from a competitor. Here are the three most important things to train:

  • How to engage a stranger
  • How to sell your merchandise
  • How to spot shoplifting behaviors

3. Set your holiday store hours. If you’re in a strip center or shopping mall, these should be already set by your landlord; if not, demand them now. If you are a freestanding store, refer to last year’s hours but remember, the longer you are open, the more likely you’ll make more sales. Post your hours now in the back room so your employees know how to plan.

4. Set staff schedule around your busiest times.  You schedule for the traffic, then fill the need. The less shoppers have to wait, the more likely they will enjoy your shopping experience. Create the necessary shifts to create an engaging customer experience and hire to fill it; don’t hire employees then create a schedule when they can work. And don’t go lean - associates get sick, emergencies come up, etc. Bad customer service examples are littered with complaints that there was no one to wait on me

5. Make sales a daily focus. The best retail crews make sales a daily focus with a huddle before shifts start. Role-playing how-to add-on, the benefits of the most expensive items you carry, how to open a Window of Contact can all be done in a five-minute start of every day huddle. Make huddling a habit now and it will pay off big time in December. Remember, you don’t hire people for tasks, you hire them to sell your merchandise.

6. Plan out your holiday decorations. There’s nothing less jolly than going to retrieve your holiday decorations to find they are water-damaged, faded, or misplaced. Know where they are and add to them this year. The magic of strings of lights cannot be overstated. And don’t forget to place well-worded signs that help intrigue, answer questions, and entice shoppers to look, touch or hold.

At the same time, don’t forget your website. If you’re still showing summery prints for picnics, there’s no way anyone will think you’re a retailer worth supporting in November.

7. Develop battle plans. There are several situations when you’ll need to get everyone’s attention even if they are on the floor. Here are four plans you need to have trained:

  • All hands on deck. When there is a commotion or problem, you need a signal or word that says, Heads up.
  • Shoplifter. In 2016, $50 billion was lost due to shoplifting and employee theft. December is by far the costliest time for shrinkage. Your training should begin a couple months prior to the holiday rush.
  • Weather. When a storm hits, you must have a plan for how employees will communicate. If the lights go out, do you escort everyone out the door and lock up? Spell it out now and hope you don’t have to use it.
  • Out of stocks. Missed transfers and broken vendor promises both create bad will with customers. The key is warning shoppers of the risks of ordering and then communicating with them several times about their special order before it is due.

8. Create tips for holiday shopping. Gift guides are big business because most consumers don’t have the time or imagination to think unique gifts up on their own. Headings might include: For the college student, for the mom with young children, for grandparents - you get the idea. The more you can curate your store down to Instagrammable pictures and great descriptions of who each item is for, the more shoppers can look to you to fulfill their entire list.

For the shop-local, cross-promotion angle, you could include local merchants on a seperate page who carry items you don’t carry. Remember, you don’t have to commit to big publishing costs; you can just post on your website or send via email. You can also collaborate with your local business association.

9. Know what you’re going to be promoting each week. Here’s what I would recommend you focus on each week:

  • Nov. 12 - Holiday entertaining

  • Nov. 19 – Small Business Saturday, Nov. 24 

  • Nov. 26 - Uninvited guests / last minute invites

  • Dec. 3 - Shopping for mom

  • Dec. 10 - Shopping for dad

  • Dec. 17 - Treating yourself

And remember, your posts and emails don’t all have to be product, you can include a tip about how to make something for no cost or a great project to do with kids on a snowy day; you can even give space to a local non-religious charity.

10. Create a social media calendar and schedule your social media. Do this now while you have time.  You’ll want each post to feature one item, tell who it is for, and describe the benefits the item gives both the giver and the receiver. Be consistent with at least one per day beginning November 1 and add even more the two weeks prior to Christmas. You can also use Facebook LIVE video for all sorts of must-see tips to your followers.

See also, How To Visually Merchandise Your Retail Holiday Store Windows

In Sum

Kiplinger also predicts restaurant sales will jump 7.2% in 2018 – their best growth since 2015 – since flush consumers eat out more than cash-strapped ones.

Now is the time for you to make sure you have enough merchandise to cover expected demand!

And while you can’t predict the effects of tariffs and how winter weather might impact holiday retail sales, if ever there was a holiday season you need to prepare for, it’s this one.

Get busy.

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