The retail industry receives the most scrutiny during the holiday shopping season. This begins in late November with the U.S. Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping specials that have spilled over to Canadian retailers in the past few years. In Canada, we then roll into the actual holiday shopping messages for Christmas, followed by Boxing Day or Boxing Week sales, and culminating with the New Year specials.
This time of year is typically a major part of the revenue plan for retailers. I believe the continued extension and expansion of these sales and specials throughout the year have radically changed consumer shopping behaviour to only seek the best sales available. When was the last time you bought something at regular or list price? While many stores have conditioned shoppers to only visit when there is a sale, many others realize a price war only ends in lower profit for everybody. Pricing is one of the marketing fundamental "4 Ps" (along with product, place and promotion) and is one largely overlooked.
The total customer experience you provide in store is where you can differentiate on something other than price. Statistics Canada data from September 2019 indicates less than seven per cent of retail sales are made online. Therefore, here are three "must" areas to master for your successful holiday sale game plan.
First, your staff must be trained on all aspects of your pricing program. You need to ensure they understand what is and is not on sale and when the pricing is going to change back. If your goal is to attract customers with this "once a year" sale, then your pricing should be only this low once each year. Your point-of-sale system must be properly adjusted so all merchandise can be scanned quickly and accurately. Angry customers and frustrated staff result when checkout is too difficult or fraught with mistakes and delays.
Second, your store atmosphere must be reviewed in detail. One of the fastest ways to turn customers away from your store is to have stock scattered on the wrong shelves, empty shelves, mislabelled pricing and a messy display area. If you are planning to attract a high volume of in-store traffic, you must make sure your store and your staff are ready to handle the demand.
Finally, you must ensure your messaging is accurate on all your advertising. Describe why shopping with you is going to be a special experience through captivating ad messages, and then deliver on the expectations you have created. If you are building demand only with low prices, but you are unable to fulfil demand, you have now established a negative image in the minds of your customers.
While I am not a fan of never-ending sales, a well-managed sale can bring in new customers, offer additional price value for current customers and provide an opportunity to display everything that you have to offer. A major sale is the time to put your best foot forward.
And when the sale is over, and you return to your regular pace of business, take time to thank your employees for a job well done. Ask for their input and suggestions on how to improve the next big event or promotion. Since they are dealing directly with the customers, they are best able to report on the sentiment, positive and negative, of the people who enter your store. Remember that you are building for the long run.
I also strongly recommend you spend time reviewing your online experience to ensure it provides an informed and easy approach for your customers to shop. Even though actual sales are predominantly in store, most customers check prices and other factors on your website before entering your store. The online experience can set the expectation and invite new customers into your store. Your website is a powerful tool that should be aligned with your entire shopping experience.
Since the holiday sales period is relatively brief, your winning game plan must include your scheduled activity for the balance of the year. When you catch your breath, you can incorporate what you learned from this holiday period into your marketing mix and build a steady flow of customers who are not just waiting for the next "Black Friday" event.
Tim’s bits: My bits today are for shoppers. While we all want a great deal, please support your local stores. These are the shops and merchants who support community activities such as local charitable groups, sporting events and other cultural endeavours that make our city so wonderful. When did you ever see Amazon or any of the other large online stores support the local community club fundraiser or pay local taxes?
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.