Wondering how to prepare your store for the holidays during a pandemic?
The National Retail Federation reports that 40 percent of shoppers begin shopping for holiday gifts prior to Halloween. Twenty to 40 percent 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?
Here are 11 tips to get your store 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. But even if it is November, you still can get ahead of it. Yes, there is a possibility Covid-19 will make curbside your only way of doing business but that just means your extra help will be able to handle those orders in a timely manner. Make sure you let them know that whether someone stays or goes in January is determined over the next several weeks.
2. Train everyone. Seasonal help often gets less attention and that’s a mistake. Holiday retail sales 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 strangers 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 3 most important things to train seasonal help:
- 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 time customers 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, and 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 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, offer gift ideas, and entice customers 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 2019, $61.7 billion was stolen amid rising employee theft and shoplifting. 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 of unique gifts on their own. Gift guide 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 customers can look to you to fulfill their entire list.
For the shop-local, cross-promotion angle, you could include local merchants on a separate 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 every week of the shopping season. Here’s what I would recommend you focus on by week:
Nov. 7 - Holiday preparation / entertaining
Nov. 14 – Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26th)
Nov. 21 - Uninvited guests / last-minute invites
Nov. 28 - Shopping for mom
Dec. 5 - Shopping for dad
Dec. 12 - Treating yourself
And remember, your posts and emails don’t all have to be product-centric, 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 for your followers.
11. Make the front of your store a beacon. Don't forget retail helps lift spirits. That means the brightest colorful lights you can string in your windows, in your store, and even across your streets. The goal is to make your streets magical. See also, How To Visually Merchandise Your Retail Holiday Store Windows
Now is the time for you to make sure you have enough merchandise to cover expected demand!
And while you can’t predict how winter weather might impact the upcoming season's retail sales, if ever there was a holiday season you need to prepare for, it’s this one.