Four Tips To Avoiding The Retail Holiday Hangover

The holidays. Time for parties, shopping, and, of course, family time. Whether it’s the appropriate behavior at the office holiday party or how to avoid putting on ten pounds via Grandma’s sugar cookies, we all could use a refresher on how to survive the holidays. Which got us thinking – some of these tips might well apply to retailers – what should they be doing to avoid arriving at January 1st, bloated and hungover? Our four friendly tips ahead.

Don’t Overindulge Too Soon

You put your holiday stock out in early October – we saw you. And while the holiday selling season, like its back-to-school heavyweight cousin, starts earlier and runs longer than it historically has (there are 31 days from Black Friday to Christmas Eve this year), don’t start too early with the heavy promotions. When customers get used to the dial being turned up on promotions, what and when is the real impetus to purchase? Is that sale you’re offering really the ‘Lowest prices of the year’ or ‘One day only?’ Please. Looking back over the past year, we see the average promotional discount consistently remains north of 35% – so we know the empirical statements probably sound suspect to consumers as well.

And more importantly, sustained heavy promotions have a serious impact your margins. Instead of blanket site-wide promotions, be strategic and targeted in your promotions. This week perhaps it’s outerwear, next week it’s handbags – base your promotions more on what that shopper has shown previous interest in, and less on what you desperately need to clear stock of. Diverse and category-specific promotions send the message that this promotional opportunity is fleeting, and the time to capitalize on it is now.

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A helpful analogy for you? We know you can fit the turkey, casserole, cookies, and the cake on your plate, but maybe one at a time, yeah?

Avoid Any Arguments

In the same way we’d advise that you not talk politics at the holiday dinner table, we’d also suggest that you, as a retailer, try and avoid the shopping pain points that the holiday season brings about. Out-of-stocks, shipping delays, and returns that are a pain in the *ss? These will get you sent to the kid’s table, and once you’re there, it’s hard to be taken seriously again.

But really, the nature of shopping during the holiday season is different than other times of year. There’s a hard and fast deadline, mission-based shopping, and the inevitable returns. So how do you make holiday shopping painless, a pleasure for customers?

Communication and the timely nature of it, are key. Out-of-stocks happen, but there needs to be prompt reaction to salvage the opportunity. And don’t just send a cancellation email – give the shopper alternative items they might be interested in. The same goes for delayed shipments – even if it’s not your fault as the retailer – acknowledge that it happened and give them a small token of apology.

And last but not least, the return. It’s going to happen and it can be costly, both to your bottom line and the customer relationship, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether the customer decides to return online or to a store, don’t inconvenience them with strange return policy exceptions, prolonged refund times, long lines, and surly store staff. What’s often missed with the return occasion is that it is actually a chance to upsell and create customer goodwill.

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See, all can be merry and bright, just as long as you avoid getting cornered by Uncle Sal.

Don’t Forget Anyone

We’ve all experienced that awkward moment when someone gives you a gift…and you’re completely empty-handed. Yikes. Not only does holiday mean buying for a whole slew of people you know to varying degrees, it’s also an occasion to self-indulge. (My preferred ratio of gifts for others and self is 1:1.)

Okay, fine, let’s put others first for a second. Most sites build out a suggested list of items for different profiles of gifting – dad, aspiring chef, teacher, etc. Which helps to direct the less focused shopper to a set of products that may match their interests. But what about a more interactive version that asks – what does that person like, what do they spend their free time doing, how much do you want to spend? Think about the information (data!) you could capture that would enable you to, on the spot, personalize product recommendations and increase likelihood of conversion? And at the product level, don’t forget to provide reinforcements that this is a good choice, i.e. ‘Loved by this kind of person.’ Fear of bad gifting, gone.

Now, back to me. How can you get me to buy not only gifts for others, but also something for myself? (Ok, I’ve already confessed it’s not that difficult.) But still, do you even know which basket items are for self versus someone else? If not, it’s time to ask. Another data point easily captured that helps personalize future product recommendations and promotional offers. But how do you get that person who is already dreading their January credit card statement, to add to cart? Promotional offers that require multiple items or are applicable to a post-holiday purchase help minimize the guilt. Or just say it, ‘Treat yourself.’ When it comes to getting what you want, subtlety is overrated.

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Think Beyond The 25th

When your parents complain that they only see you at Christmas, it’s probably a sign you need to be putting in more effort year-round. (Call your mom!) In retail, everyone knows that the last five weeks of the year make or break their year, but what have you been doing to plant the seeds of customer loyalty and deliver destination-worthy shopping throughout the year? If you weren’t great to shop January through October, what makes you think that customer is going to come back for holiday?

This is the time of year when silos between in-store, online, and the supporting back-end are most likely to show their cracks, and yet there’s likely little time to make any significant fixes. Which is why it’s important to invest time and resources over the year to deliver seamless omni-channel experiences. A shopper who gets what they want and need at other times of the year is going to come back during holiday and vice versa.

Holiday hangovers can be a thing of the past – with the right planning and execution. And if all else fails, drink water and take some Advil.

Stay tuned over the following weeks as we track the market’s movements and provide more strategies for seasonal success right here.