The holidays.

A time for great food, gifts, and rest and relaxation.

Unless you’re a retailer.

For retailers, it’s more accurate to sum it up as stress, stress, and more stress.

For many retailers, the holiday season is a rush of inventory, merchandising, and sales.

Everything seems to move so fast and more and more stores seem to be stocking their holiday inventory before Halloween even rolls around.

What’s a retailer to do? Just how do you survive the rush without getting swept away in a sea of orders and panic? We’ve pulled together advice from our retailers to help you make it through.

christmas retail

1. Don’t try to win every big date during the holiday season

Halloween. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Hanukah.

As an independent retailer, it’s likely that you’ve only got a small team. You may even be the whole team – and your attention is already split countless ways.

You’re probably not going to be able to win every holiday or key date – so you have two options: spread yourself thin across all of them or make one or two a core focus. You’ll also need to consider your fulfillment chain and how you sell – are you online, brick and mortar, or both?

Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) are particularly big for online deals, but there’s still room to run a great in-store promotion.

Whichever you choose, make sure your customers know about it. Use your store space to advertise any deals and send out newsletters or emails to relevant customers.

You can consider spending money on online ads, but lots of retailers will be doing it too – on Facebook, for example, ad space can be really expensive around this time of year as everyone is advertising on there – so you’ll need to consider if it’s worth it.

people in mall

Perhaps try running a small test and taking it from there.

Ultimately, many shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday have one thing in mind: get the deal as cheaply as possible. They’re often brand agnostic: they don’t care who they buy from.

Consider instead really upping the ante on the shopping experience in your store. The holiday season has a very specific energy. While big chain stores might be thronged with people to the point of claustrophobia, why not go the opposite and create an in-store experience that soothes?

You may not get as many shoppers through the door, but those who come in will be more likely to come back in the future.

In a simple example, Pointy retailer Global Pet Foods runs an on-brand (and very cute) “customer appreciation” costume competition at Halloween. On the day, customers bag a bargain by saving on tax on any purchases, while the store generates buzz from its customers posting photos of the competition.

To top it off, for Christmas 2018, it ran a charity ‘selfies with Santa’ experience for pet owners, paired with apple cider and homemade treats.

Both events brought customers in-store, were low-cost, and effective.

2. Use all the data you have to maximize your inventory for the holidays

Order early and order smartly.

The last thing you want is to end up in a position where you’ve got excess inventory that won’t sell.

Demand forecasting is vitally important – but it can be hard if you don’t have a lot of data or if you’re still tracking on spreadsheets. Step one is to look at your historical sales data and any trends you’re witnessing to gauge how much stock you might need.

If you use a POS software such as Lightspeed, Square, Clover, or Vend, you’ll have access to detailed sales report and historic data. This way, you can see the hard numbers for how your store performed.

Consider any skewed data or external forces too – for example, maybe a product didn’t perform because of a manufacturer callback or maybe sales were down due to bad weather or a traffic jam.

Also consider research from associations or relevant research groups. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner or Google Trends can also give you data on products people are actively searching for. Think of it as a two-step process: find related keywords for products in your area with Keyword Planner and use Google Trends to vet if the product is trending.

In the below example, a pharmacy is thinking of stocking products for posture support. They want to see if it has merit. They can use Keyword Planner to roughly gauge interest:

pharmacy keyword planner

The data shows that, generally, people in the U.S. are interested in a variety of posture support products. The pharmacist can also see that back braces and shoulder braces are searched quite often too.

If they wanted to invest in one area, they can run the keywords through Google Trends to see which is on the biggest upward trajectory and invest heaviest in that. The Google Trends data below shows back support belts are on a crest while shoulder braces have taken a dip. Posture correctors had dipped but are rising again – so are a safe bet for the store.

google trends for retail

While the information here generally applies to people searching online, you can safely bet on a link: if someone is making an online search for a product, they’re probably going to be looking for it in a store, whether that’s e-commerce or brick and mortar.

As a final research avenue, look into trendspotting around dropshipping product sites. Many successful dropshippers – e-commerce businesses which buy products that deliver elsewhere, making a profit – are very good at sniffing out products that are going to trend.

Of course, traditional avenues like tradeshows and wholesale networks – especially those offering curated product lists – are very, very valuable too.

It’s all about being as informed as possible and using all the information you can find to make smart decisions. That said, sometimes making an informed punt can pay off too.

Case in point: Suzanne Peterson of Learning Express, Reno. In 2013, Suzanne was a key collaborator with the toy inventor, Cheon Choon Ng and was instrumental in Rainbow Loom becoming one of the biggest toy crazes of all time.

Ever since, she’s had a keen eye for trendspotting.

Paying close attention to phone inquiries and listening to kids that come into the store is Suzanne’s main source for spotting trends. For toy stores in particular, trends often tend to build – and going straight to the source is a great way to pre-empt it.

black friday example

A Black Friday promotion example from Great Outdoors, Ireland.

3. Add value to your inventory

For vegan salon and beauty product brand, Buddha Beauty, the holiday season represents a unique time to boost sales by adding value in bundles. “You can maximize sales by creating added value to your items,” owner Llewelyn Thomas advises. “Gift sets are a great way to clear surplus stock and increase sales. A small saving for the consumer can mean a larger turnover for the retailer.”

It’s a simple tactic, but it’s smart. Bundling will work for the vast majority of stores – and it can also become a centerfold of your visual merchandising.

Creating displays that put products into real-life environments or that pairs products creates a sense of cohesion and leads to sales via cross-selling or upselling.

For example, around Halloween time, a party store could create an entire scene with decorations, candy, costumes and more. Consumers will see the link – and they’ll be more likely to make a purchase, especially if the bundled items come with a small markdown.

On the other end of the scale, Videogamenewyork’s Giulio Graziani suggests making any gifts bought at your store unique. Given that consumers can generally find what they want online, the potential to offer something niche can be a real selling point.

As Giulio succinctly puts it, “personalize, personalize, personalize!”

It may even be a case of pairing up with another retailer for a pop-up experience. In 2017, Nutella paired with brick and mortar department stores to create pop-up shops where consumers could buy jars of the hazelnut spread with a name on the label.

Sales rocketed – and Nutella could sell the jars at a large markup compared to regular prices.

retail christmas holiday window display

Pufferbellies Toys & Books’ holiday window display.

4. Don’t go too far with your discounts during the holiday season

Scarcity and price markdowns have long been de facto tactics for retailers looking to make a quick sale.

But just because you can drop your price through the floor, should you? In the run-up to the key dates, go into your competitors and check their prices. See what others are doing and use that as a barometer.

However: be prepared to make a judgement call if it’s really worth it.

Sure, running a big ‘buy one get one free’ promotion will get people in, as will slashing your prices, but will it actually lead to profit?

Instead, a smart tactic is to choose a product, or set of products, to focus on. Marc Bowker of Alter Ego Comics advises, “Have a ‘go-to’ gift item in a variety of product categories. In my comic book shop, Batman, Star Wars and Spider-Man are the most popular, so we have a go-to graphic novel for each of them. We also sell boardgames, so we pick a kids’ game and a party game by mid-October and focus on those two for gift buyers.”

halloween promotion idea

A Halloween promotion, running on Alter Ego Comics’ Facebook.

5. Swap ‘sales, sales, sales’ for ‘service, service, service’

As Videogamenewyork’s Giulio advises, “In the lead-up to the holidays, make your store as much of a service as possible. Stay open as much as you can. Facilitate the customer: last-minute buying still counts for a lot – and customers will really appreciate it.”

Again, it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – be massively expensive. Focus on useful additions: gift-wrapping, click-and-collect or call-and-collect, personalized gifts, or hosting a holiday event (like Global Pet Food’s costume contest).

Play it right and the holiday season isn’t just a chance to draw in customers on key dates. Instead, it becomes an opportunity to win their loyalty for the long-run.

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Lisa Sills
Lisa Sills

Lisa is a content strategist at Pointy. She’s passionate about the world of digital, books, and all things retail. When not in work, you’ll find her on her bike (probably in the rain because it’s Ireland) or carefully curating her cat’s Instagram.

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