Playing Blackjack with the Holiday Sell

Playing Blackjack with the Holiday Sell


IN THIS STORY: The planning for the holiday selling season has begun and retail expert Doug Fleener has come up aces with his 21 tips to help you get the most out of this vitally important time of year.

Okay, it’s only September and we certainly don’t think your customers want to be hit with Christmas songs and nutcrackers when they walk in the front door of your stores, but planning for the holiday selling season has surely begun in earnest.

Retail analyst Lauren Sosik thinks the rough economic climate has consumers planning early as most are working on a much tighter budget in 2009.

"People are realizing they’ll be spending less for Christmas this year and are planning early exactly what to purchase. Many of the statistics we’re seeing tell us that about 40 percent of holiday shoppers will have made up their minds about big-ticket purchases by end of September," she said.

While the in-store planning process begins early, many retailers don’t start pushing holiday shopping until early November, explained Ellen Davis, Vice President of the National Retail Federation. But now retailers are trying to avoid what happened last year when holiday sales declined for the first time since the NRF began tracking them in the early 1990s.

"Retailers had far more inventory than they needed, so they were forced to discount heavily and, in some cases, give items away with a purchase," Davis added.

Well then, with those thoughts in mind, it’s time to play a little Blackjack, equipped with Fleener’s "21 Tips to Brighten the Holiday Selling Season."

21 Holiday Selling Tips for Retailers:

1. Send all of your customers a personalized holiday card with either a picture of the store or the staff. You need to do this now!

2. Send your top customers a gift card or gift certificate wrapped in an attractive box. Give higher amounts to your best customers. If your staff is good, when your customers come in to spend their gift cards they will end up making purchases for far more than the face value of the gift.

3. E-mail your customers and tell them about the top 20 gifts available in your store this season. Include a printable wish list for them to use either as a shopping list for others or to give to someone else.

4. Put the same list into a press release and send it to the local paper, radio station, etc.

5. Run one-day sales on the slowest days of the week.

6. Give a gift card with purchases over a certain amount. The card inevitably will result in a sale that will reduce the overall cost to you.

7. Drop small thank-you cards in customers’ shopping bags with their purchases, but don’t let them see you do it. You can either have the staff fill them out in advance with the words "Thank You" and their name, or have a seasonal person fill them out without signing a name. While it may not be practical for most of you to do this on all of your sales, you can definitely do this for the large sales.

8. Hire a musician to play holiday music in the store during peak times. The live performance will differentiate your store and will keep customers there longer. The longer they shop, the greater the opportunity to sell them more.

9. Post your top 20 gifts on a large sign in the store and then sign each product on the list with the corresponding number. Include on the product sign why it is a unique gift and who would enjoy receiving it. Are you thinking you don’t have time to do these sorts of ideas? If it adds to your overall sales, why wouldn’t you make the time? Read on!

10. Remind your staff to keep showing additional products until the customer says he/she is done. Retailers miss many sales during the holiday because they’re too quick to ring the customer up.

11. Fifteen percent of all purchases made during the holiday are not given as gifts but are for the person shopping. Ask all of your customers, "And how about treating yourself to something today?"

12. Bundle products. We did this quite successfully at Bose with the $500 Wave Radio, offering a second one at a reduced price. One thing we learned doing these bundles is we sold more when we told the customer how much the price was on the second one versus stating it as a percentage of savings. Don’t make the customer do the math, tell them the price and how much they are saving.

13. Set some daily stretch goals with prizes for the staff if the goal is hit. Stock up on things like gift cards from Starbucks, Target, etc. and award them to the staff for making goal. Keep the staff focused on sales one day at a time.

14. Be extremely methodical about what impulse products you put at the counter. Pick an item with the right price point. If you put a more expensive item at the counter, it won’t sell. And if the item is too inexpensive it will sell but add little to your overall sales. Make sure the item is something that is both unique and something the customer will want to pick up. Have a bunch of the impulse items gift-wrapped so the customer sees how simple it is to give that extra gift. Finally, consider bundle pricing with your impulse items.

15. Have the staff dressed seasonally. Consider Santa hats, red or green aprons or sweaters, or anything else that helps the staff appear more festive.

16. Put a big sign on the backdoor that reminds your staff to smile. It is pretty easy to let the smile droop after being on your feet for eight hours and working with crowds of customers.

17. Create "Best Gift For" signs. Pick out a top seller, or a product you want to be a top seller, that is under $20. Next to that product put a sign that reads "Best Gift for Under $20." Now do the same for $50, $75, $100, etc. Do the same for different people. How about a "Best Gift for your Hairdresser" or maybe a "Best Gift for the Babysitter?"

18. Create a daily "Hot Buy." It gives the staff something to tell the customer about and it might help you sell a product that either isn’t selling well or is a hot seller that you want to get hotter. Remember, the special doesn’t always have to be a discount.

19. Give out candy canes and other goodies with each purchase or to all customers.

20. Invite your top customers in for an early morning event that includes gifts, refreshments and special pricing. Have the staff call the customers on the phone and invite them to bring their friends. Keep the event going after the doors open so those customers who come into the store feel special as well.

21. Keep having fun. "Fun" sells and makes working and shopping in your store a wonderful and enjoyable holiday experience. Isn’t that what it is all about?

Check out for more tips from Fleener.


National Retail Federation: Retail is Detail, Especially for the Q4 Holiday Sell

You’ve seen the statistic a thousand times if you’ve seen it once—the holiday/Q4 retail sales numbers usually represent as much as 30-40 percent of what retailers do for the entire year. Okay, we know you get it—the holiday sell is REALLY important to your yearly bottom line.

With that said, here’s a few additional tips based on NRF/BIGresearch surveys done over the last few years.

• Most consumers shop from a list of people they’re going to buy for, not from a list of items to specifically buy. There are certain items they know they want to buy, but with almost every customer there is an opportunity to suggest additional products for people on their lists. The key to maximizing your holiday opportunities is to find out who is on the list and then suggest products for them. Focusing on increasing the number of products sold per sale during the holidays isn’t just smart business, it is great customer service. Customers want and need help with their list. All we have to do is ask.

• As is the case most years, it is expected that shoppers will take advantage of sales and discounts during the holiday season to spend an additional $100 or so on themselves.

Over the last few years the amount a person spends on him/herself during the holidays has increased. Obviously this offers retailers a considerable opportunity to grow their sales if they make "buy yourself a present" part of their overall holiday strategy. First, focus on increasing the amount customers buy for themselves when you’re training staff for the holiday. Teach the staff that approximately 13 percent of a total purchase is for the buyers. Have them ask every gift buyer, "How about one for you?" You might also offer a savings on the second item. While many customers may pass on "one for themselves," you have planted a seed and they may very well come back post-holiday and purchase the item then.

• According to the last several NRF/BIGresearch shopping surveys, over 40 percent of consumers will begin their holiday shopping this year before Halloween. At this point, this statistic should surprise no one and clearly tells us all that there is no need to wait until Santa hits the mall to help customers complete their list and maximize our holiday opportunities. If retailers properly engage customer when they are in the store they can learn why they are in the store and if they are holiday shopping.

• The numbers attached to gift cards seem to grow every year and time-crunched consumers have always found this gift a reliable way to eliminate stress during this most stressful time of year. Well, here’s a few points of interest culled from NRF research regarding gift cards you should be aware of.

Every customer should be offered the opportunity to purchase a gift card this holiday, regardless of what you sell. However, while most consumers love to receive gift cards, apparently many don’t really like to give them. Research shows that a large percentage of consumers feel they just don’t receive the same satisfaction buying a gift card as they do in picking out a specific item to give. NRF recommends that you invest in some small gift boxes or other method to dress up the gift card and add a bit more "theater" to the purchase itself. Romancing them a bit will make the buyer feel a lot better about their gift card purchase.

Ultimately remember: never be too busy to maximize your opportunities. As it is often said, "Retail is Detail" and that phrase takes on a whole new meaning in Q4.