It’s no secret that retailers spend months planning for Christmas. In many cases, the bulk of Christmas merchandise hits the stores just after Labour Weekend. But now that Black Friday has sailed and Cyber Monday is done and dusted, the Christmas countdown proper is here.
There are several things retailers can do, to maximise sales in the home stretch to Christmas Eve, says retail consultant Chris Wilkinson.
Ensure shoppers are thinking about your brand and products, by connecting with customers through direct email and social media, he says. That way “your stores are firmly in the 'consideration set' as shoppers make their plans”. This can be done right from the start of the Christmas shopping period.
Many consumers are time poor and also looking for solutions. Your staff can be the ones to help them. “Be the solution,” says Wilkinson, managing director of consultancy First Retail.
It’s also worth extending your hours a little on both ends of the day. “Get the jump on your competitors, as this is the time to make money and grab market share.”
Now that it’s December, it’s finally acceptable to crank up the Christmas carols, says Retail X managing director Juanita Neville-Te Rito. But never before, she warns. “Or you might find your team’s cheery nature has diminished. There’s only so many times you can listen to Mariah Carey or Michael Bublé.”
Wilkinson says it’s vital to deliver the full Christmas experience with all the retail trimmings. People expect it.
“Lots of product, a vibrant, 'celebratory' environment that reflects the season and compelling offers or inspiration that shoppers can't ignore.”
Neville-Te Rito has been in retail for 25 years. Yet she’s still surprised by the Christmas creep: “Christmas comes the same time every year, but the merchandise hits the stores earlier and earlier”.
An extreme example this year was London department store Selfridges opening their Christmas store a “record” 149 days early on July 29. “Now they can get away with this as an international destination – but seriously?”
Typically, she says, Christmas stock hits the store in early October but only “in very small quantities for those preparing to get presents overseas and the super organised”.
But with the rise of online shopping, “those organisation skills are not so much a necessity anymore”.
Most Christmas merchandise hits the stores just after Labour Weekend, she adds.
“My rule of thumb in retail is you should be ‘on-show’ straight after Guy Fawkes, or depending on the competitive nature of your category, after Labour Weekend at the earliest.
“Why? Labour Weekend is such a key trading event that you don’t want your Christmas stock on discount. Many retailers use this period as the launch of Spring/Summer trading.”
Bigger retailers “will go earlier”, she says, to gain a competitive edge in certain categories.
Toys, in particular, sees retailers trying to gain top-of-mind awareness. Similarly, hot new electronics items or big-ticket purchases such as a family swimming pool for Christmas, often rely on finance options. Marketing these early “gives consumers time to consider and get organised”, she adds.
Beyond this, retailers have created “a whole new dynamic” to the festive season trading calendar, she says. Certain retailers need to give space to Halloween and Guy Fawkes. While Labour Weekend is the “unofficial start of the summer trading period”, the first week of November represents the start of the Christmas trading season.
Then there’s the “emerging events”, such as Singles Day on November 11, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. As The Register reported recently, this Black Friday was set to be New Zealand’s biggest yet.
“These also impact when customers are stocking up for Christmas so you need to be on the radar,” says Neville-Te Rito.
After Christmas comes, of course, the Boxing Day Sales and New Year Clearances.
All of these events play an important role in your trading calendar. Your strategy – when you offer products, discounts, offers and so on – needs to be well planned and considered, she says.
“You need to get your product on the floor so you can sell it and theme your environment to ensure customers know that Christmas is coming. The two are critical to work together.
“Customers, by and large, don’t think ‘Christmas idea, solution or present’ prior to the last week of Christmas, without the right prompts,” she adds.
“It’s a super busy time of year. You have to help them navigate the noise so they choose your product offer.”