Is your store ready for the Christmas rush?

It’s the beginning of November and the busiest shopping season is just around the corner. Even if you’re not new to retail, it’s a good idea to make yourself a checklist and think about how not only to get through this hectic season, but to maximize your sales potential.

Stock up: Now’s the time to review your inventory. Analyze your sales from last and previous years to show you what items were popular.  Know what items are best sellers right now, so you can better predict what kind extra stock you will need, and how much you should bring in. From these core items think about add-ons, or complimenting products that people buy together with these high volume items. Always give shoppers lots of opportunity to buy extras, because they may have come in from one gift, but they will be happy to leave with 3 if it means they’re closer to finishing their shopping list.

To make the big volume of sales you want, you need to have the inventory to sell. It is frustrating for your customers if you have to back order, and likely they won’t bother, this is also too time consuming for you.

Have extra supplies, make a list of what you will need while reviewing your inventory. Don’t let running out of shopping bags or register tape slow you down.

Because the Christmas season is hectic people are shopping earlier, so start decorating and set a Christmas mood early.  Most businesses are looking forward to Christmas right after Hallowe’en. This also goes for your online shop – start setting the stage for your Christmas merchandise and promotions to get people thinking about their Christmas lists.

Plan out your  early. Instead of having a blanket Christmas sale, make it interesting, by creating special events to lure in customers on peak shopping days. A calendar of the busiest shopping days is found in my last Sarinas blog post.

If you’re not already offering gift cards, figure out how to make them an option for your customers. Gift cards make easy gifts, and are universal for everyone. If a shopper is undecided it’s a great way to still capture the sale. Gift cards are also a great way to spread your brand image at the same time.

Extra staffing: If it’s your first year of operations, it will be hard to know how many people you may need to cover the longer, busier opening hours. There will definitely be more traffic, so even if it’s your first Christmas as a retailer, find at least one or two people to take over later hours, and who you can call for back up when you know there will be lots of traffic. Train your new employees to fully understand all of your store policies, so customers won’t be annoyed with conflicting information. It’s a good idea to also retrain existing employees, if you have them, at the same time to make sure everyone is on the same page. With more people around it’s a good idea to have clear information posted: checklists on procedures: opening and closing the store, cleaning, and employee hours for example make it easier for everyone to remember when it’s extra busy. Maintaining excellent customer service is vital, especially during the holiday rush, and that’s where your extra staff training will pay off.

Theft prevention: Along with increased traffic and increased sales, you will inevitably experience an increase in theft. To prevent as much as you can, keep your store orderly, and have your extra staff show attention to your customers. It is also shown that if you have anti-theft signage that it will deter many potential thieves, so it’s something to consider. Retail theft is a lot of the time a crime of opportunity, so your goal is to take away those opportunities. Remember also that you need to be able to fully trust your staff as well, so if they aren’t friends or family that have come in to help out, take the time to call their references or check their backgrounds.

What about your online store? Clear communication at every step of the purchasing experience is key. Customers want to know if their order will make it for Christmas, and if this is hard to figure out they will shop somewhere else. Make every delivery option clear right from the beginning of the process because that is a big part of a shopper’s decision to buy – how and when it will arrive. Don’t wait to present the options during checkout, because you may have lost the sale by then if the shopper is unsure about shipping.

Shipping problems will occur with the higher volume of orders. Again, it is important to communicate as timely and accurately as you can to help your customer understand the situation, and how you are correcting it.

Learn from past Christmases, take notes on the tricks you used to make the Christmas rush easier, so you can use them again next year.

And when the holidays are over? Offer a simple, reliable return policy.  Inform customers how your business handles exchanges and refunds, and the time period in which they are offered. Offer gift receipts to make gift giving smoother, and to prevent instances of fraud.

In a nutshell, planning ahead will take some of the headache out of holiday shopping, for both retailers and customers. Know your key shopping dates and how to take advantage of them, know the inventory you will need, and find extra staff and train them well.  Take notes of how to make next year even better. Remember this season is your opportunity for your sales to shine and show everyone what you are capable of!

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