12 Secrets of a Successful 2023 Holiday Season for Retail Managers

Retail managers

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Taking on retail manager responsibilities is a big job at any time, but especially during the holidays.

Making many people happy during the holidays doesn't happen unless you have already put the effort in with your team.

In college, I worked nights and weekends in a department store. I was there for the guys shopping on Christmas Eve and for the after-holiday sales, returns, and exchanges.

Later, I changed jobs and quickly took on the retail manager responsibilities of a shop in the mall. My part-time retail job became my career.

I had no training to become a retail store manager and hadn't even been an assistant manager. I sold product really well. I showed up on time. I pitched in. I got good reviews and had loyal customers, but that work experience hadn't prepared me for retail management, managing people, or what the season would be like as a manager.

If that's you, I will share with you the 12 secrets of a successful holiday season. Think of this time in your life as getting a bachelor's degree in running a store. If you're a veteran store manager, these tips should remind you of what's about to happen and help you make your sales goals.

12 Secrets of a Successful Holiday Season for a Retail Manager

1. It’s fun, and customers will surprise you. You’ll meet the couple out shopping together, and the guy really wants something, but his wife will say no, then give you a sign, return to pick it up, and tell you after the holiday how surprised he was when he unwrapped it. Holiday shoppers can still be fun, despite all the season's stressors. 

2. But customers may lie to you. You’ll probably have at least one shopper tell you, “One of your salespeople said it was on sale for half-off,” and then make a scene demanding that price. Don’t automatically believe the customer, but never assume your crew is automatically in the wrong or publicly berate them. Go in the back and discuss it with the employee and then service the customer.

3. You’ll have retail employees who make your day. A young woman wanted to organize a Secret Santa for the store. I wouldn't say I liked the idea, but I ok’d it. The entire staff had a blast, and it helped make my December very special – even if I did have to sit on the mall Santa’s lap and embarrass myself by asking if he had a little something for me.

4. On the downside, you’ll have employees who may lie to you. I posted a notice in November that there would be absolutely no day-off requests, and if an employee weren’t there during the last two weeks of December as scheduled, they would be fired. Everyone signed it to say they understood. One of the best associates came to me the week before Christmas, saying her parents had purchased airline tickets home; she asked if she could be gone the last two weeks of December. What could I say but yes? My advice? Don't make absolutes when managing your retail employees, or you may have to eat your words...and work their shifts.

5. You’ll probably make more money. If you work at an hourly rate, there will probably be overtime during the season. If you work on salary, they'll expect you, as a part of your manager duties, to work overtime without extra pay, but there is probably a bonus if your store breaks goal. Money gives you the incentive to work when many of your friends are off.

6. Your family might lie to you. Working overtime means less time with those you love. If your family says they don’t mind, they may lie; people want to come together more during the holidays. Do something special when you can, like bring home a pizza, make cookies, or do anything that doesn’t involve a trip to the store or your smartphone.

7. Merchandise will arrive like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sure, it is a pain to have pallets of product to put out every couple of days, but it is just as much a pain to be out of stock and have to tell people over and over we’re out

8. Your black-and-white judgments will get cloudy. Make an operations plan to get the merchandise out as quickly as possible, pile it on tables, and overfill rounders, but get it out of the boxes so customers can buy it ASAP. Merchandising may have to take a back seat some days.

9. Weather affects everyone. The year I received the highest increase in sales at South Coast Plaza, the crew and I found customers in a rotten mood three days before Christmas—nothing we said or did was good enough. We heard from a few customers that it was raining, but we couldn’t get a bead on what was wrong until we got home and saw on the news that the rainstorm had flooded the freeways around the mall. Customers had a miserable experience getting off the freeway and into the parking lot. Cut your customers some slack; no one wants to be a pill.

10. Anchor the good days. You’ll have days where everything you touch turns to gold, every greeting is returned with a smile, every customer is delighted they met you, and sales are off the charts. Make sure you reflect on those moments at the end of that day. This anchors the good times, so it has much less power when bad happens.

11. Caffeine can only do so much for you. My crew used to buy the gigantic Cokes with endless refills from the fast-food joint downstairs. We’d draw straws every couple of hours to see who won the right to go downstairs for the refills. It wasn’t just the caffeine that made things better; the chance to leave and walk outside kept us from feeling like we were in some big machine toiling away with no sense of time. Briefly get out of your store when you can.

12. Maximize Click and Collect. BOPIS, curbside, and all the rest will be with us for the foreseeable future.  Be sure to call or text to confirm their order and say or text, "People who buy this often buy ____."  Amazon has taught us to look for those recommendations, but many retailers don't use them to their advantage. 

The best ways to enjoy this busy holiday season as a manager are:

  • Choose your attitude – You can make it The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year or Dawn of the Dead. It all depends on what you focus on.
  • Know your limits – You can do the work of two people, but you can’t be two people. Know when to say no.

  • Keep your crew up – Do something nice for your sales staff. Then buy a helium balloon and keep it in the backroom as a reminder that when it deflates, you must do something nice for your workers again.

  • Accept your customers - There will be days you love all of them and days they are all flawed, but the fact is, they pay your wages. Part of your duties and responsibilities is to teach your staff the skills to engage your customers and create a great shopping experience for everyone.

See also, 15 Things to Teach Seasonal Staff

In Sum

When January hits, and your retail store is like a ghost town, you will long for the busy days when you missed lunch, jumped up and down because you blew your store goal away, and made someone else's holiday.

That's when you start looking for new managerial positions for staff who pitched in and delivered excellent customer satisfaction.

Then, delegate some of your retail manager responsibilities to them so you can pursue new ways to make your sales goals.