Back in Black

The holiday season is off and running and hopefully yours is going well thus far. As you have surely noticed, in recent years, and particularly this one, the media has created an absolute frenzy over Black Friday (one that frankly, has given us a pounding headache). The hype has gotten so out of control that things like midnight openings, deep discounts, crazy promotions and police details for crowd control have become the “norm” for the industry. Sure, sales were up this year industry wide, but would you have expected anything else? There were more hours in the day to shop brick and mortar and so many products were marked to such rock bottom prices that volume increases were inevitable.

Does this dynamic really have anything to do with great retailers actually having a great holiday season because of this one day? We don’t think so. Black Friday has become about following the pack and getting caught up in the hysteria, not about having the right products for your customers (that are unique and interesting and hard to find elsewhere!) and creating a dynamic experience that keeps people coming back to your store throughout the season (and year round for that matter).

We unfortunately saw a lot of small stores participating in this madness to try to keep up with the big guys…with promotions and strategies that seemed irrelevant and contradictory to their business models. Did you get caught up in the hype? Instead of thinking about the next few weeks this way, we encourage you to look ahead to the rest of the holiday season with a fresh perspective to create volume for your store in a way that makes sense for your brand — and for your customers. So in that spirit, below are Retail Concepts 12 days of shopping “tips” to help you successfully get there (and not pull your hair out in the process!):

  • Don’t claim you are discounting products now to create urgency (ex: limited time only!, limited quantities!, our biggest sale of the season!) only to discount them even deeper later. That only serves to really piss off those customers that already purchased, thinking they were getting a great deal.
  • The holiday season is short and in order to be a successful retail business, you need customers the whole year round. Offering commodity products or items that all of your competitors carry at the cheapest price will get them in once, but it won’t get them back. You need to build loyalty, not quick and cheap sales that don’t add to the bottom line.
  • Black Friday originally was the kick-off to the joy of the holiday season, not a day of stress, frantic discounting and crowd control. Bring that back. Make every customer feel in the holiday spirit by making your store feel magical and excited about shopping for the season.
  • Have fun, offer snacks and drinks. Sample products. Give people reasons to linger in the store, not rush in and out for a specific product and nothing more.
  • Don’t fill people’s inboxes with meaningless promotions. How many emails did you receive last week? Approximately 87% of retailers sent an email between Thanksgiving and Monday (according to a survey of 100 retailers by Responsys Inc.) How many of them actually said anything of value? If you don’t have something exciting to tell your customers, don’t send it. (Note: we think this email newsletter is exciting, therefore we sent it to you…please humor us!)
  • Give real offers (i.e. per above they must be exciting!) If you are a nail salon, 10% off a manicure isn’t really anything to talk about. That means you are giving them $1-2 off their bill. Do you really think that will give someone an impetuous to use your business over someone else? Look at your offers in real terms and see if it something of value. Switch it up. Instead offer a free shoulder massage during their manicure. Or a gift bag of sample hand lotions. Give them something they can experience or take away that keeps your store brand top of mind.
  • Keep your store clean, stocked, and organized so it’s easy to shop. If something sells out, communicate this to customers and give them another option. If it is the must have item, offer to order and ship direct or call them when more comes in stock.
  • Offer holiday basics that make it easier for your customers. Gift wrapping, delivery on orders called in, earlier/later hours (that make sense!), bring items out to them curbside while they wait, etc. etc.
  • Help people out of the store. Assist them with carrying their packages to the car. Leave them with a positive last impression.
  • Don’t make customers wait. You should be prepared for the holidays and have good employees who can handle a busy store in an organized fashion. If there is a short wait, keep it upbeat, engage with people, see above in regards to offering samples, drinks, snacks. Have employees starting on wrapping and packing if you have limited registers. If it is pleasant, and/or productive time they will notice the wait less.
  • If you are using technology, make sure it works. Don’t offer an iphone app to speed up checkout only to have it crash and not work. That is not convenient, just frustrating.
  • Thank you customers. They are the ones that keep you in business all year, not just on one overhyped day in November.