It’s September once again, and for many retailers, this only means one thing: time to gear up for the holidays.
Whether you’re still in the middle of planning how to kill it next season or you’re already putting the finishing touches on your preparations, we thought we’d offer some friendly reminders of the things you need to think about in the coming weeks.
Here are four all-important questions you should ask yourself when evaluating your holiday strategies. Go through the points, answer them truthfully, and then improve your game plan accordingly.
Is your shop prepared to handle the holiday rush?
Evaluate various components of your store and take the necessary steps to ensure that your business can handle the added demand this holiday season. Some of the things you should look at include:
Inventory—Anticipating demand can be tricky. On one hand, it’s important to stock up on the right merchandise to avoid dealing with out-of-stock issues, but on the other, you don’t want to overestimate demand and get stuck with too much inventory.
That’s why it’s important to look at your sales data and figure out which items you should stock up on. Take a look at your sales from last year as well as in the last few months and use that data to forecast demand.
Do note that sales shouldn’t be the only factor to consider when calculating holiday demand. Additional variables, including the weather, consumer confidence, the political climate, consumer debt, and other economic indicators can affect the shopping behavior of your customers, so take these things into account as well.
In any case, it’s best to anticipate demand as early as possible. Ideally, you should have a solid idea of which products to stock up on by the end of September. The last thing you want is to respond to demand changes and deal with inventory headaches when the holidays are in full swing.
Workforce—Can your existing employees handle the holiday rush, or will you need to hire additional help? If it’s the latter, get those people on board a couple of weeks before the Christmas season. As Melanie Nuce, vice president of apparel and general merchandise for GS1 US noted in Supply & Demand Chain Executive:
Most retailers need a 15-day ramp-up when bringing on holiday help. Since it takes a couple of weeks to onboard someone and train them, you have to have a strategy to account for the slowdown in volume and operations to bring on those new team members. Have that plan in place well ahead of the time you actually see the increase in demand. Staffing is critical, so know when your busiest time is coming and have those people hired. For the holidays, it should be before Nov. 1.
Ecommerce—See to it that your website can handle the surge of traffic that the holiday season will bring. Test various aspects of your online store, including load time and checkout speed, and try to get your numbers down as low as you possibly can. If you’re not satisfied with the speed of your site, talk to your hosting company and see how you can improve for the holidays.
Remember, every second counts when it comes converting online users. Forty-seven percent of consumers expect a page to load within two seconds or less, and 40% of users abandon a page if it takes more than three seconds to load.
What types of content, offers, and promos will you run?
Now is the time to finalize your promotional calendar. We’re sure you already have some ideas to engage and entice holiday shoppers, but here are a few suggestions and reminders to help you spice things up:
Pre-holiday clearance sales—Consider launching a pre-holiday clearance sale sometime in October so you can unload last season’s merchandise and make room for holiday items.
Holiday catalogs—Digital may be on the rise, but catalogs are still an important part of the marketing mix for many retailers. In 2012, the Direct Marketing Association found that over 12.5 billion catalogs were mailed out to homes and more than 89.6 million Americans bought an item from a catalog during that time.
Holiday gift guides—Create a holiday guide with your product recommendations. Take the opportunity to plug your own merchandise into the guide, but make sure you’re also adding real value by providing helpful ideas and advice.
Post-Thanksgiving events—Do you have anything planned for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday? Finalize them and schedule any announcements and reminders accordingly.
As the dates near, be sure to announce upcoming events online, set up signs in-store, and casually tell your customers about what you have going on after Thanksgiving. If your business is participating in Small Business Saturday, for example, take advantage of the free marketing materials from American Express and use their customizable store signs, banners, and email templates to spread the word about your business.
Personalized products—Let your customers add a personal touch to the products they buy from you. You can offer to engrave products or simply provide customizable labels. Consider what Zazzle is doing. The e-tailer offers Christmas wine labels so shoppers can personalize their gifts.
Holiday countdowns—Always a popular tactic during the holidays, launching a countdown gives you the chance to interact with your customers and bring attention to various aspects of your business.
You can, for example, promote one of your products for each day of the countdown like Tiffany & Co. did last year, or you can use the countdown to put the spotlight on your employees or even your customers.
We did something similar last year on the Vend blog when we launched our 12 Tips of Christmas series featuring a different Vend retailer every day.
Charitable initiatives—It is, after all, the season of giving. See if you can tie charitable efforts into your holiday campaigns.
Gift-wrapping services—This is a great add-on or complimentary service to offer in your stores. Shoppers are extremely busy this time of year, and they’ll appreciate having one less thing to worry about when shopping for presents.
How fast can you get merchandise to customers?
Efficient order fulfillment is important all year round, but during the holidays, it becomes a make-or-break factor. Plan your fulfillment process early, and find ways to get products into the hands of customers as quickly as possible (bonus points if you can lower costs).
If you have an ecommerce site, for example, you may want to implement click-and-collect services so shoppers have the option to pick up their items at your store or at a nearby service center.
You may also want to create a shipping guide that details when shoppers should order their products if they want to receive them by a specific date. Have a look at what Apple did for Mother’s Day (screen shot above) and see whether you can do something similar for your store.
If you’re running a brick-and-mortar store, do you have a game plan for how you’re going to fulfill customers’ needs if you don’t have the items at your location? Perhaps you can arrange pickups at other branches or have the items shipped to your customers once their items become available.
How can you get to know customers better this season?
Don’t forget about data and analytics during the holiday season. The next few months are sure to bring in more traffic to your store, which means that you’ll have additional opportunities to gather data on people’s shopping behavior and trends. Having that information will enable you to get to know your customers even more, so you can craft better campaigns, tailor experiences, and improve customer service.
Look into different analytics solutions that you can use in your store. You have plenty of options, including people counters, mobile tracking, beacons, and more. Check out our post on foot traffic analytics to learn more about the data tools available to you.
What steps do you take to prepare for the holidays? Let us know in the comments.
Image credit: Martin Pettitt on Flickr
About Francesca Nicasio
Francesca Nicasio is Vend's Retail Expert and Content Strategist. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that enable retailers to increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall. She's also the author of Retail Survival of the Fittest, a free eBook to help retailers future-proof their stores. Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+.