9 Action Steps That Helped This Retailer Grow 250% in Three Years

Jason McIntyre always loved Christmas. So when an opportunity to own a Christmas store came along in 2010, he immediately jumped on it.

Jason left his job as a software architect to own and run Christmas Elves, a retail business that sells Christmas trees, lights, decorations, costumes, and more. Christmas Elves started from humble beginnings, but it’s grown to become one of the biggest Christmas stores in Australia.

Even more impressive is the fact that the business has grown 250% in the last three years. Christmas Elves’ online sales have also doubled in 2016, and they’re on track to double sales again this year.

So how did Christmas Elves do it? We caught up with Jason and asked him to share the action steps that led to the company’s amazing growth. Have a look at what he had to say below.

It all starts with the right data and reports

According to Jason, having the right data and reports has been critical to the success of Christmas Elves. “I’m quite analytical, and the reports that I generate allow me to go deeper with my analysis and figure out what products to sell and what my customers really want.”

Below we talk about the types of reports that Jason runs, along with the action steps that he implements using the right data.

Running sales and velocity reports

“The first thing I look at is the dashboard,” says Jason. “Vend’s dashboard is phenomenal for getting a snapshot view of how today is performing, how the week is performing, and how the month is performing.”

From there, he says he drills down on sales reports for specific products and categories. “We have 41 categories of Christmas decorations, from trees, lights, costumes, nativity, etc.. The ability to have your head across all of those is quite difficult. Sales reports allow me to keep on top of what’s selling.”

Jason also pays close attention to the speed at which products are selling. “I call it velocity reports. I look at how many trees are selling per week, and track the sales progression overtime.”

Using reports to figure out what to order

As for how Jason uses those reports, he says that the insights he gains are often applied to product ordering.

“I have to place my Christmas orders in January or February each year, so we pretty much get one shot at purchasing. If I under-purchase and sell out then I lose sales opportunities. But if I buy too many or the wrong types of products then I’ll have to look into discounts and promotions.”

That’s when the sales and velocity reports come in, he says. By looking at when sales spike and which products are selling the most, Jason and his team can get a clearer idea of how many units to order. Jason says he looks at sales velocity reports for specific products and their overall categories, and this allows him to figure out what items to order and if there are any related products that he could purchase.

Jason also uses data to identify trends and determine what not to order. According to him:

“For example, there’s this trend at the moment where customers have moved away from buying white Christmas trees, and instead are purchasing snow covered or flocked Christmas trees. In other words, fewer people are buying white and more people are buying green trees with snow on them so it looks like a true winter wonderland.”

“Looking at sales reports allowed us to identify that trend, so we haven’t bought as many white trees and the ones we have are on sale.”

Action step #1: pay attention to your sales and velocity reports – Make sure you know how different products and categories are performing. Run regular sales reports and also look into how fast products are selling.

Action step #2: use retail insights to identify trends and make decisions – Figure out what to order by looking at historical sales data. Also use your reports to identify trends. Are sales for a particular product or category slowing down? What are shoppers buying instead? Use data to answer such questions and take action accordingly.  

Communicating with customers and understanding their needs is key

Advice on understanding shoppers gets thrown around a lot, but not all business take the time to do it properly. Jason, however, makes it a point to really listen and understand the needs of their customers.

“A few years ago, a customer approached me to say that they were really impressed with our store and product range. They also told me that they would like to see new things in our store.”

“That moment was almost like an epiphany for me. I realized that I needed to talk to more customers and understand what they like about Christmas Elves and what would keep them coming back year after year.”

Using various ways to communicate with customers

Jason uses various ways to chat and keep in touch with shoppers. He has face-to-face discussions and also has conversations over the phone and via email and social media.

“At times I try and walk through the store and see if customers need a hand. We have quite a few staff to do that but I’ll get in and do that as well. I also answer phones from every now and then” he shares. “And I definitely follow our social media discussions with customers. If someone is asking questions about say, a new Santa Claus product, then I take note.”

He adds, “Doing all that enables us to know what our customers are after. That, in turn, allows us to grow and provide amazing customer service.”

Educating and inspiring shoppers with great content

In addition to talking to customers about products that they sell, Jason says they also send out educational and inspiring content.

“Not only do we tell them about new products, but we give them information they might find useful. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? How do you plan your Christmas dinner? How do you take the stress out of Christmas? Also, what are the latest styles?”

Doing so, says Jason, helps them engage customers. It also allows them to put the spotlight on some of their products while providing genuinely useful information at the same time.

Action step #3: make an effort to actively communicate with customers – Talk to your customers on all channels. Offline, you can do it by walking around the store and offering some assistance. Online, you can communicate by monitoring social media discussions and responding to emails.

Action step #4: send out content customers can actually use – Don’t just talk to your customers when you something to sell. Take time to craft educational and inspiring content that they can use. Why not offer tips or tell them about the latest trends?  

They make shopping convenient and delightful

Customer service is also a big focus for Christmas Elves. Here are some of the ways that they make shopping easy and delightful for customers.

Having a simple loyalty program

Christmas Elves run an easy-to-understand loyalty program that lets customers earn Christmas dollars that they can use towards their next purchase. According to Jason, this program has helped them with their customer service and retention.

Customers won’t have to track their loyalty through physical cards. They simply have to be in Christmas Elves’ system to be able to manage and redeem their rewards.

“When we ring up a sale and the customer is in our system, we say ‘Oh okay, you have $23 in loyalty. Do you want to use it now or later?’ That information obviously makes our customers feel good. Most of them of them use it straightaway, while some like to collect loyalty for bigger purchases. But the fact that it’s so easy with Vend is such a blessing.”

Having the ability to easily generate receipts

Christmas Elves customers who lose their receipt don’t have to stress about it, says Jason. “If they’re in our system, we can easily look up their purchase and reprint their receipt,” says Jason.

So, in the event that the customer needs a new receipt copy, Christmas Elves can process the request without too much of a fuss.

Offering lay-bys

Another popular offering of Christmas Elves is their lay-by service, says Jason.

“If you want to buy a Christmas Tree, you don’t have to pay for it all upfront. You can pay for it over two, three, or four months. That way, you get a quality Christmas Tree without the upfront cost. Plus, you earn Christmas loyalty dollars once the lay-by is complete!”

Action step #5: make your loyalty program easy to join and manage – Make it easy for your customers to earn and redeem loyalty. Avoid rewards cards and complicated points systems. Also, be sure to remind shoppers about their loyalty points at checkout! It’s a great way to delight them.

Action step #6: don’t make them jump through hoops – Find a way to easily track customer purchases so you don’t have to require too much information from the customer. For instance, if you can easily reprint receipts, you’ll be saving them a lot of stress.

Action step #7: offer purchase and payment assistance – If it makes sense for your business, consider offering lay-by programs or other services that would make it easier for your customers to buy and pay for your products.  

How Christmas Elves doubled their online sales

Christmas Elves doubled their ecommerce sales in 2016, and they’re on track to double sales yet again in 2017. Here’s how they’re doing it.

Investing in product descriptions, images, and video

According to Jason, they exert every effort in making their product pages detailed and attractive.

“In the early days, we’d spend like 10 seconds to get a product online. These days, we’ll spend 10 minutes to make sure it’s perfect. We fine-tune the information and the quality of information that we put into every single item. We make sure information on sizing is available, and the quality of our photography has improved. And if we can have a video of a product showing its animation, showing the fact that it’s musical, we’ll do that.”

“Basically, we make sure that a customer has confidence in what they’re purchasing online.”

Here’s an example. To show off this Animated Musical Santa, the Christmas Elves team recorded a video of the product in action:

Implementing a compelling guarantee

Another way that they’ve increased sales is by implementing strong guarantees.

“We’ve got a delivery guarantee. If a customer buys anything from us — from a glass bauble through to a Christmas tree — and if it arrives broken, they just need to send a photo, and we’ll express post a replacement right away. Or, if the package gets lost in transit, we’ll send them a replacement,” he says.

“We’ve put these things in place to make sure our customers have a fun and enjoyable Christmas, because. The holidays can be a stressful and we don’t want to add to that. Our job is to try and make it easier for them.”

Action step #8: invest in online product presentation – Take time to really make your product pages pop. Put up great photos (and videos, if possible). Be sure to write original and compelling product descriptions, then add as many item details (e.g. size, weight, colors) so shoppers know exactly what they’re getting.

Action step #9: back up your products with a strong guarantee – Reduce or eliminate risk for your customers. Implement compelling guarantees like giving people their money back if they’re not satisfied, or offering to replace their items if they break or get lost in transit.  

Your turn

Hopefully, this post gave you a lot of ideas that will help you take your retail growth to the next level.

By the way, we’re still looking for retailers to spotlight on the Vend blog, so if you want to share your success story with thousands of readers, just get in touch! Send an email to francesca [at] vendhq [dot] com, and we’ll get back to you!


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+.