Anticipating retail’s busiest season Print
Written by Scott Etheridge   
Wednesday, 15 July 2015 03:00 PM America/New_York

How preparation in key areas can build your Christmas sales


Retail is busy no matter the buying season, but as any retailer knows, nothing compares to the Christmas season.

This year, retail sales are expected increase 4.1 percent over last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). With back-to-school spending—reported by NRF to be “the second-biggest consumer spending season of the year”—long gone, retailers are, no doubt, looking toward the most important revenue period: the Christmas season.

To take full advantage of this critical time of year, retailers must take several steps ahead of time. They need to evaluate their product ordering and merchandising strategies and assess their staffing needs to help lift December traffic and sales numbers.

Retailers need to focus on the following five key areas to increase their chances of having a successful Christmas season:

• Order placement
• Open-to-buy allotment
• Execution of sales plans
• Staffing
• Follow-up

Proper ordering begins with knowing your customer base and their needs. Who are your customers—what do they look like, how old are they, what are their prior shopping patterns and what are the new trends for this season? Most importantly, what are the requirements to meet their needs? Out-of-stocks should be avoided at all costs.

Proper open-to-buy begins with optimizing your POS system and using correct min/max levels. By taking advantage of the pricing, reporting and data accessibility features of your POS system, you can cut back on slow or obsolete products, maximize shelf space, clean up your backroom, eliminate out-of-stock situations and create sales-floor space. All of these combined will help make product merchandising a snap, freeing up your staff to attend to customers in your store.

Proper execution begins with both long- and short-term plans. Long-term plans map out the big picture and look towards increasing productivity year over year, lowering operational costs and increasing productivity. Short-term plans concentrate more on the here and now, maximizing revenue per square foot and building a positive work environment for employees.

Start by implementing these two quick steps today:

  1. Designing a floor plan for all Christmas merchandising materials, looking at foot traffic and ways to optimize your dollars per square foot.
  2. Informing your section leaders of the overall merchandising plan, including the quickest, least disruptive way to place and refill products to avoid haphazardly shuffling displays around in your store as product arrives or needs restocking.

Make sure everyone on your team knows the who, what, when and where of a season before it begins rather than playing catch-up for four months only to be exhausted and frustrated by Christmas.

Proper staffing is essential to capturing every sales opportunity. A successful retailer is acutely aware he needs to offer a pleasant shopping experience to the store’s customer base. With proper staffing, a store can be built into a community destination point and employ section leaders or champions who can be your biggest sales advocates. This also helps you avoid high turnover.

Proper follow-up is a basic building block to repeat customers. A simple gesture can go a long way to winning the loyalty of a customer. Last week the owner of my local Chick-fil-A took my order. He asked me what I wanted, and after I told him, he said, “That’s not what you normally order.” I was impressed for a couple of reasons. He doesn’t take my order very often, and he knew what I normally ordered. I walked away an even more dedicated consumer.

Building your repeat consumer base and developing your retail outlet into a destination point is critical to the life of any store. Customer interaction and follow-up are integral parts of this process. For example, by asking your customer upon purchase to let you know how they liked a book and then asking them on their next visit, “How did you like that book?” shows how important that customer is to you and that you are listening. It also provides much-needed feedback so you can recommend the same product to your other customers as appropriate.

In summary, start now with an action plan, order correctly and in the right amounts, execute, staff properly and build lasting relationships. Follow these steps and your store can have a successful Christmas shopping season.

Scott Etheridge serves as manager of sales development at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and is responsible for promotions and sales analysis. Connect with him on Twitter at @scottetheridge.