10 Tips for Holiday Merchandising in December

Bob Phibbs
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ostrich jacket

Holiday merchandising is always hard. During a pandemic with shorter hours, curbside pickup and threatened shutdowns, it can feel irrelevant. It isn't. You still need shoppers to discover more than they initially came in for.

Otherwise, you aren't scaling your retail business, you are just a warehouse to fulfill what people come in and ask for.

And with fewer shoppers venturing out this important holiday season, you have to do even more to engage and entice them to buy today from you.

A lifetime ago I managed a western wear store in South Coast Plaza, the nation’s number one mall, and I both embraced and dreaded December.

I embraced the holiday season because, as one of the highest paid district leaders, it was the time of year I could score big bonuses due to the crush of shoppers.

I hated the holiday season not because of the holiday songs or the traffic getting to and from the mall, but simply because I thought I had nowhere to put all the merchandise.

Now I can hear some of you... "Holiday 2020 is different with social distancing and lower inventory levels." I hear you.

But just like a comic can tell you some jokes you don't agree with or laugh at, you laugh at the ones that resonate with you, take what you can use right now and know you will be able to use all of them in 2021.

Now back to my example...

Here are several pictures from December that show the holiday merchandising of that western store at the time I received the highest increase in sales … and my highest bonus ever.

The following pictures illustrate the first three visual merchandising suggestions for when your retail store must be crammed with merchandise.

straw hats on jeans

Take a look at the picture above; what do you think I wanted you to buy?

Yes, straw hats.

Normally on a rounder like that we would have had a jean display and a shirt. But during the holidays, I had too many straw hats to fit in the hat department, and while other western stores had signs “Please ask for assistance with hats” or “Please don’t try on hats without a salesperson,” I put hats everywhere.

I wanted to catch the eye of the casual shopper who was maybe just looking for jeans and, by having the hats at eye level, I hoped they would put one on, laugh, and look in the mirror. Most times they did and then my well-trained sales crew took over.

Worked like a charm.

1. You always want to highlight certain merchandise to interrupt shoppers into considering something they didn’t know they wanted – especially at the holidays.

ostrich jacket

This display was in the first one-third of the store. Normally, because it was too hard to get to easily, this wall unit would have had just one hat. Not at the holidays! I used that space to feature one of our $1000 lambskin with ostrich inlay jackets surrounded by one-of-a-kind hats, boots, the works.

Up there in an unexpected area and spot lit, that jacket grabbed attention and also helped give us something to point out on our store tour. Those jackets also sold out twice in a month. 

I moved less expensive moccasins, belts and hat protectors around the featured display and you know what, that merchandise... crowded as it was sold well too.

One trend we are seeing in 2020 is customers focusing less on price but more on premium items.

2. Create at least one feature display in the first third of your store and move merchandise that can appeal to a wide group of shoppers around it. Make sure your crew knows how to sell from it and add-on.

boots + bucklesNormally, we had our silver buckles displayed on these two shelves with nothing on top. But if you want to build holiday sales, you interrupt your shoppers with something they hadn’t considered.

That’s why I lined up the $800+ boots in exotic leather that suggested that if you were looking for something flashy, you might like both buckle and boots.  

3. While we often create this goes with this displays made with average products, it is really important to picture the specific type of person who would buy the high-end category of merchandise and connect it to another high-end product and display them together.

I recently did a single day re-merchandising a country store in upstate New York

While your products will be different, I’m using this video to show you an additional seven down and dirty tips to help you merchandise your store during the holidays. Note they all begin with a question.

What do you want the shopper to look at first?

4. Decide what you want shoppers to look at first and put it at an angle to their path.

Are your fixtures forming barricades?

5. Break long lines of fixtures into smaller sections. Notice we separated the long line of four tables and put spaces in between them so shoppers could move more freely.

How can you combine items into a focused display?

6. You want shoppers to help themselves and build the bigger basket, so keep displays simple with just a few SKUS. In the video you can see it is several products all built around a pancake breakfast.

Can your shoppers easily understand what they are looking at?

7. Add signage or other clues so shoppers don’t feel stupid. Notice the edible clues we added to differentiate the nine nut butters. 

Have you stuffed merchandise into a cubby?

8. Merchandise sells better when you break it up - like I did with the cookies in the video. Adding height and some baskets to visually break up their sameness allows shoppers to consider the impulse buy. And if it can fit in their hand, even better.

Do shoppers notice your fixture or display case more than the product?

9. Angle your fixtures so the product is the showpiece, not the display basket or fixture like I attempt to show with the apples.

Are the impulse items the correct ones for this time of year?

10. Fill displays of impulse buys with products priced between $10 - $15. Keep the displays well organized to make it easy for shoppers to pick up items without having to think about the cost.

See also, How To Visual Merchandise Your Holiday Windows

In Sum

Why bother spending time with any of this? To chunk down your merchandise into easy-to-consider moments.

To build a higher average ticket.

To build the average number of units per sale.

To build your margins.

Now is the time to highlight your very best merchandise... like the lambskin jacket... and interrupt shoppers to pick up something they hadn’t been looking for when they entered your store...like the straw hats.

Use these visual merchandising tips and it won’t matter how full your store is with merchandise as it will be selling better than ever. 

I have a new merchandising course which comes standard with purchase of the SalesRX to help you learn how to properly merchandise your store.

Take a free trial of SalesRX online retail sales training No cc required


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