Early Holiday Planning: How Retailers Can Get a Jump Start on the Busiest Season

This is a post by Alexandra Sheehan.

Summer’s not even over yet, but forward-thinking retailers are already looking at year-end goals and, more importantly, the holiday shopping season. And it’s a smart play; the more prepared you can be, the smoother and profitable the holiday season.

For the 2017 holiday season, consumers spent more than $680 billion in retail stores — it’s a spending holiday you definitely want to capitalize on.

So if you’re prepping for the holidays this August and September, we’ve put together a guide so you can get your ducks in a row ahead of time.

Create a plan

Your first task? To create a list of more tasks, essentially. Though the holiday season may span just November and December for shoppers, for retailers, preparations for the holidays begin months before. It’s helpful to outline your plan for the season, starting now and going through to at least the beginning of January (during the flood of returns and post-holiday mop-up sales).

“Sit down with a calendar and map out your holiday season,” says Amy Wenslow, founder and CEO of Products to Profits. Outline key milestones and associated dates, plus any task owners. Distribute this information to affected team members. This will keep everyone on the same page and accountable for their responsibilities. And when you fall behind schedule, you’ll more easily be able to adjust the rest of your plan as needed.

Wenslow also recommends getting employees involved in some part of the planning process. “We’ve found the plan will be more successful if you involve them by at least asking a few key teammates what they think about the plan,” she says. “These types of questions will help get you started.”

Here are some questions Wenslow suggests asking:

  • When do you need to receive any new merchandise to reset your in-store displays
  • When and which ad campaigns do you want to run?
  • When do you need to train staff?
  • Which special events or trunk shows are on the schedule? How will you be using marketing campaigns to advertise promotions and events?

Have years of past holiday data to use in your planning process? It can definitely help, but remember that every year is different for a number of factors, both in and out of your control. “Don’t fall into the trap of complacency and thinking how you’ve done it before will work again,” says Wenslow. “Look [at your plan] with fresh eyes, since the retail landscape is always changing.”

Look at your data

Analyze historical data

On the note of looking at past years’ holiday seasons to aid in the planning process, you can, and should, consider other data too. “Do a SWOT analysis,” Wenslow says. “Figure out your strengths and weaknesses now so you can take action to plug holes and seek out opportunities like building your social media following or getting media mentions.”

For brick-and-mortar stores, there are many insights in your foot traffic data, and this information should guide where you place promotional merchandise. “Look at the physical traffic pattern inside and outside of your location,” says Wenslow. “Freshness can encourage browsing and higher cart totals — just make sure it works for your flow.”

Collect new data

Beyond your past data, you’ll want to make sure your future data is set up too. The holiday season is a high-volume period for retailers, and that means LOTS of opportunities to gather shopper information. If you’re not collecting that data, or worse, you’re collecting incorrectly, then you’re missing out on major opportunities that can help your business year round.

“One of the most important things a retailer can do to gear up for the holiday season is getting a good handle on their data and making sure they’re able to effectively track and report on their sales during the busiest time of the year,” says Abby Perkins, director, content & communications at Glew.io. “Late summer/early fall is really the best time to get your data in order.”

How can you do this? First, test your existing analytics tools. This includes in-store data, like your point-of-sale (POS) data or foot traffic analytics, and online data, like Google Analytics or marketing platforms. If something’s amiss, find the source and resolve it.

Once everything checks out, look at the data you have and identify any holes. Are you able to answer all of the postmortem questions you want to ask? If not, list the unanswered questions and look for new solutions. “If necessary, invest in new tools [early enough] so you can make sure you’re onboarded and using them effectively by the time the holidays roll around,” Perkins says.

Vend Tip

Are you a Vend user? You can easily access all your sales and inventory data using the software’s retail reporting features.

Learn More

Holiday sales and promotions

With the busiest selling season of the year also comes lots of competition, especially as it comes to promotions. Consumers expect serious savings, especially on the infamous shopping days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (if you have an online store).

Your holiday-planning process should include which promotions, sales and offers you’ll run, as well as how you’re going to use marketing and advertising to spread the word about them.

Marketing and advertising can happen just as much in your store as much as it does outside.  “When prepping for the holiday season, your No. 1 focus has to be the merchandise,” Kyle Baptist, founder and CEO of Marconi’s Beach Outfitters and Rules To Retail Consulting, says. “Customers are coming to your shop looking for the season’s hot item or to be wowed into making a purchase.”

Visual merchandising plays a core role in the in-store experience, and it can help you increase sales when done properly. It’s important that the in-store experience is synonymous with what shoppers see online. You’ll want to use online initiatives to set expectations and your shop to meet them.

Need more ideas on what you can do in-store during the holiday season? Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, shares some great insights in his expert webinar, How to Turn Lookers into Buyers This Holiday SeasonWatch it on demand below:

Forecast for demand

Forecasting accurately for the holidays is crucial, and it can make or break your season regardless of how effective your promotions are. Overstocking can leave you left with a lot of unsellable merchandise after the busy season, and by the time January rolls around, it’s last year’s stuff. On the flipside, you could also run into out-of-stocks.

“If you run out of an item midway through the holiday season, it’s too late to bring the item back in. This equates to lost revenue and unhappy customers,” says Baptist. “The worst case scenario is if you’re out of a specific item the customer needs and they choose to shop somewhere else for everything.”

While forecasting accuracy is important all the time, it’s especially impactful during the holidays. There are 34% more shopping-related searches on Christmas Day than on Black Friday, according to Google. That puts retailers in a unique position to be a solution during an extremely stressful time.

“Your store can save the day,” says Baptist. “The other stores that didn’t manage their inventory correctly have run out of merchandise, and it’s your time to capitalize. Customers will remember that you always have the item they want.”

For a truly data-driven approach, Baptist checks their POS to see which items are most popular and stocks up extra on those products. He also runs promotions on top items, which is a surefire way to get customers to your store.

“We use Vend POS and it helps us tremendously.”

Vend Tip

If you’re a Vend user, be sure to take advantage of our built-in promotions features, which let you run offers like percentage discounts, dollar off sales, and more.

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Seasonal staffing

Let’s talk about seasonal staffing. During such a high-volume period, you’ll need to staff up with some new temporary team members to help get through the busy push. Start off by offering extra shifts to your current employees. Gauging that interest will help you determine how many new hires you have to make. Once you know that number, you’ll want to get a head start on recruiting some new team members.

When it comes to writing the job ad, you’ll want to be as specific as possible about your needs. This will help set accurate expectations and ensure you only get qualified, interested applicants.

When hiring seasonally, you’ll want to get a little creative when it comes to promoting the ad. While listing the position on sites like Craigslist or Monster is a good way to go, you’re also competing with tons of other retailers looking for the same kinds of candidates. Place signage in-store, ask your best customers, inquire with local schools, refer to past seasonal employees, and offer a bonus for current employee referrals.

Once you’ve vetted candidates and gone through interviews, you’ll want to let the successful applicants know as soon as you can so you can secure their commitment. Ask them how many hours they’d like, what types of shifts, and which days, and try to accommodate everyone. Remember, there are lots of seasonal jobs out there, and it can be easy for them to quit and jump to another position.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out Vend’s guide to increasing sales. This handy resource offers 10 proven tactics for boosting retail sales and improving your bottom line.

Specifically, you will:

  • Discover how to turn savvy shoppers into loyal customers
  • Learn how to add real and perceived value to each sale
  • Discover the most effective ways to set yourself apart from your competitors

    Learn More

How do you plan for the holidays?

How early do you start planning for the holiday season? What’s the first thing you do to prep?