A Retailer’s Guide to a Successful Holiday Season

Ah, the sounds of the season: tinkling jingle bells, crooned carols, the whistle of a kettle, the crackle-snap of a fire. They’re all sounds we know and love, but for retailers, there’s a different tenor to the season: the bitter cries of desperate shoppers, the ceaseless beep of the cash wrap, and the weary sigh of dejected, war-torn employees. 

It’s officially the most wonderful, most busy time of the year for our industry, but these sounds and the season they represent are a song so many of us are reluctant to sing. Even though the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is veritable cash cow (er, cash reindeer?) for retailers large and small, it’s also the most challenging, patience-pushing, sanity-testing season. Customers are frantic, employees are overworked, and maybe, just maybe, you’re hoping to get a little time to enjoy the holidays yourself. 

In the mad rush to sell and celebrate, it’s easy for retailers to lose sight of what truly matters, namely, the customer experience. Just because there are more of them doesn’t mean your customers this time of year matter any less; they’re just as likely, if not more likely, to leave if they don’t get the experience and support that they expect. 

This holiday season, we’re asking you—as always—to prioritize the customer experience. We know that might take a little more intention than usual, which is why we’ve rounded up our top tips for making this month an engaged (and profitable) one: 

  1. Overstaff.
    If there’s one investment that will surely pay for itself this season, it’s staffing. There’s nothing more frustrating for a holiday shopper than not being able to find the help they need (except maybe a messy store). You can easily avoid both these predicaments with more staff. Ask your staff well in advance if they’re willing to take on more hours, and if you’re at all in doubt, hire seasonally. 
  2. Make sure your employees are (very) happy.
    It’s frightfully often that we enter stores during the holidays only to be met by dispirited staff. Exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed employees are incapable of providing a great customer experience—so make sure they’re not. Offer extra trainings to ensure they’re familiar with the product; give them extra breaks to recoup; if they request time off, let them have it; and make sure there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, like bonus commissions or an after-holidays party. 
  3. More managers, less problems.
    You can have a hundred staff on the floor, but if there’s no one there to lead them, your customer experience is still going to be lacking. Your employees look to managers for inspiration, energy, and guidance, and they need a lot more of those things during the busy season. Managers help keep up morale and keep your systems in line, not to mention, it’s so important to have a manager on hand—fast—when a customer complains.  
  4. Don’t forget visual merchandising.
    Visual merchandising is never so important—and never so tricky—as during the holidays. When gift shopping, your customers prioritize aesthetics; they want to pluck for their mother-in-law a neatly folded, top-of-the-pile sweater, not dig through a ravaged, wrinkled pile of clothes for someone else’s cast-off. When you present product prettily, your customers can imagine presenting it as such, and will buy unhesitatingly. With hordes of eager shoppers, your visual merchandising will need to be updated constantly to maintain those standards—hence the extra employees (see point 1). 
  5. Take the time to educate your customers.
    This is a point that’s particularly poignant for you specialty retailers. Unlike the other months of the year, many of the customers you get during the holiday aren’t actually fans of your sport or hobby; they may have never biked in their life, but if their brother is an avid cyclist, they’ll come to your store. Most specialty retailers make the mistake of not educating these customers, assuming it’s a waste of time since they’re unlikely to return and will blindly buy whatever you recommend. Wrong answer. Just because it’s not a personal purchase doesn’t mean these folks don’t want to know what they’re buying and why they’re buying it. Help them make an educated decision that they know the receiver will love. Plus, they’ll feel pretty cool when they can explain all the specs of the gift to their loved one, and they’ll likely recommend your store. 
  6. Increase UPT.
    Let us be blunt: during the holidays, wallets are wide open. Now, more than ever, customers are likely to say “yes” to the little add-ons and accessories that increase your UPT and profits. The best part? During the holidays, these little suggestions also validate the shopper, proving that you’re not just trying to speed through one transaction to get to the next, but are instead intent on helping them reach the peak of gift-giving success. 
  7. Make your products experiential.
    Like education, product experience tends to fall to the wayside when business picks up during the holidays. That means that you’ll really stand out from the competition if you offer a true experience to your customers. Clear an aisle for the kids to try out their Christmas morning bikes, let Dad take his new running shoes for a spin around the store, or offer to help the whole family set up their new tent. You may have a thousand other things to do, but they’ll never forget that you prioritized their experience (especially when it’s time to pull out the credit cards). 
  8. Patience, patience, patience—and efficiency.
    Take. deep. breaths. Inevitably, your customers and employees are going to be stressed. You know what’s going to make their stress even worse? Your stress. Instead, exercise patience and composure, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly the tone of the interaction will shift. That being said, your composure shouldn’t affect your efficiency; you can still do things quickly, just with patience.  
  9. Celebrate the season.
    They call it “the holidays” for a reason! We’re not saying you should turn your store into Santa’s workshop, but you should help folks feel festive. Play Christmas music, offer cider or cookies, deck your employees in Santa hats—whatever it is, get in the spirit, and the mood of your store will be instantly elevated. Happy customers are buying customers, so make them happy! 
  10. Incentivize their return.
    Many of us are already looking longingly toward the lull of January, but when those sales slump, we’ll wish for the fervor of the holidays. Plan ahead by incentivizing your customer’s return. Let them know about any events you have coming up in the new year, offer them coupons that start after the holidays, or promise them free set-up or installation for any gifts they receive that are in your wheelhouse. The holidays are the perfect time to connect with new customers and turn them into regulars. 

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